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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Long Live The King!

Happy Birthday King Bhumipol Adulyadej!

As I write this, it sounds like a war-zone outside as the surrounding villages and towns celebrate the King's 79th birthday. Incendiary devices are going off everywhere: fireworks, fire balloons, firecrackers- the whole arsenal. And on live TV an amazing outpouring of love and solidarity is manifested by a sea of people dressed in yellow (the King's color) and holding candles at a special ceremony in Sanam Luang, the large open area in downtown Bangkok. Here in Chiang Mai, the place to be is the Royal Flora Ratchaphreuk, the world-class horticulture exhibition in honor of the King's 60th Anniversary on the throne.

The King's annual birthday speech to the people was actually given yesterday to a limited audience. It was short, as befits his health-limited attendance at events, and to the point: he spoke highly of the wisdom and experience that comes with age and chastized elderly people who do not use or share their knowledge and insights. No doubt he was referring to his aging advisors and their detractors. Stating that he was "bored" with politics, he also addressed the widespread flooding that has only just receded in the south/central part of the country, and blamed those in charge of water management for the recent debacle. Speeches in the recent past had been used as opportunities to criticize then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, much to the delight of his detractors. With Thaksin in exile, no such fun was to be had.

Much-loved and respected by all Thais, King Bhumipol (pronounced 'Pumibon') has taken a great interest in improving the country for his people. We love the old photos of him out hiking through fields and rice paddies with his ever-present camera and notepad. And we are impressed by his patents for cloud-seeding techniques and subsequent success in rainmaking (unlike another king we have known of, who would consult the royal meterologists and then hold special prayers for rain). This year the refrain 'Long Live The King' means more than ever.