Angela’s experience outside Sirijat Hospital on October 13th 2016

by Jane Rodgers

  • Posted on October 17, 2016

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My account of an extraordinary moment in my life …

I was on the river this afternoon as I had been for lunch at the Anantara Riverside Hotel. After the lunch I had stayed behind in the lobby to make some phone calls and finally decided to make my way home around 5 pm. I caught the shuttle boat from the hotel to Saphan Taskin pier with the intention of catching the skytrain home (I had considered stopping at Chong Nongsi to have my hair cut but it was too late).

When I got off the boat at the pier for some reason the idea of catching the river boat down to Siriraj Hospital where the King was being cared for entered my head and on an impulse I joined the queue for the express boat. An orange flag boat arrived almost immediately but I was in the wrong queue and by the time I had maneuvered around to the right queue a rope had been put in place to stop any more passengers boarding the boat. Surprisingly I didn’t give up and go to catch the skytain – I waited patiently for the next boat to arrive 20 minutes later.

Two ladies on the boat wearing pink caught my attention – I followed them off the boat at Siriraj pier – part of a large group of people who also got off. I walked along with everyone to the entrance of the hospital which was blocked off – a large crowd had gathered – everyone was quite and somber. I gently edged my way forward but could not get near the front – then suddenly a senior ranked police man with a loud speaker and walkie-talkie said something and everyone started walking forward – I followed. He told us ‘Rayo rayo’ – be quick, be quick … the crowd gathered pace, passing the entrance and continued down the road – I began to wonder where we were going – perhaps these were people just on their way home but it seemed everyone had a sense of purpose so I continued walking along with them. More police in front and some soldiers directed into the hospital grounds through a car park entrance – again I blindly followed – uncertain where I would end up. It was hot and crowded and I had to shuffle along as there were so many people in front and behind. Finally after walking down many corridors we arrived at an open courtyard area – the area below the King’s rooms and here everyone stopped. I managed to squeeze myself on the edge of a step so I could see what was happening. The crowd were waving large flags, many were holding photographs of the King and someone would start a chant of ‘Long Live the King’ – in Thai and everyone would join in. They also sang the King’s anthem and other songs – probably prayers – that I wasn’t familiar with. After a while, a space appeared in front of me, so I move forward a little and had chance to sit on a lower step. My feet hurt so much – I had worn smart shoes for the lunch – not anticipating I would be walking and standing for hours. Others were sitting too. I noticed the two ladies I had seen on the boat – they turned around, acknowledging me with a sad smile. We stood when the King’s anthem was sung and then sat again.

I thought the battery on my phone had gone so I couldn’t check for news updates but others around me obviously were – shortly after arriving – 30 minutes at the most – I noticed some of the people close to me had started crying – I looked around and could see many people crying – I knew the announcement had been made – I cried too. This was a significant moment in my life as well as in the lives of all the people of Thailand. I love the King, Thailand will be different without him and I felt overwhelmed I was in such a special place when the news came of his passing.

I stayed for another hour, deciding to leave when the crowd started to move – I gathered from a Thai lady that everyone was going to assemble outside the Grand Palace. I didn’t have the energy for this and my poor feet couldn’t have coped. So I made may way to the exit passing a group of ladies settled for the night, sitting holding photographs of the King, the main entrance was now heavily guarded by soldiers and police. I arrived at the pier not sure if there would be an express boat – normally the service finishes soon after it gets dark, around 7 pm but extra boats had been organised to go directly to Saphan Taskin pier so people could catch the h the skytrain. I waited patiently for the boat along with everyone else – it was empty when it arrived – I was so grateful to be able to sit down.

The skytrain was virtually empty too, at Siam station there were less people around than on a normal evening at 9 pm – most were already wearing black. All the advertising on the skytrain monitors and large screens at Siam Paragon had been turned off – the blank screens made it seemed really dark. Messages about the King’s death had started to appear on the smaller station monitors and screens.

What a highly memorable evening.

Written by Angela Stafford

About the Author

Jane Rodgers

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