Emotional visit by Swedish royalties

It was a somber moment on 18 February when HM King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden walked through what was once the beautiful reception hall at Blue Village hotel in Khao Lak to attend a memorial ceremony to honour the dead and missing from the Boxing Day tsunami.
     Now only a few pillars and some flooring were left of the resort that hosted some 550 Scandinavians when the wave struck.
     But the hot afternoon sun shone brightly, the sea was calm and a soothing breeze welcomed the royal guests and the small group that joined them.
     The ceremony was simple, yet powerful and to the point.
     Saxophonist Johan Stengård played an old psalm on the beach, facing the royalties.
     As the last tune disappeared with the wind King Carl XVI Gustaf walked up to a small table facing the sea, arranged the wreath two Thai scouts had put there a moment before, took a step back and bowed his head in respect for the dead and missing.
     Then a Thai musician played a clarinet tune, followed by bible readings from Swedish priest Katarina Bäckelin who afterwards got a warm hug from a very touched Queen Silvia with tears streaming down her chins.
     Johan Stengård rounded off the touching moments with another psalm while two women in a group of relatives to dead and missing tourists wept.
     But the royal program in Phuket and Phang Ngha began much earlier with visits to Phuket City Hall and Bangkok Phuket Hospital in the morning and Ban Nam Kem in Phang Ngha after lunch.
     In a shelter for homeless at Ban Nam Kem Queen Silvia and Princess Soamsawalee of Thailand opened “Learning for Healing Center”, a cooperation project between Queen Silvia’s “World Childhood Foundation” and Princess Soamsawalee’s projects in Thailand.
     Later King Carl XVI Gustaf visited a small shipyard in Ban Nam Kem where he donated SEK 2 million, one million from his own funds and one million from his friends, to fishermen in Ban Nam Kem so they can build new boats and return to their trade as soon as possible.
     “Being a boatman myself I felt it was the right thing to do,” explained the King. ”Without boats they can do nothing. This is a concrete thing; it is help to self help.”
     The King was very touched when he later received a handmade model of the local fishing boats Ban Nam Kem fishermen use from one of the men he set out to give a new start.
     After the memorial ceremony the royals went to see Stig Edqvist, who heads the Swedish ID Commission, at the new identification center on Phuket just after Sarasin bridge. Stig Edqvist told the group how his people work and reiterated a promise to all Swedes who miss a relative from the tsunami:
     “Every Swedish corpse we find will be identified. But you should also understand that some people will never be found and missed forever.”
     During a reception at Pearl Village the same evening the King presented the governors of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Ngha with the Order of the Polar Star for their assistance to Swedes in need.
     This order was also presented Thursday the 17th to Thamnoon Wanglee, representing the Thai scout movement, by the King who brought with him a donation of USD 40 000 to the Thai scout movement, earmarked for scouts whose living hood was hit by the tsunami.
     A dinner hosted by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at Pearl Village rounded off the royals’ trip to the south before they returned to Bangkok.
     On Saturday the royalties went to see the Scandinavian Church in Bangkok, welcomed by the priest couple Lennart and Lis Hamark and a congregation of Scandinavians.
     After that the King and Queen were driven to Samitivej Hospital, which accepted a large number of Swedish patients during the tsunami, and also sent staff to the ad hoc medical emergency terminal building, which was set up at Phuket airport during the evacuation period.
     On Saturday afternoon the King and Queen welcomed the Swedish business community and volunteers at a reception at the Oriental hotel.
     “We have come closer, Sweden and Thailand, during and after this disaster,” said the Queen summing up what so many Swedes feel and think.

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