* Watch the 1926 Funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (Rama VI)

I included a link and caption to this rare digitized footage of the 1926 funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (aka Rama VI) to accompany a pair of travel advisory stories I wrote for the South China Morning Post related to King Bhumibol’s funeral rites in October 2017. The actual cremation took place on the evening of October 26, preceded by a half-dozen processions that day and by five rehearsals in the days before that. (The gist of my stories: Don’t even think that you can get close enough on October 25-27 to see anything in the vicinity of the funerary structures.)

The video caption I wrote was edited down a lot, so I don’t think readers could draw much from it. Early on in the video, that’s Vajiravudh’s brother, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), presiding over–by pulling a rope–the raising of the Royal Six-Tiered Umbrella to a spire atop the multi-story wood crematorium. That ceremony occurs a few days before the actual cremation; this year it took place October 18, with Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, residing.

The experts at the Thai Film Archive believe the scraps of film, found in 1981, were probably leftovers from a long-lost newsreel that would have been shown in movie theaters. The later parts of this footage are probably from the cremation day. You can see the large urn with the king’s body being transferred from the grounds of the Royal Palace. Actually, there were two urns, Professor Tongthong Chandransu, an expert on royal funeral ceremonies, told me. An outer gold urn encased a silver urn that contained the king’s body. The silver urn was then removed from the gold one at the time of cremation.

In the film, that urn probably was being transferred from the Grand Palace to the chariot that conveyed it to the crematorium on Sanam Luang. It was on this same great field, north of the Grand Palace and fronting Thammasat University, where Bhumibol’s ceremonies took place as well. An urn was used 67 years ago for the funeral of Bhumibol’s brother, Ananda (Rama VIII), but a western style wooden coffin was used for Bhumibol (Rama IX).

I was so surprised to the see women in sleeveless dresses in the film, ascending and descending the stairs as they paid final respects. Surely they must have been foreign women—wives of diplomats and such? As a general rule, Thai women rarely wear sleeveless garments even today. The dress code for this year’s ceremonies was quite explicit: black and grey colours, and covered arms, shoulders and legs for men and women alike.

Brothers Vajiravudh and Prajadhipok were half-brothers of  Bhumibol’s father, Mahidol, a physician who was never a king. That bit of information was deleted in the editing process, so the caption in the Post says the two kings featured in this film were Bhumibol’s “half-uncles.” Hmm, I guess technically that’s right, but sounds strange. They were also full cousins, since their mothers were sisters but I suppose that would be Too Much Information.

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* Funeral of Late Thai King May Not Be for Tourists; Here’s How to Pay Respects

The funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej involves five days of ceremonies. Venues will be closed, traffic will be disrupted and massive crowds are expected around the royal palace. Here’s how to view this historic event.

By Susan Cunningham
South China Morning Post

The five days of funeral ceremonies this month for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will truly be fit for a revered monarch who ruled for 70 years. Ceremonies will draw on Buddhist and Hindu rites dating back hundreds of years and will take place in and around a cluster of temporary wooden structures north of the Grand Palace that architects and artisans have been labouring on for most of this year.

However, visitors to Bangkok from October 25 to 29 should give up any thought of attending the site of ceremonies in person. Especially on October 26, the day of cremation, they instead should be prepared for traffic disruption, closures of public and private venues, and massive crowds in the vicinity of the old royal city. MORE

 

* Thai Elections Postponed As Violence Hits Tourist Territory

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 15, 2014

Tourist alert! Three people are dead and 22 people are injured in Bangkok after a gunfire and grenade attack on a new protesters’ site early Thursday morning. The anti-government PDRC camp is close to the Democracy Monument–in the city’s prime tourist area.

The deadly violence achieved one of the immediate goals of the anti-election PDRC protesters: parliamentary polls set for July 20 have now definitely been postponed by the Election Commission. The commission’s secretary-general indicated Thursday that the elections are being postponed rather than cancelled: “The situation has to be right and accommodating for an election to take place … We don’t think this is the right time.”

Army Reacts to Fresh Bangkok Violence

Were members of the  UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship), the so-called Red Shirts who support the present Pheu Thai Party caretaker government, responsible for the shots and grenades last night?

As in most previous incidents–28 people have died since last November in violence related to the protests–we may never know.  The grenades and guns were wielded by occupants of a pickup truck that plowed through the protest camp. But the responses of the military and Electoral Commission certainly aren’t what the pro-elections UDD is seeking. The Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, warned Thursday that if unrest continues, “it will be necessary for the military to launch a full-scale effort to end the violence.” MORE

 

* 48 Heroes Of Philanthropy – 2013

By John Koppisch
Forbes Asia

This is our seventh annual project highlighting the generous and often innovative efforts of the Asia-Pacific region’s most notable givers. We feature biotech entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who’s working to improve cancer care in India. And, below, we spotlight the 2013 crop of 48 leading philanthropists in the region. MORE

I contributed to this annual issue of Forbes Asia.

* Coupon clash

By Susan Cunningham
Southeast Asia Globe

As discount deal websites explode in the region, a Thai company shows how it’s done.

Deep-discount deal sites have been surging throughout the United States and Europe for almost three years, but they were late off the starting blocks in Southeast Asia – arriving only in mid 2010. Since then, they have moved and morphed, bought and sold themselves.

In June 2010, when Tom Srivorakul and his two younger brothers launched Ensogo, the first deal website in Thailand, they employed five people and had a single offer: a 60% discount at ice cream chain iBerry.

A year later, when Ensogo was bought for an undisclosed sum by LivingSocial–the second-largest US deal company with a monthly revenue of $50m as of the start of this year–the start-up had 430 employees, 17 city sites in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia and more than two million subscribers to its daily discount deal e-letter … MORE

* The Crowning Fortune

By Susan J. Cunningham
Forbes Asia

The king of Thailand controls vast wealth. Just how vast wasn’t clear, until some sleuthing by a Bangkok academic and some new openness by the monarchy’s investment arm.

The Thai monarchy’s family fortune has always been shrouded in secrecy. Last year FORBES ASIA valued it at a conservative $5 billion. Other estimates have put it at $8 billion. But this year–using an exhaustive academic study of the monarchy’s investment arm, the Crown Property Bureau–FORBES ASIA now values the fortune at at $35 billion. This new estimate easily puts King Bhumibol Adulyadej atop our annual list of the world’s richest royals. Last year we ranked him fifth.

The bulk of the bureau’s assets lies in its vast real estate holdings, which make it the country’s largest landowner and include roughly one-third of Bangkok’s central business district. The bureau also holds a 30% stake in the Siam Cement Group and a 25% share of Siam Commercial Bank . The bureau granted an economic historian who is writing a history of the bureau, Porphant Ouyyanont, unprecedented access to its files in 2005. His paper, which was published in the U.K.’s Journal of Contemporary Asia in February, pegged the value of the bureau’s assets at $27.4 billion as of the end of 2005. Since then the assets and the baht have appreciated (though the baht has fallen recently). “Sure, [the estimate] is enormous, but it’s reasonable,” he says. “We know the price of land. We know [the market] capitalization [of the companies].” An adviser to the bureau, Aviruth Wongbuddhapitak, said by e-mail that “generally, there is no major inaccuracy” in Porphant’s paper. … more