Bangkok: Everything has to be placed exactly right: Flowers neatly trimmed; yellow, black and white ribbons just puffed and flowing where they should; and above all, the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulayej.
At the Federation of Accounting Professionals building, staff worked over the weekend to make sure the building was appropriately and sombrely dressed for the coming year of mourning.
In the lobby of the adjoining Furama hotel in Asoke, it took eight hotel staff to each make the shrine to King Bhumibol just right.
Everywhere across this nation, similar scenes have been played out over these past painful days: University students erecting black and white bunting; volunteers handing out black ribbons to people on the streets; the welcome screens at bank ATMs showing the image of the late king.
Impact on tourists
The government has confirmed that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will become king, but hasn’t said when that will happen. He has indicated that he wants time to mourn his father, and he won’t take the throne until after King Bhumibol’s cremation.
There are no portraits of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn to be found easily or on public display.
There are two photographs that were secretly taken that show a heavily tattooed thin man in a cut-off white Tshirt, getting into a limousine and being saluted by a military guard of honour.
The Thai government says they are fake, and jailed the alleged photographer for several days.
A British tabloid that ran those photographs also ran a story over the weekend of British tourists complaining that their holidays in the sun on the beaches of Phuket were being ruined by the mourning arrangements, where entertainment has been cancelled for an initial 15 days.
In Bangkok at least, tourists — some 30 million visited Thailand last year — are respecting the mourning period and protocols.
Three young black women, all from Houston, Texas, sat in a local restaurant, ordered pad thai – one without tofu – and were content to sip on diet pops. Liqour sales have been restricted in a nation that thrives on a “happy hour” culture.
The subject of Donald Trump came up, as it inevitably does with Americans abroad, and most other people too.
“Don’t get me started,” one said. “How can we be so stupid. He’s an embarrassment to every American.”
She then listed his defects. That took some time. And then she noted this: “What gets me is the respect that Thais have for their king. He was their ruler, and every one you talk to or everywhere you go, you see people genuinely sad. That’s respect for the leader of the country. No one respects Donald Trump.”
Another who was present – a British author who has made Bangkok his home as he works on a second political thriller — said: The monarchy in Thailand is like a fire in the living room, a focal point, something for people to look to and take warmth and comfort.
With the passing of King Bhumibol, the real fire has been replaced with a plugin model that glows and flickers with a mechanical movement of plastic flames. People will still look at it as the centre of the room. It’s just that the warmth and comfort is gone.