Vitidnan Rojanapanich, TV producer, art curator and patriotic Thai, thought he was going to die. His body hung from a rope against a sheer cliff face on the side of Mount Everest. A storm blew against him, preventing him from climbing further. He tried hard not to fall off or let go for what felt like an eternity. All he could remember was that he kept singing Tsong Phra Charoen (Long Live the King), a tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol.
“At that moment, I had no fear. I am a curious person, just thinking of the after-death experience I was about to encounter. I thought Mount Everest might be a good place to die. At least the world would know why I went there.”
That was in late 2011, when Vitidnan embarked on a long-hatched mission to climb the summit of Mount Everest to honour His Majesty King Bhumibol. “People often say they love the King,” he told Elite+ in an exclusive interview. “But what actually do we do to prove our love? So I thought climbing up the highest mountain in the world, and placing His Majesty on top of the world, would be a little gift I could do to honour our beloved King.
“The mission was not for myself, it was for all Thais. I wanted to show that Thai people can overcome difficulties and I wanted to be an inspiration. With every step I felt I was carrying the weight of a million Thais on my shoulders. But I think the hardships of climbing to the top of Everest are trivial compared to the hard work King Bhumibol has been doing for Thailand and the Thai people. So when I feel tired, I draw inspiration from His Majesty.”
The story of his Everest expedition made him popular, as he became the first Thai national to conquer the world’s highest summit. Those who meet Vitidnan are often surprised, seeing not a spartan mountaineer but an ordinary guy, a healthy 48-year-old who radiates optimism and a unique never-say-die attitude. Vitidnan is an example of self-transformation. Before climbing Everest, he worked in the entertainment industry, especially theatre. To conquer Everest he first spent six years preparing his body and stamina.
Being neither athlete nor mountain climber, Vitidnan started small, by running two kilometres, then gradually increasing the distance to 15km per day. To prepare his muscles, he practised carrying 15 kilograms up the Banyan Tree high-rise over several years. He also quit his permanent job as TV producer and took up freelance work in order to devote time to his self-transformation. He also stopped driving and began walking to work in order to build physical stamina.
Did he think about giving up, abandoning the project over six years of training? Anyone could get tired and worn out. Yet giving up never crossed his mind. “I have a theory that when you can do something longer than three months, it will become second nature. You just keep on doing it.”
Even as he climbed Everest, there was not a single moment that he thought about giving up. “I just thought about the next step, the next move. Mostly I thought about what I would do once I stood on the summit of Everest.” And when he reached the summit, he brought a picture of King Bhumibol and took a photo to show millions of Thais and the world.
After his descent, he later climbed the other six highest mountains. At every summit he would bring a picture of King Bhumibol and take photos of it. People often ask him about his patriotism. “I often think that those who ask this question do not love the country enough. My advice is how about trying to love the country. Try to be that patriotic.” Vitidnan has been passionate about many things in life: curating art, acting, sailing, flying planes, doing charity projects. He has attempted many diverse projects, some successfully, a few not.
“When I fail, I pick myself up and start over again. For me, failure offers you good lessons, even about yourself. Arrogant winning is as bad as failing to learn anything from your mistakes and failures.”
His perspective in life is guided by Buddhist principles – lack of attachments, abandonment. “Life is impermanent, a constant flux of change. So there is nothing worth getting attached to.” Like 65 million Thais, Vitidnan has been in bereavement following the departure of HM the King. After October 13, Vitidnan become more steadfast in following the footsteps of King Bhumibol. “I simply want to work harder to help others, to make the country a better place. That is the best way to pay tribute to our King.”
He helped create “King’s Inspiration”, an art exhibition that began in December at the Royal Thai Embassy in the Netherlands. The exhibition features paintings depicting images of King Bhumibol by nine prominent Thai artists. The exhibition will travel to six other continents. He still has many projects to honour HM the King including sailing and flying small aeroplanes. He is planning to create “Soon bandan Jai Jorm Kasad” (Centre for the King of Inspiration) to use art to change society.
“I still do not have a sponsor. But money has never been an important thing in my life. I will try very hard, find people with common ground and will see whether the project can roll.” His project to climb Everest also started with no sponsor. After showing them his idea and training, a Vietnamese TV production finally offered financial support.Vitidnan believes that everyone needs to fight to live fully, to get ahead. But fighting is not enough. Fighters need to know how to fight in good spirit.
His philosophy reflects his favourite song, Yim Su (Smile and Fight), a song composed by King Bhumibol. “The lyrics teach us to fight problems with a calm and cool head. Problems are a part of life. It depends on how we choose to deal with life. Most people chose to fight problems but they become angry and bitter.” Yim Su reminds Vitidnan to smile at problems and fight them in a good spirit. “Even if we know we lost, we can smile in order to learn more about ourselves and explore new experiences.”