Monday, February 11, 2013

For Love of King and Country

For Love of King and Country ... how many countries in today's world does this statement carry any significance?  I don't know other than it is not a large number.  However the statement is very relevant here in Thailand.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is highly respected and revered here in Thailand.  He is considered to be the father to the Thai people.  His photograph is widely displayed along the highways and roads of Thailand.  I am tempted to say based upon my personal observations that a photograph of the King is displayed in every Thai home and business.  Our home is no exception to that statement.

Two weeks ago, we were invited to attend a "big show" being held at the mall in the center of Udonthani.  Our invitation came from Duang's brother who performs in Morlam Lao shows throughout the area.  He was not performing in this show but he was going to pick up a khene from a woman who is considered to be one of the grand dames of Morlam in this area.  Duang's father was also a performer and remains respected and remembered by many of today's older performers - many of them former students of his.  Respect and tradition run very deep in Isaan culture.

The mall in the center of Udonthani has a large theater for stage shows and expositions.  It is a very impressive venue.

Duang and I arrived for the show before Duang's brother.  Fortunately, Duang knew the woman who had arranged for our seats.  We were shocked at the location of our seats - second row seats just to the right of where the dignitaries were to be seated.  We were seated in amongst many of the performers. Our benefactor was aware of my penchant for photographing unique aspects of life here in Isaan and upon our arrival took great efforts to let me know that I was free to get up and take any photographs that I wished to.

Our Benefactor Performing Tradition Morlam Lao With Her Daughter Playing the Khene
I was at first somewhat reluctant because as it turned out the event was sponsored by the Police.  Many high Police officials were in attendance and the event was also being televised.  Eventually the magnitude and beauty of the event overcame my initial reluctance to leave my seat to take photographs.

We discovered that the event was a demonstration of love of King and country by the music departments of each of the universities and colleges in Udonthani.  Each university and college performed a very professional stage show of three songs.  Adult performers also performed.

The audience was mostly university students all wearing their distinctive school uniforms. Paper Thai and Royal flags had been taped to the backs of the chairs so at the appropriate times the audience was a washed in a sea of waving colors.

Some of the performances were accentuated with still photos and film clips of the King on a large video screen behind the performers and on screens located at each side at the front of the stage.  An orchestra on stage played many types of music during the show using some traditional Asian musical instruments as well as typical Western instruments.

University Students Performing Traditional Dance
 In addition to stills and movie clips of the King, some of the performances were accentuated with clips of Thai military personnel and military exercises which seemed to be a sort of recruitment production. All the performances were first rate productions.  The audience's emotional and enthusiastic responses were genuine.

A Student Sings

Close-Up of One of Many Beautiful Student Dancers
Despite moving around to get better positions to photograph the performers, I was able to meet with some of the officials at the show.  One man was the teacher who was responsible for one of the performing groups.  He viewed some of the photos on my camera's monitor and requested that I send him some photos of his group's production.  I declined his offer to pay me and sent him some of the photos as email attachments.  I will now send him a CD with larger files for printing.

I was amazed at how professional the productions were.  I don't know why I keep being surprised at the beauty, grace, and allure of Thai culture.  After four years here, I should be accustomed to it by now.  Perhaps my surprise is more over the magnitude of the beauty, grace, and allure rather than its mere existence.

The show ended with a massive and lengthy pep rally for Thailand.  Police and government officials joined all the performers on stage to sing patriotic songs and wave the flags.

It had been quite an afternoon and a special afternoon.

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