Yikes! The pandemic is still with us. Time to visit more exotic places through our reading. With that in mind, here are some excerpts from a chapter entitled “The King and I” in Missing The Bus:
Another highlight of Bangkok is the Grand Palace…I was inside only once –in the Dusit Hall–for that arcane custom of presenting credentials, a fleeting moment in the company of royalty.
In loose-fitting tails I’d borrowed from the racks of the Americans, I sat in an anteroom with the rest of the embassy staff chatting with royal attendants, resplendent in white and gold uniforms with red sashes…
Eventually we were instructed to line up in descending rank in front of high, ornately carved teak doors. Suddenly at a command we never heard, they opened, revealing to us the long, lushly carpeted throne room. There at the end, sitting under several tiers of golden canopies, sat the diminutive figure of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, of Thailand…honoured everywhere as the longest-serving monarch in the world. No one ever spoke ill of him; all one ever heard was praise. Indeed, with such respect was he treated even by the press that, whenever his photograph appeared, it was always at or near the top of the page, never where, if the paper were folded, it would hide underneath.
As rehearsed, we bowed, moved forward ten paces, bowed again, advanced a further ten paces, and bowed once more. Our diplomatic “suite” was now directly in front of the throne, from which the king descended so that he was standing directly in front of the ambassador. The letter of recall of his predecessor and the letter appointing him as the new ambassador were then presented to His Majesty. In those days they were signed by the Queen, and they started “My dear brother.” Later when I took part in a similar ceremony in Indonesia, I discovered that the letters to the president of the republic began “My dear cousin.”
The presentation concluded, the ambassador and the king delivered brief speeches in their respective languages, meaning that the Massachusetts-born king understood perfectly the ambassador’s hope for the continuation of the cordial relations that had for so long existed between our two countries, and the ambassador grasped nothing of the king’s expression of reciprocal sentiments. As their remarks concluded, gloved attendants hurried from the wings with glasses of champagne…I quaffed mine quickly…for shortly the glasses were reclaimed. We were not to linger long in the presence of royalty. There were other ambassadors waiting.
Before we departed, however, the ambassador summoned us to come forward one by one to be introduced to the king…I remember…as I returned gingerly to my designated place in line, walking backwards, lest I give offence, I mused how more dashing I would have looked to him if, rather than borrowed tails, I had been decked out like the diplomats of some other countries in a braided uniform with a splash of medals, touched off by a ceremonial sword in a silver scabbard…Alas, that was not and is not Canada’s style…
In the past, in one of those arcane customs in which the world of diplomacy abounds, some countries had been required to perform more than three sets of bows on entry and departure. The number depended on states’ relative power and status vis-a-vis Thailand and was negotiable. Apparently, however, so much time was spent in tedious debates–in rows that risked diplomatic ruptures, open conflict, who knows what?–that finally three sets of bows was established as the standard for all: for Americans and Canadians, tails-renters and sword-bearers alike!
For more vicarious travel adventures in different countries, copies of Missing The Bus can be purchased by contacting: http://www.penumbrapress.com