Edit: Video is now public. Sorry for not catching that before posting. Thanks to Gary for informing me.
It may surprise you to hear that there was a large celebration of July 4th in Bangkok. The American Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual festivities, which bring together not only the disparate American expat community, but also many Thais and people from other countries who have lived or studied in the US, or just appreciate a chance for a taste of real American tradition.
Last year was my first year attending, in the company of several other American expats who had pretty much only negative things to say about the experience. I won’t go into that episode again, suffice it to say I enjoyed it enough to not only show up for a second year, but also to volunteer for almost seven hours of working at the raffle tickets table.
While some expats take the approach of, “I don’t like the United States, that’s why I left”, I look at it from the belief that even if there are aspects of US culture for which I don’t care, it is within my ability to actively participate and influence the changes I want to see. That’s why last year I volunteered at the Democrats Abroad table, registering expats to vote and talking up the need for change in Washington. I’d like to think that my efforts contributed in some small part to moving the world’s perception of America back towards the right track.
This year’s event was held at the American School, a private primary and secondary school that is located just a few blocks from my condo, behind Samitivej Hospital. Their campus has lots of trees and the main basketball court / stage area has a large roof over it, giving celebrants plenty of shaded areas to enjoy the breezy day.
Several thousand people attended, representing every star and stripe of American culture. We had many expat families who are here on temporary work assignments, we had Mormon missionaries and young Peace Corps volunteers, we had a group of “butch” lesbians with lots of piercings and tattoos, plenty of gay couples of all ages, long-term expats who have been here for dozens of years, tourists who just happened to be in town this weekend, and of course the typical hugely overweight American men with their tiny Thai girlfriends/wives who were half their age and one-quarter their size.
Where some might have seen ugly stereotypes, I saw the diversity that is America, for better or for worse.
There were also lots of Thai families there, many of whom have children attending the American School and others of whom were there just for the fun of it. There was a large play area set up for children with all sorts of games, including all the traditional Fourth of July favorites: tug o’ war, bucket relays, three-legged races, potato (or, in this case, rice) sack races, face painting, etc.
Below, a short video look at some of the fun.
On the food side of things, the local branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars were grilling hamburgers while the Wives’ Auxiliary were cooking hot dogs and selling the most popular item – Sam Adams beer (which is not sold here and has to be imported through the embassy!). Bourbon Street, Great American Rib Company, Roadhouse Barbecue and Sunrise Tacos were all present, selling their specialties. Another military service group was selling homemade apple pie and at the booth next door, Dairy Queen would put a dollop of vanilla soft serve on top. Of course, what Fourth would be complete without a chili cookoff?
Above, a direct hit at the dunking tank.
Most of my day was spent at the tables by the entrance where I and other volunteers hawked raffle tickets. Fifty baht (about $1.60) a ticket for a chance to win fifty fabulous prizes. First prize was two free tickets to anywhere in the U.S. that United Airlines flies. We had hotel room stays, spa visits, bicycles, car rentals and all sorts of other prizes. Best of all, proceeds went to support the chamber of commerce’s Adopt a School program, which provides support to poor schools in rural Thailand, including the building of playgrounds and providing of supplies. We must have raised at least $4,000 just from the raffle.
So it was a fun day celebrating the 233rd anniversary of America’s declaration of independence. I hope that those of you who were in the U.S. had a chance to enjoy the holiday, too. For those of you outside the U.S., I hope you had a nice weekend!