BANGKOK — Unlike hundreds of well-wishers who gathered to pray outside Siriraj Hospital on Thursday morning, Thanaporn Sitthiworasilp wore neither pink nor yellow. The 22-year-old said she and her mother rushed there that morning on a mission to distribute 1,000 copies of Buddhist prayers they believed could help His Majesty’s longevity.
Since anxiety about King Bhumibol’s health began roiling the country Wednesday afternoon, the sophomore student admitted she and her family have tried to stay hopeful.
“Right now even he’s still with us, we still have conflict in our country,” she said. “Without him, the situation could be worse.”
When they left home in the morning, they didn’t discuss any further possibilities beyond the point of getting to the hospital to distribute copies of the prayers to those without access to the internet.
They weren’t alone. Several hundred others gathered in a park by a statue of the king’s father, where they turned to face the building where 88-year-old Bhumibol has spent much of the past seven years. Also at the hospital were His Majesty’s children, who arrived in the late afternoon.
For the seven decades he has been on the throne, Bhumibol, the longest reigning king in the world today, has been regarded as a unifying force for the country.
While anxiety was reflected in the financial markets, the well-wishers camped out at Siriraj Hospital on Thursday remained calm and hopeful.
Some of those gathered to pray, especially the seniors, said that was because no news was broadcast by television, which they believe the most credible source.
“There was no news on the television, and the prime minister didn’t speak. That means he is still fine,” said Renu Sayasewee, who has been praying since Wednesday afternoon.
The 69-year-old retired teacher said she did hear worrying things over the Line chat app, so she decided to come to the hospital herself to see for herself that everything was normal.
She said that she once tried to imagine a future of the country after the era of “the greatest human alive,” but found it too discouraging to think about.
“I don’t know how the future of the our little children will be after his era,” said Kanokporn Wiratchalarp, who came from the northern province of Uttaradit and sat next to Renu.
Kanokporn said she anticipated crisis.
While few Thais can have known any monarch other than Bhumibol, who over the course of his reign came to assume a patriarchal role for the nation, information or discussion of the future has been all but forbidden by taboo.
Looking up to the 16th floor room where the king was staying was a 55-year-old Bangkok man, Yod, who refused to give his last name due to the fear of repercussions. He said that he wondered what was going on up there.
He said officials should issue information to dispel doubts.
“The palace should give some pictures or footage to reporters, so the public can see that he’s doing well,” he said. “It’s better than leaving people with their imaginations. And it will also help dismiss the rumors.”
Yod said he could not sleep last night and ended up taking a sleeping pill at 2am
The man believed he could transfer a year of his own life to extend the king’s longevity said that, in the end, he is a Buddhist who always prepares for loss.
“Even the Buddha finally had to go,” he said. “I can accept it.”