Yellow Monday

May 30, 2007

Mondays in Bangkok are a sea of yellow Polos. Waiters, taxi drivers, and office workers alike don the ubiquitous shirts to express their love for the king.

The “yellow fever” epidemic began thusly: in Thailand, every day of the week is assigned a color. The king was born on a Monday, therefore Monday’s color is yellow, Thailand’s royal color.

Unlike other modern monarchies where subjects belittle, gossip about, or ignore their royalty, Thais revere their king. This patriotism has increased this year in particular, the sixtieth year of the king’s rule. (Sixty, in Asian cultures, is one of the most important birthdays in a person’s life and so I’m assuming it’s the same with anniversaries, too.)

The king seems immune against the criticism faced by most heads of state (not counting the continuous terrorist attacks in the Muslim south as any kind of direct criticism of the king himself.) Nearly every Thai I have spoken to, from the remote Pai mountains to the tropical Andaman islands, adores the king. Posters of both him and the queen are displayed in shops, hotels, sidewalks, and even the roof of taxis. In Kuala Lumpur, while flipping through our guesthouse’s guestbook, I came across a message from a Thai guest: “Long Live the Thai King!” Last night, we went to see a movie. After the previews, the royal insignia flashed on the screen and an announcement informed us to stand for the national anthem. Images of the king mingling with his people played one after another. Similarly, TV screens at one of Bangkok’s central monorail stations played a national anthem tribute video, as well.

Thailand’s king is revered for many reasons, most of which a casual tourist cannot understand. However, based on gleanings of information that I’ve received from Thais, the King is regarded as a humble, selfless figure, working totally for the benefit his people. Policies that he has enacted have helped to raise many sectors of the Thai population from poverty, encourage modernization, and discourage unhealthy practices in the country. One example comes to mind: the King sponsored an agricultural program to assist Thailand’s northern hilltribes in replacing their major crop from opium to strawberries.

As a cynical American who believes that lampooning our politicians ranks up there with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I wonder at a population that loves its leader this much. However, the Thais prove their sincerity in their devotion and love for the King, when, every Monday, the streets of this city turn into a river of gold.

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