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December 20, 2012

Local Voices from Around the Globe: The birthday of a king

By Zak Aldridge
Cooperstown Crier

---- — His photo is in every home, restaurant, school and hotel in Thailand. He was born in Cambridge, Mass., to a prince and a princess. At 60 years of holding the position, he is the world’s longest serving head of state. He is a professional jazz saxophonist, sailor and sailboat designer. His net worth is valued at approximately $35 billion. He is Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), the King of Thailand, and Dec. 5 was his 85th birthday.

The day prior, my host mother gave me a yellow shirt inscribed with the text “Love for our Father” to wear to the provincial ceremony. Thais love their king with an immense passion and recognize him as “the father of the nation.” For this reason the king’s birthday is also Father’s Day and all fathers are celebrated. Most Thais wear yellow, too, because the king was born on a Monday and yellow is the traditional color of Monday. 

We woke at a very early hour the following morning in order to arrive at the central plaza before too many others did. It is tradition, on the birthday of the king, to give offerings to monks in order to make merit for oneself and pray for the health and life of the king. An early arrival is crucial to obtain an optimal location in the long lines of people donating to the procession of monks.

School was closed for the national holiday and, instead, a Father’s Day ceremony was held in which the school band performed a concert in honor of the king. Some selections played were composed by the king himself. In Bangkok, the country’s capital, a similar concert was performed, the difference being there were nearly 50,000 people in attendance.

In the capital, Thais had begun gathering days earlier as the ceremony there is easily the largest in the nation. The king addressed the crowd, as is the annual custom of the event, on the greatness of the nation and later prayed to the monks for his health and longevity. Following the ceremony, a fireworks display to rival that of New York’s Fourth of July show was exhibited and the night sky over the king’s palace was lit by the light of a people devoted. Watching on television, I noted that the ceremony brought many to tears.

The current monarch is revered with an exceptional zeal as he has been responsible for leading a government responsive to issues of all Thais, regardless of social class. He is believed by many to be something of a demigod, infallible in judgment, genius and with the capability to alter physical weather.

Though his method of leadership has proved to be much more liberal than those of his predecessors’, criticism of the king or the royal family in Thailand remains punishable by very severe penalties. A few foreigners who’ve come to Thailand over the years without knowledge of the heavy consequences in store for a naysayer of the throne have been imprisoned for publicly denouncing the king. As a native of the largest democracy on the planet and a nation well acquainted with its share of dissenters, I look upon these aspects of the monarchy with muted curiosity.

It has been 60 long years since Rama IX took the throne and I believe that a great deal of the enthusiasm behind this year’s Father’s Day celebration was spawned in large part by the physical health of the king. At 85, he suffers from multiple debilitating illnesses and currently resides at Siriraj Hospital in the capital. The adoration he receives from his subjects is most appropriate and for Dec. 5 2012, I say, “Cha Yoh, cheers,” Long Live the King!

Zak Aldridge is a junior at Milford Central School. To read more from him, visit eightabovetheequator.wordpress.com.