burmese refugees

Short Guide: King, Thailand and Politics

Who was the Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej?

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States in 1927, he was educated in Switzerland, and ascended the throne after his Uncle abdicated the throne, and his brother died in a mysterious death, and became King at the age of 19 years old in 1946, and had a successful marriage with Queen Sirikit in 1950, who was beloved by the people. He was known as the “People’s King”.

History of his Monarchy:

The Thai King Bhumibol would oversee more than 30 Prime Ministers, and over 20 Military Coups and Takeovers, that his presence alone became the unification symbol of his Kingdom during a time Thailand faced many different factions that had different views of how Thailand should be ruled. King Bhumibol became the Nationalistic symbol of unification, and thus resulted himself becoming worshiped as the Unifying Power of the Nation. He would rule the Kingdom of Thailand for 70 years at the age 88.

The Rise of the People’s King:

King Bhumibol was a very influential and powerful figure in not just in Thailand, but in the entire Indochina and Southeast Asia region itself. During the Indochina War in the 1950′s-1970′s, he was a very peace loving King, and allowed and accepted many refugees fleeing from the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge or the Secret War in Laos, alongside accepting Burmese, Chinese and Malaysian refugees fleeing their war torn countries.

This created Thailand as the sanctuary country for refugees, that he is beloved and regarded in high respect not just by Thai’s, but by many ethnicity groups and cultures, and is held in high regards by neighboring Kingdoms and Nations.

The Rise of Thailand in Southeast Asia:

Thailand would undergo huge economic boom in the 1980′s, creating Thailand to become an economic and political stronghold in Southeast Asia, where all it’s neighbors were war torn and drove deep into economic and political turmoil during and after the Indochina War in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Thus securing the success of Thailand and crediting King Bhumibol overseeing Thailand as a superpower in Southeast Asia.

Political Turmoil:

With Thailand still under the Military Junta that ousted the democratically elected Prime Minister, the death of the King that unified the country, the unfavourable Crown Prince to succeed the King, and an impatient population waiting for the Military to step down from their Leadership, Thailand is a ticking time bomb that can be defused, and if left unchanged, Thailand will see many political unrest and instability at the Capital City of Bangkok.

Father and son

This semester I am taking an Art Indp. Study course with one of my former fine art photography professor, Mark Goodman. He’s inspired me to continue my documentation with the Htoo family. Goodman documented a town over three decades and i would like to do something similar.  It would be interesting to see these little boys grow up and document their lives. I plan on doing a whole portrait series with the Htoo family on 120mm film. As a photographer, we are always questioning how to give back to the people that you photograph and I think I finally thought of something!

alright so...

Despite the title of the blog, I’m gonna cut down to the nitty-gritty, and save you guys a bunch'a pretty verbage about some gorgeous islands that ended up being much more stressful than they needed to be.

The courtyard of Suphan Lake Hometel, where I stayed for my night in Bangkok.

Long story short, London to Bangkok, stayed in a gorgeous hotel for made cheap, and strutted around the markets of Bangkok for a while before heading back to the airport to fly to Koh Samui, a larger island near our destination. While waiting for my baggage, I was puttin’ on a little show with my podpoi for the kids and families waiting (really I was just excited to be on an island and not cramped in a plane anymore ha); wasn’t long before I was approached by a dude with a flaming bandana tied around a fedora, inquiring… ‘Are you a Sparkle by any chance?’

'Yes. Yes, I am.’

This man  turned out to be Kat Irvine, fellow teammate from Vancouver Island, Canada, and we had literally just arrived minutes apart from each other out of shear happenstance. Ended up catchin’ his ride and crashin’ with him at Island Hoppers Beach Club, right on the beach. Totally had a geek-out jam sesh 'fore we passed out.

Kat and I, celebrating the success of our travels at Island Hoppers. He doesn’t drink so this is a rare photo of him. :P

We found this incredible Predator statue made entirely out of motorbike parts hahaha!

The beach at Island Hoppers Beach Club.

We woke early, packed back up, and had a nice little breakfast before heading to catch a quick catamaran ferry over to Koh Phangan, where we met up with fellow Sparkles Josh Navez-Barry, Sarah McMorrow, and Leyla Miriam at Haad Rin pier. We then took a longboat (usually a rather drenching experience, but we got lucky ha) to Haad Tien beach on the opposite side of the island, where we would be staying at Beam Bungalows and meeting the rest of the team. 

From the longboat to Haad Tien.

The next few weeks were rather intense; getting to know the international, multi-cultural team, putting together an entire show (our first performance was only five days after we met each other!), rehearsing big choreographed pieces, establishing new standards of fuel safety, and of course, interpersonal drama. That being said, the intensity of such talented folk coming together and whatever conflict there was only brought us together as a team, quickly forging us into a tight crew of circus folk. We very soon realized each others’ strengths and stepped up to roles of responsibility; we each had our part to play and we each did it well. Within a week and a half, we had performed three official shows, three renegade shows at local parties, raised over 100,000 baht for the group, and had more shows on the way!

We also had the chance to take part in a raw cacao and ecstatic dance ceremony, which may have been one of the most profoundly sobering psychedelic experiences of my life… but that’s a whole 'nother story. :)

Beam Bungalows, where we stayed for our duration on Koh Phangan. The staff here were absolutely great! 

A bird’s eye view of Haad Tien, the beach where we stayed.

After about two weeks and a killer show at Sanctuary Health Spa and Resort, we took an absolutely drenching longboat ride through typhoon-warning seas from Ban Thai all the way to Koh Samui, with only circus anthems and salty jokes to keep us comfort, for another couple resort shows, and our first day shows with children. Unfortunately, I was quite ill for our first show at Bandara resort; I stayed back at our accomodations, deciding to go on a little walk for snacks later in the afternoon, when a travelling Russian girl pulled over her motorbike to demand I give her an impromptu poi class! Luckily, I was right as rain for our show the next night at Chaweng resort, a five-star resort where we showed up, set up, burned it up, broke down and got outta there all in just an hour! I got to play a superfun contact staff set to The One I Love by R.E.M., realizing just that morning that the lyrics mention 'a simple prop to occupy my time… FIRE!’ hahahaha.

SPRING BREAK, WOOOOO! The soaked but smiling team riding through the deluge!

Chaweng, pre-show.

Chaweng, pre-show. Photo by Sarah McMorrow.

Chaweng, post-show.

The next morning at six am, we loaded into trucks, then a bus, onto a ferry from Samui to the mainland, and then a ten hour bus ride to Bangkok, crazy frantic transition to another bus at the craziest bus station I’ve seen in my life (Richmond greyhound ain’t got nothin’ on Bangkok. o.o), and then another ten hour, overnight bus ride to Mae Sot district near the Burma border, where we will be staying for vast majority of the rest of our trip. Yesterday was our first round of shows for a refugee community and it was without a doubt an incredibly humbling experience. 

Circus-bombing the ferry! People instantly pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures haha! Photo by Sarah McMorrow.

On our way to our first day show at Sky Blue School, also known as The Dump!

Stay tuned, true believers! I’ll be telling that story in great detail this evening, likely morning for you most of you fine folks!


Hla Oo, a Burmese refugee, spent seven years trying to get to New York. Last September, he finally did. Read the story.