Keeping in touch sure has changed. Sixteen years ago it was thrilling to touch base with those at home through email. Unless you had the budget to be carrying around a laptop (remember when those were expensive and not just dispensable toys?) or stayed at an upscale hotel, you went to an internet cafe and paid by the minute to access your email. Now, on arrival I switch my home SIM card for a Thai one and my phone sits in my pocket continually buzzing in new emails and notifications.
I've seen the tourism climate change. More and more western style businesses, chain restaurants and hotels have sprung up catering to the adventure-seeker-who-still-wants-home-comforts.
We were here in the recent times of political unrest when wearing a red shirt or yellow shirt declared your political allegiance and therefore they stayed in our suitcases. That visit we checked the news daily to keep up to date on protest locations and incidents.
This year, arriving in Jan 2017, I knew there would be an immediate difference. In the time I had been away the King of Thailand had died. The public announcement was made on Oct 13, 2016. King Bhumibol Adulyadej had acceded the thrown in 1946. He had reined for 70 of his 88 years. When he passed, the King of Thailand was the longest living reigning monarch in the world.
Although Thailand is officially a democracy and the monarch has no formal political role, King Bhumibol was widely regarded as a unifying figure in Thailand. He stood as a symbol of continuity for a country that has lived through a number of governments ousted by military coups.
Did you know King Bhumibol could make it rain? He held a patent (European) for "weather modification by royal rainmaking technology," described as a system of chemicals that can boost and move clouds in order to trigger rainfall. He developed this to aide drought stricken rural areas.
We have made a point to express to each of our close Thai friends and business associates our condolences for their King. There is true appreciation in their face when we show this respect. This is literally life changing for them.
The first thing we noticed is that 98% of people were wearing the mourning colours of black and white. What an interesting scene on the streets to see crowds of people without a stitch of colour.
This time I encountered shop after shop of black and white clothing.
Also for sale are a wide array of black t-shirts with various motifs declaring love for the King. Here's Peter is his. The english script says "Always our beloved father". Our Thai friend said the Thai script adds "do something he would do". Known for being intelligent, calm and generous, doing something King Bhumibol Adulyadej would do is not a bad daily mantra.