A mourner clutches a picture of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the hearse carrying the body of the late monarch passes the Grand Palace in Bangkok on October 14, 2016. AFP / LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA
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My own most vivid recollections of the world's longest reigning monarch, who died Thursday at the age of 88, are rather different.The last time I met the king, in 2008, he was dressed in a Western suit, relaxing on a sofa – and smiling. Far from the often stilted, vague language of his public speeches, he punctuated his remarks with colorful anecdotes and jokes in excellent English, talking for more than two hours about jazz, his family and beloved pet dogs, growing old and the downsides of golf courses and dams. Over the years, some of the king's advisers noted that he seemed more at ease with foreigners because there did not exist the barriers of protocol as with most Thai subjects.During one of several grueling, consecutive days, the king, queen and eldest daughter arrived in the morning by helicopter at an agriculture experimental station in the northern province of Chiang Mai, the king having gone to bed at 2 a.m. the night before to prepare for the day's work.Rivulets of sweat mingled with the reddish upland dust on the king's face as he spread a map on the ground and dropped to his knees to study the problem, the Lahu casually ranged around him.The king clearly savored such encounters, bantering with rural dwellers and trying to solve their problems, even marital ones. In the late '80s, during another meeting with a few foreign journalists, the king said rapid growth had outpaced social and spiritual development, leading to both moral and environmental depredations.
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