Saturday November 29 was the first day that the throne hall at the Grand Palace was opened to the general public. While the mourners had been around the palace and on the palace grounds since October 14, now they would get a chance to see the royal urns and pay their respects to the late king.
As expected by the Royal Household Bureau thousands of people gathered early – actually as early as 2 am in the morning to queue. Initially the RHB limited the daily visits to 10,000 people and only 100 persons per time where allowed inside. The throne hall opened from 8 am to 9 pm and during the entire time a member of the royal family is in attendance and monks are chanting. It was soon apparent that many thousands visitors were arriving on Saturday and staying around Sanam Luang, the Grand Palace. Free buses were bringing people from other provinces to Bangkok, even some police departments offered their vans to take people to pay their respects.
And all these people needed to be fed.
As in any huge event there was 24-hour surveillance. Around the palace more than 3,000 policemen were stationed to provide a safe environment. The Navy and the Central Investigation Bureau provided free transport as well as many motorcycle taxis provided free service.
So, many people came. And they needed to be fed.
Authorities and volunteers, including private companies, provided assistance, food and drinks for free. Mobile toilets and medical service centers were quickly set up and a service and badges were provided for lost children and elderly people. In the days between October 14 and 29, 151 children and 72 elderly people were lost, but later reunited with their families.
The outpour of help was and continues to be so great that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) urged public and private organizations that wish to donate essential items to contact them. They organize a better distribution of food, water and everything.
So, reading this on paper or online is one thing, but actually being there was quite another. My former company organized a food distribution for Saturday October 29 to contribute our share and help out. The first idea was to distribute the food and then stand in line to pay respects at the throne hall.
The second part of the “event” was already deemed impossible by 7 am in the morning when the news announced the expected number of people for the day. Unfortunately I didn’t get a message from my friends so I dressed super conservatively in a black dress, covering my knees, my shoulders and my cleavage. Although it is not the hot season at the moment, it is still above 30 degrees Celsius on most days and I started sweating almost immediately upon leaving my apartment.
With that many companies and volunteers trying to help, the food distribution had to be well organized. Otherwise, it would have been a mess. So, a table was reserved for us between two bigger companies. They had even set up real cooking stations.
To get to our assigned spot, we took the boat from the central pier to the Grand Palace stop, walked through masses of people, passed the security gates and were swallowed up in the crowds of black-clothes people of all ages and walks of life.
I was amazed at the many, many small children and elderly people who patiently shuffled along. By the time we got to our booth, sweat drenched, anxious (for me) to get out of the place with so many people, our colleagues who had arrived earlier had already distributed the sticky rice and grilled pork. Mainly because the next company that wanted to help, needed our table and pushed them to hurry. We brought a hundred donuts that we started to lay out in their original brown bags, but there was no time to arrange them nicely. As soon as they were on the table, people came up and grabbed them. Within 3 minutes all of them were gone.
We also distributed cold water and iced towels. These went a bit slower just because many of the other companies and food distributors had the same items. And even during this time of mourning, the people rather had an iced coffee or a bottle of coke, both of which we offered just two booths down from ours.
After probably an hour and half, we gave in, vacated the tent for the next group of do-gooders and fought our way back to the exit, the boat and the sanctuary of our quiet, people-less homes.
I later read that 80,000 people visited on Saturday and the entry rules to the throne hall had been changed: only 70 people per time could enter the hall and the maximum number of visitors was raised to 70,000 per day. Logically, although they didn’t mention it, the time per visit was reduced. Someone told me that their family had been waiting in line for 9 hours to gain access and were only able to stay three minutes.
In week 2 some color was added to the general environment with some of the billboards showing color documentaries of the king’s life and piano music was played in the sky train.