Michael's Dispatches

Thailand: Pause on Fighting for King's Birthday


04 December 2013

I am in Turkey to study the Syrian civil war.  Yet this is also a crucial moment in Thailand.  A few words on the Kingdom are due.

December 5 is His Majesty's birthday. As an American, I was raised since birth to reject all kings. That is our upbringing and what we are taught in school, and with good reason.

The King of Thailand is a rare exception.

King Bhumibol and his wife have earned tremendous respect from other world leaders.  Thai do not call him “the King,” but “my King,” just as we would say “my grandfather.”  King Bhumibol is the deeply loved grandfather of modern Thailand.

The Royal family has invested great effort into women's education, conservation, and bringing peace, where possible, between people who in other countries would be at war.  Personally, I like that the King can be seen in many photographs carrying a camera, but not a rifle.

The King had a crucial hand in replacing the scourge of opium with coffee plants, other crops, and commercial flowers. This is why I often buy street flowers in Thailand.

Barry McCaffrey is a retired US Army four-star General.  General McCaffrey is also a former US “drug czar.”  I went to his office to ask about Mexico issues, and what we could do about opium in Afghanistan.  General McCaffrey told me the King of Thailand was crucial for replacing opium in Thailand, and without the King, it likely never would have been accomplished.

The King was the only person with the credibility to make the change.  As General McCaffrey explained, there is no such person in Afghanistan, or Mexico or anywhere on earth, who can say, “We are Thai, and Thai do not grow opium.  We will help you grow something else.”  And for holdouts, there was of course the Army and police, but most of the magic was in the King himself.

Back in Thailand, I met with a close friend of the King who arranged for me a private tour of the Royal Projects Foundation.  This tour and further study revealed that much of that opium was replaced with commercial flowers.  This is why my friends see me buy flowers in Thailand.  I buy flowers because I know it is feeding a farmer who otherwise might grow opium.

And so my visiting friends sometimes ask, “Why do you buy flowers from a street peddler?”  I say, listen, and I will explain.  Some will say, then buy the flowers at a shop, and I say the street peddler has better prices and needs to eat, too.  If I did not buy the flowers, the farmer would grow opium and the peddler would sell it.  If I buy enough flowers, another kid might go to university.  Consider me the last stop on the Royal Project.

I also buy local Thai coffee, and am partial to the Akha brand, which is raised by Akha hill tribe folks who previously grew opium.  I have visited their farms.  The people still live rough but there is improvement and many schools.  Akha people do not even drink coffee, but with help of the Thai government and the Royal Project Foundation, today many hill tribe folks are coffee farmers.

A co-founder of Akha Ama Coffee is a hill tribesman who does not even know his true birthday.  His name is Lee Ayu Chuepa.  I saw Mr. Chuepa speak at a TED Talk in Chiang Mai. His parents never went to school, and his village had no school.

Under the King’s leadership, that ended, and his Akha village got a simple school four kilometers distant, and he asked his parents, “What is a school?”  His parents did not fully know what a school was, and tried to explain.  He learned to read.

Today Mr. Chuepa is an educated man who graduated from a university and he owns a large coffee business.  The beans are grown by the hill tribes.  If he never had that simple school, he might be a guerrilla leader or drug dealer of substantial proportion.  Instead, he travelled to the USA to learn the art of coffee roasting.

These are a few examples of thousands of why the Thai revere their King.

And so, even during this unfortunate fighting, all sides are taking a time out to honor His Majesty’s birthday on December 5th.

Of course, on December 6 the fighting might start again, but at least everyone will take a moment to think before going to fists and triggers.

It is a moment of pride to mention that the King was born in the Massachusetts, and that his family has always been a friend of the United States.  Again, Americans usually have no patience for royalty.  This time it works.

If you are in Thailand, the King's birthday is a good moment to try a local coffee, and to buy a flower.  



Lee Ayu Chuepa speaks at TED in Chiang Mai.

The unique Royal Projects Foundation.

Great Akha Coffee.

Tribute to the King, sent to me in Turkey, from Thailand

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Elijah · 7 years ago
    Thank you for bringing us this revealing story. Let's pray for a peaceful resolution in Thailand. Stay safe my brother!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Yanisa Jacobs · 7 years ago
    Thanks Mike for your wonderful & honest article about my King.. Even though I've been recited in CA for 12 years.. But whenever I think about my King... my Thai blood is always flow full speed in me! Last Jan we went back to Thailand & had a chance to visit Baan Rak Thai in Mae Hong Sorn province.. I had a chance to talk w/ the village leader, he told me about how this village been set up by the King.. It's amazing to learn one more thing my King's done for those Chinese ppl who need a shelter for their group! You might want to visit once!!! Now they develop their home to be a tourist resorts-home stay w/ Yoon naan food!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Banjo Jones · 7 years ago
    If they sell that coffee in Oklahoma, count me in. Thanks for the knowledge, Michael.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Meng · 7 years ago
      The King of Thailand improve lots of Thai's living and society. Until now, there are many projects under his supervision to develop Thailand.

      Wish those who anti-the King may have seen or recognised the goodwill as bit.

      Thank you Mr. Yon with respects,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thammasak P · 7 years ago
    Michel, as a foreigner you are the one who clearly understand Thais, your short story showed that.

