King-Sized Birthday

The slogan "Long Live the King" is splashed on signs and buildings all over Thailand. It was my first impression of the country as my plane rolled past the enormous billboard at the airport. The message must be getting through because King Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, just celebrated his 80th birthday.

Bangkok was a sea of yellow Wednesday as everyone donned the color to express their devotion. (Thais have a color for each day of the week, and since the King was born on a Monday—the yellow day—many Thais wear yellow every Monday and on his birthday.) The monarchy no longer holds political power but still plays a huge role in Thai culture. The royal anthem is played before every movie and three times a day on the radio and over loud speakers and everyone stands at attention. The Thai people have so much passion and pride for "my King" as many call him, they sometimes get teary-eyed talking about him. Anyone who has more cynical ideas about the royal family can only express them in hushed tones.

That night, restaurants in my neighborhood turned their TVs to the birthday celebration at the Grand Palace and patrons raised candles and sang songs.

Yellow candles flickered up and down the street.

The next night as I was teaching, loud explosions disrupted the school. Students ran out of their classes to follow the sound. Turns out it was a fireworks display and more birthday festivities. Coincidentally, I was teaching "I've never + present perfect" so I got to say "I've never heard fireworks that loud." Then we let out early and saw a really spectacular show!