Thai Student Association holds vigil after death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

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Alexandre Bui/Staff

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In the ASUC Senate Chambers on Saturday, students gathered around a picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who was greatly loved by many in attendance, to commemorate his recent death.

Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, died Oct. 13. For Mint Katevetin, vice president of the Thai Student Association at UC Berkeley, his death raises many questions about Thailand’s future. Thailand’s royal palace said his condition was unstable after a medical procedure, as reported by NPR.

“He is the symbol of the nation,” Katevetin said. “There was a picture of the king in houses, restaurants or anywhere.”

The Thai Student Association invited campus students and the community to the vigil to join them and millions of Thais in remembering the king. The event began with a violin playing the royal anthem of Thailand and another song to honor the king because of his love for music. The group held a moment of silence from 7 p.m. to 7:09 p.m., nine minutes for the ninth monarch.

After the moment of silence, people were given opportunities to speak about their feelings toward the king and how they felt about his passing.

“He was more than a king,” said Nick Cheng, president of the Thai Student Association. “He was a father.”

After his inauguration in 1946 at the age of 18, Bhumibol — also known as Rama IX of the Chakri dynastyhelped Thailand through various political turmoils, according to Katevetin. He also funded the development of several clinics, schools and more. Recently, under his rule, Thailand has been a strategic partner in U.S. anti-terrorism operations.

During his 70 years as monarch, Bhumibol often visited rural villages, sitting down and talking with Thai citizens, which, according to Katevetin, was a very different approach than that of previous Thai kings.

Katevetin said the king was very “relatable” and “down to earth” because he was raised with a Western education. Bhumibol was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts where his father studied at Harvard Medical School. He studied at a school in Switzerland and composed his own music. When his brother, the former king, was assassinated, however, he took the throne.

“As a Thai American, I am extremely saddened by the news,” said Best Tech, a UCSD graduate. “However, the political stuff will follow. We are in mourning right now.”

According to Katevetin, Thailand’s National Father’s Day — celebrated Dec. 5, Bhumibol’s birthday was Bike for Dad day last year, where Thais would ride their bikes in honor of the king. She said Plant for Dad was the event planned for this year.

At the end of the event, all members of the group arranged candles into the Thai number nine to symbolize their respect for the king.

Tech said when he was younger, he did not understand why there was a numerous amount of Bhumibol’s portraits in so many different places. Now he said he knows how important the king was to Thai people.

“My mom told me one thing to remember, ‘Don’t lose your Thai,’ ” Tech said at the commemoration. “In my eyes, he represented what it meant to be Thai.”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.