We were stuck in a traffic jam. Since I had arrived in Chiang Mai just a few days ago, the situation wasn’t very frustrating for me. Everything was still new. I watched the teenagers on bicycles and motorbikes glide past all the cars lined up on Soi 9 off Nimmanhaemin Road. I watched the young woman in the smoothie shop blending drinks and the older men carrying boxes into the bar just opening for the night. Traffic was pretty common in this city of 400,000, whose road were not made for that number of residents and tourists. But still, something was off. We weren’t moving.

One by one, the inhabitants of our car decided to walk the rest of the way. My sister left to purchase some chicken and noodles for our dinner, and then I left with my five month old baby strapped to me. Carrying her around all day—instead of pushing her in a stroller on those uneven sidewalks—was proving excellent for my fitness. By the time we reached home, my brother in law pulled in to the driveway.

“It was the Prince’s fault,” he said. The Prince of Thailand was supposed to attend a graduation ceremony at noon. He hadn’t arrived until 6pm, and his convoy had blocked traffic. The graduates had all been waiting around for six hours, not to mention the drivers stuck in heavier than usual rush hour traffic wanting to get home. At 62, the Prince is a well-known playboy and jetsetter, spending most of his time in Europe. “It’s not going to be easy when he takes over for the King,” William foretold. That was over a year ago, and yesterday the world learned that one of the longest ruling, most beloved rulers had died.

When we go somewhere, we feel forever connected to the events of that place, however tangentially. It helps that my family lives in Thailand—my sister and brother-in-law and nephew, and their friends and students and all the people they’ve come to know in their six years living there. Even in Australia, or wherever I happen to be, I feel connected to not only my friends and family, the people I’ve met, but the politics and disasters, championships and joys of those countries as well.

In February of 2012, I stayed right in Taksim Square, Istanbul, with my very pregnant sister. Nearly everyday, we walked up and down Istiklal Street among the throngs of Turkish people and other tourists. I felt lighter on that street, part of a massive, collective body. Months after we left, riots broke out along that very same street, where I had witnessed protesters marching calmly, shouting and carrying signs I couldn’t read or understand.

In Thailand and in Istanbul, I wished I had taken the time to learn more while I was there, to get more involved in the lifestyle and politics of the country. But circumstance doesn’t always allow this. Yet this feeling of tangential connection, this sense that we have touched that earth and met those people and witnessed those lives for a short while, improves our connection to the whole world too.

As President Obama put it: “As the revered leader and only monarch that most Thais have ever known, His Majesty was a tireless champion of his country’s development and demonstrated unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Thai people. With a creative spirit and a drive for innovation, he pioneered new technologies that have rightfully received worldwide acclaim. His Majesty leaves a legacy of care for the Thai people that will be cherished by future generations.”

Like many others who have visited Thailand and have connections there, I hold the Thai people in my thoughts and stand with them as they mourn the loss of King Bhumibol.

1 comment on “The Loss of King Bhumibol and the Connections of Travel”

  1. Great piece Jillian … I backpacked around SE Asia in 1996, and spent a few weeks up in Chang Mai and Mae Hong Son, before travelling down the border to Mae Sot. Out of all the countries I visited during my trip, I have the fondest memories of Thailand. I’m sure it’s changed dramatically over the years, but hopefully not past all recognition.

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