Monday morning Tawn woke himself up, laughing from a dream. I was already somewhat awake, lying in bed looking at the pink glow of the morning sun behind the draperies, and thought that Tawn was awake and was laughing at something in particular. So I asked what he was laughing at and all I received in response was a mubled, incomprehensible answer. That’s when I realized he wasn’t awake yet.
Monday was a holiday here in Thailand: His Majesty the King’s birthday, which also doubles as Father’s Day as the King is the Farther of the nation. Tawn had the day off work and I had the morning off school. But the malls and many shops were open.
Late on Sunday afternoon with an uncharacteristically cool breeze, we had been shopping at Jatjutak Market – the famed “Weekend Market”, a flea and craft market of incredible size and often unbearable heat – and the King’s annual address was being broadcast over the loudspeakers, the radios, and the televisions.
Every year on the eve of his birthday, the King delivers an address to his cabinet, other government leaders, and the nation as a whole. He usually uses the occassion to comment, sometimes in a roundabout way, on public policy, politics, and issues that he finds of particular interest.
Over the past few years, he has been extolling the virtues of Thailand developing a “sufficiency economy” by which Thailand can take care of itself with relative self-sufficiency. The underlying message is that the increasingly consumerist society is chasing something that the society as a whole cannot sustain.
This year, one that in the past few months has seen the once-popular Prime Minister Thaksin under attack from his opponents and using defamation and slander lawsuits to fight them, His Majesty delivered a fairly direct, if thinly veiled and light-hearted, rebuke. He told the PM to lighten up and stop taking the criticism so personally.
At one point, he joked that he should say something nice to the Prime Minister because otherwise his feelings might be hurt.
The King also mentioned that even he is open to criticism and is pleased to receive it so he knows how people think and feel, despite the law which, based on old English law, says “the King can do no wrong.”
Around the city, everything is decorated to celebrate the King’s 78th year. Every building has a shrine or display set up to honor the King – a picture of him done up with yellow (the royal color), flowers, and bright lights. The MRTA (subway) stations have huge murals on the walls displaying the happy subjects and the glorious vistas of the country.
It is an amazing sight and a sincere display of affection, and a well-deserved one considering that the King has ruled for 60 years (longer than any other monarch on the planet) and has helped guide the Kingdom through some very turbulent times. Along the way, he has focused on projects that raise people out of poverty and increate their self-sufficiency.
The weather continues to remain beautiful, evenings almost cool and daytimes quite bearable. I would recommend visitors from North America and other cooler climates to time a visit to conincide with the weeks between Thanksgiving and mid-December – not only do you get to see the country prettied up for the King’s birthday but you also get these great temperatures!
In fact, our friend Aaron Wong arrived today and will spend his first few days in the country down at Koh Samui before returning to Bangkok on Friday. Hopefully we can visit with him before we head to the airport Friday evening for our trip to Seoul.