Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

5 December 2006: Today was the King’s 79th birthday…he has been on the throne for 60 years and the entire country is celebrating him. With good reason. King Bhumibol is an amazing man. He is the world’s longest reigning monarch and one of history’s most successful. Because Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, he rarely intervenes directly in affairs, but uses his tremendous influence and wealth to advance the both freedom and environmentally conscious economic advancement for Thailand.

When he wants to make a point about politics, he speaks in clever parables and tells witty stories instead of criticizing anyone directly or giving advice. He speaks often of the need for balance, for compassion, and about the interrelatedness of all things.

More materially, he is quite scientifically minded and has a lab on the palace grounds and several more scattered around the country in different climate zones. He has emphasized sustainable, environmentally aware techniques that allow people to help themselves. He created a double seeding process that literally brought rain to his people during drought. He destroyed the opium business in northern Thailand by introducing cash crops that paid the hill tribesmen more than did opium. He’s into reforestation, fish farming, watershed development; created initiatives regarding medical schools and treatment, transportation, education…his influence has been felt in every area of Thai life.

If all that weren’t enough, the King, who was born in the USA and educated largely in Europe, is an accomplished jazz musician. The celebrations in my neighborhood focused on the King’s music, with a five-day-long jazz and crafts festival, which culminated in a candle-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. which was replicated throughout Thailand at exactly the same time. Everyone had a candle and each candle was lit from someone else’s, symbolizing unity and mutual helpfulness… very Thai. There was Thai dancing and fireworks, with a dozen of the marvelous fire-balloons that Thais love floating overhead. Everyone wore yellow, which in Thailand is the color associated with Monday...the king was born on Monday.Therefore, yellow is the color of the King.

It was fantastic and I bless my lucky stars that I happened to visit Thailand in time to celebrate the King.


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