Another picture-heavy post.
Because I was a tourist.
And while this is not a travel blog, what I’ve seen is relevant to fantasy writing.
Seriously, though. As an American, the concept and of royalty is something distinctly foreign. I only know kings, queens, princesses and princes from story and history books, most of which are based on people and places “Over there.” You know, as in across a large body of water.
While a quick, respectful bow is nothing strange to me, I’ve found that as a former Jew, I find it difficult to kneel before anyone. My ancestors kind of had a problem with that since the Ancient Egyptians.
But experiencing majesty, like the presence of real royalty, is something I never before experienced. I imagine very few people the world over in fact have.
While I won’t go into huge detail about King Abdulyadej, I will mention that he’s got quite a collection of interesting trivia to his name. Born in America (Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I suppose makes him technically an American). Involved in a rather unfortunate incident where his older brother (heir to the throne) was killed in an accident involving guns, when the two were alone. The longest-currently-living monarch (born in 19827) – he’s been ruling since 1950.
As a foreigner, and a brief traveler, I can’t be expected to understand to full breadth and scope of his influence from a reading Wikipedia. I defer to others when it comes to this area of expertise, but it’s my understanding that the king is rather well-received by most Thai folk.
The legacy of the monarchy, however, might be a bit different.
In any case, I, like most people, did not get to see the guy himself, but what I did do, like many travelers, was visit one of Bangkok’s major tourist sites: the Grand Palace.
A dress code is enforced at the gates. This would not be the first time I came upon one of these signs…
…nor was it the first time I did so unprepared. After exchanging my shorts for a pair of billowing trousers, I entered upon the palace grounds, and decided nearly everything I saw was nothing short of majestic.
I recalled visiting palaces in South Korea, some restored after Japanese occupation blasted much of that country’s cultural heritage to ruins, and there was a certain modernity to their construction. Much of what I saw there did not compare to the palace in Bangkok, for no living monarchs live in Korea (and haven’t since 1910 when the Japanese took over), and as such the palaces served as little more than tourist destinations or cultural heritage memorials.
For that, they served their purpose well. The modernity of their restoration/reconstruction, however, could be seen in other places as well; something I’ve seen in a variety of places throughout Asia – the whole “quickly and inexpensively built in order to maximize profits” thing.
While walking across courtyards or between buildings at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, I found myself continually reminding myself that no, what I looked at was not some ancient representation of monarchy. “This is how we think they lived.” What I saw was not hastily or cheaply built structures as might be found around the world when trying to lure tourists.
I’m not an architect, and while I can appreciate the so-called “exoticness” of foreign architecture, I have no doubt that the finer details of such a craft are lost upon me. I was, however, able to awe-stricken at some of constructs I walked around, under, or through.
When we read about palaces in fiction, often enough we have our own definitions of what it means to be part of a royal family. We expect servants, lavish cushions, food on a whim, and personal bodyguards.
Authors don’t usually get into detail about the architecture, in my experience. Perhaps we can learn from this.
As I’ve said, royalty is something I’ve always had a little difficulty wrapping my head around, both on the simple grounds of being a secular American, and even on a philosophical level. Kingliness, royalty, regality, whatever you may choose to describe it, exists on the concept of divine right, that is, the gods chose that person (or family) to rule, so therefore it must be so.
It takes a significant amount of brainwashing, I think, to really get the idea into the heads of anyone that someone deserves to rule simply because everyone else says so.
It’s something I encounter often when reading and writing fantasy. The simple question of:
“Why would anyone follow that person?”
Fear helps, I’m sure.
But its things like this that make me question how monarchies manage to stay stable, and how dynasties manage to keep from crumbling. Truly, the idea of divine right is a strange thing.