    Thank you anyway
    Long Live the King
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bdoon51 · 7 years ago
    I look at America today and the voting trends as well as exit polls of the last few National elections and despite my upbringing, have to question if a democratic Republic is always the best form of government. Especially the way we in america practice democracy. Direct election does not occur. In many States it is winner take all (electoral votes). This is not democracy. Also we have no economic democracy in the USA. The Golden Rule applies here and I do not have to detail what this says. If Warren Buffet wants to see President Obama he will. If I want to talk to President Obama...it never would happen. This is not democracy. Democracy to be practiced as it should requires population that is at least aware of issues and votes on that basis. Democracy in the USA has transformed the same way professional and college football did. they are now media events, subject to big financial interests and investments. this is not democracy.

    Let's elect Bhumibol!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    yenruedee · 7 years ago
    Thank you for your article. I love it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 7 years ago
    So sell me some coffee...

    It appears it is not available in the US.
    Someone needs to make it happen...
    Michael, sell me some coffee (yum!)
    Help them out
    Help me out
    Make a nickel a cup to support the reporting!

    OK, unfiltered thought...
    (flame on!)

    If you can't do it in your spare time...
    Maybe you could point out an opportunity to someone else.

    Keep up the good work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sutheera · 7 years ago
    Thank you so much Michael. I do love your article and this make me cry with happiness.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Achara Polyiam · 7 years ago
    I love this word "King Bhumibol is the deeply loved grandfather of modern Thailand."

    On this Royal Birthday Anniversary Achara Polyiam and my home wish His Majesty The King good health and happiness.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    tim · 7 years ago
    I have heard that some thai's are talking about changing the thai constitution because of the weirdness of the crown prince. Trying to find away to prevent him from assuming the throne. Perhaps you could address this from your perspective in thailand.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Suchada · 7 years ago
      That's not true. Thai people are fighting against Thaksin Regime and his network, BAD POLITICIANS. It's true that they came from election but Thaksin used his money to buy everything even the organizations that supposed to be fair. Thai people are fighting with no mention of the Crown Prince, BAD POLITICIANS only, especially Thaksin, his sister Yingluck, his wife, his corrupted network, etc. Do you know now with what that Thai people have to uprise and fight with?

      A Thai person who is still fighting for better life of the Thai Nation
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William McKenty · 7 years ago
    All very true, i am a vellow shirt, supporter of the King. Very hard to describe to americans, of which i am, the love most Thais have for his Majesty, he is a very thoughtful, intelligent and caring man and royal family during his rein has been marvelous. He is also quite the environmentalist. Michael, loved your story on the Red Horse drilling team, I was a hydrogeologist for USACE though i work for USEPA and work on those rigs for two years 2010 through 2011, and now we know that there's lots of groundwater ....... sawadee khop

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thammasak P · 7 years ago
    Tim, as Thai, I can say that your suggestion about the Crown Prince's issue is not true becuase we have some article in recent Constitution said about that already. The main topic to change is worrying about the election which need more strictly procedure.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kajornpong Srichai · 7 years ago
    Dear Mr.Yon,
    First let me please pay you the sincerest respect. I had been study in USA. And I never seen an American (pure) like you. I literally have a goose bump all over me for the whole time I was reading your article. You capture the heart of your reader, especially Thai reader, from the first sentence. Thank you so much to appreciate HM's work. I can tell from your doings in the article that you really appreciate HM work. And the most heart shaking part is when I saw you write "ทรงพระเจริญ" IN THAI. May I translate that for you the word means "Long live the king". And may I add the greatest work of HM in my opinion is "ปรัชญาเศรษฐกิจพอเพียง" or "Philosophy of Sufficient Economy". The first time I heard of this is well beyond 10 years ago, when I never heard of sustainability concept from any business. HM introduced this philosophy which allow people to live without any money (providing that they have their own lands, which was the majority of people in Thailand's country side). But the greatest thing of this philosophy is that it also adapt to business and every people. The core is that you spend less than you get and you should satisfy with what you got. This doesn't mean nobody can have nice things but means you can have nice thing(s) when you can afford it (them). It took me 10+ years, 1 Bachelor and 1 Master to get what HM said. But that provide me the basis of what my life is today. At last, I would dare say I stopped calling HM "My King" for quite a while. Since then I call HM "The King of Kings". I apologized if my calling HM the King of Kings is disruptive for any other audience(s), please accept my sincerest apology. But I will not revoke my words for HM is The King of Kings of all times for me. Thank you again for the heart touching article.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    1 · 7 years ago
    I love my King.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nawee Sribhadung · 7 years ago
    You were able to put into writing what most of us would love to be able to do, show our love for our King. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete · 7 years ago
    I love that you not only report, but give context and history. Every single dispatch is part journalism, part history lesson.

    If you ever get so old to retire, make sure that you go and teach somewhere. There's not enough people out there who can teach in such a way that people are excited to learn from them, and I think you have that gift in spades, my friend.

    Good Luck, Godspeed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kay Rosenbaum · 7 years ago
    It's so awesome to finally read an article written by a foreign journalist about the King of Thailand and his beloved country and what he has done to improve the lives of common citizen who otherwise would not have found their honest way for livelihood and learning new ways to grow different crops for living......fantastic writing Michael....thank you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathy S. · 7 years ago
    Michael, you are amazing and I learn so much from you! I re-read Gates of Fire as well and was as moved as I was when I first read it. Thank so much. All this confirms my experiences with the Thai people...they're wonderful.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Somkiat · 7 years ago
    "...can be seen in many photographs carrying a camera, but not a rifle."

    Is it true?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Khonjaidee · 7 years ago
    The only goal of all his doing is purely and surely for his people in this Land of Smile...I love my King.

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