I'm far away from the Grand Palace this morning, but I've just watched the tribute given to His Majesty there on TV. Back in 2002, when I had been in the country for just five months, I sort of accidentally went to the King's traditional birthday-eve speech on December 4th at the Royal Plaza (ลานพระบรมรูปทรงม้า). At that time, seeing the King didn't mean a lot to me. I didn't know who he was, except that I'd seen his pictures everywhere. It was his 75th birthday that year, and the next evening at Sanam Luang (สนามหลวง), I was amazed at the massive number of people who turned out for the celebrations.
The evening of December 5, 2002, is memorable to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I tried fried insects for the first time, purchased from a street vendor at Sanam Luang (I waited to eat them until I got home, so I could both build up my courage and properly document the event with photographs). Serving as a volunteer missionary at the time, I had ridden my bicycle to the celebrations with another missionary who I was assigned to work with in that area. I spent my first four months in Thailand in the area of Mueang Nonthaburi (เมืองนนทบุรี), and had just moved into an apartment on the Phayathai (พญาไท) side of Samsen (สามเสน) train station a few weeks prior. In the midst of the masses, I got separated from my companion. My Thai was decent by that point, but I rarely strayed far from home, so I didn't know how to describe where I lived. Not being familiar with the area around Sanam Luang, and not really knowing how to ask directions home, I began to make my way through a veritable ocean of people, nervously backtracking my way to our apartment. Until I could locate some familiar landmarks, the massive pictures of the king and the lights all along Ratchadamnoen (ราชดำเนิน) Road very literally pointed my way home that night.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of pomp and circumstance, or as one might say in Thai, พิธีรีตอง. I imagine the King must be used to it by now, but I'm sure it takes it out of him, at his age. In last night's birthday speech, the King again showed that he is a beacon for the Thai people, and presents a stark contrast from other Thai public figures. He deserves all the love and admiration the Thai people shower upon him. And while it's nice to say you love the King, it's doing one better to show it, by understanding and following the principles he advocates. In this respect there's still a long road to be traveled ahead. Good thing there's a light to show the way.
Happy 80th Birthday to His Majesty the King.