A Royal Occasion

December 5, 1996 (or 2049 in the Official Thai calendar) was a turning point in Thai history--and we were there for the party.

His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej (full name and title: Phrabaatsomdet Boramintaramahaphumiphonadunyadet) celebrated his 50th year as the king, making his the longest reign in Thailand's long history. Born in the USA in 1927, he ascended the throne in 1946--the year George was born--as the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty that began in 1782. He and his wife, Queen Sirikit have four children, one of whom will one day be the next monarch. Among his many talents he is a jazz composer and saxophonist and wrote the royal anthem, Falling Rain, which is played before every film.

Thailand's political system is a constitutional monarchy, meaning the real power is with elected and appointed leaders. The King is protected under the official constitution, and judging from our many conversations with Thais he is widely loved and respected in ways that Americans can not understand. When we would

The most spectacular fireworks display we'd ever seen was staged over the streets of Bangkok the night of the King's birthday. Learn more about the Golden Jubilee Rites and the Thai royal family at "The Royal Golden Jubilee Network" http://goldenjubilee.or.th

joke with local people that we wanted to have lunch with the King and Queen, you know, talk over a few things, Thais would get real serious and change the subject quickly. In fact, we later discovered that any derogatory comments about the royal family was illegal and not condoned.

Since Bangkok is so large and difficult to get around, our appreciation of this momentous occasion was limited to hearing the loudest fireworks display since Krakatoa, and the extensive street decorations and parades. On the actual day of December 5 everything closed, and unlike most American holidays there was a strong sense that this day was indeed something special, out of the ordinary, different than we'd ever seen.

From this day onward, Thailand's history would begin anew.