Being a Canadian and a small-town-girl I had never been among so many people in such close proximity in my life. I’m not tall by Canadian standards and stand maybe an inch or two over the native Thai but the crowd was filled with people of all heights and my sight was met with a wall of flesh. My old friend and two newly met friends (one from Iran who’d been living in Bangkok for 3 years and one from the UK who was backpacking through) had the advantage of height and casually gazed over the gathered heads.
I continuously glanced over at my friends to make sure they were near. If I lost them in this crowd I would have to travel home alone. With no cell service at my fingertips I strained to keep the suddenly razor thin connection that was sight strong.
Despite my wariness I happily stepped forward to have a candle set aflame. It was as those old phrases tell. A candle lighting dozens of others who in turn light dozens more. Little pinpricks of light appeared through the mass of people in a wave as each individual turned to their neighbors to light their tiny candles.
It was mother’s day.
In Thailand mother’s day is celebrated on the Queen of Thailand’s birthday: August 12th.
So when mother’s day greetings sprang up all across Bangkok my friends and I were very confused. We had heard of the Queen’s birthday coming up—you couldn’t miss the large gold-framed pictures displayed of her everywhere—and assumed that the mother’s day slogans were old.
However, Queen Sirikit is considered the Queen of all Thai people.
The day was moved to her birthday by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda in an effort to promote the Thai royal family.
I started off this adventure from Rangsit Campus. My friends and I took a van (30 baht) from campus to the Victory Monument in Bangkok. There are two sets of vans: one set that goes to the other Thammasat Campus, Tha Prachan, and the other that goes to Victory Monument. My friends and I discovered that the vans to the other campus do not run on holidays or weekends, which made it rather difficult.
If you look at a map you quickly discover that Victory Monument and Tha Prachan campus are quite a distance apart. After about three hours of walking in a zig-zag, down-that-alley kind of manner we wove our way through a booming market, a mass of people and finally trudged onto campus.
Looking at the map after quenching our thirst with water from the nearest 7-11 (yes there are TONS of 7-11 stores in Bangkok) we attempted to retrace our steps.
According to our finger back-tracking and recollected glimpses of locations we had traveled further south then intended, then traveled north to correct—ending with a U-shaped path where a straight line had been needed.
But. We found out the events would be in the late afternoon so it was o.k. when we arrived at 3 p.m. instead of 10 a.m.
We had discovered there would be a parade on Ratchadamnoer Road at 4:30 p.m. The road runs from the Democracy Monument to the Tha Prachan campus area.
It was an interesting kind of parade—a series of colour coded people marching in packets and squares. The long stream of smiling blocks would be broken up by bands with a variety of tunes. I recognized so many tunes. It seems there were German tunes, European tunes and music from other countries.
Look! Cowboy hats like home in Canada! I didn’t think I’d see them here!
The Queen’s birthday party started at 6 p.m. in Sanam Luang Park: a large circular green space before my campus, the Golden Palace and other buildings.
We had hoped the Queen herself would make an appearance, but she never arrived.
With the last of the sun’s presence gone and a thunderstorm flashing silently as it approached we found ourselves being handed candles.
Minutes later a wave of light approached from the front and passed by without a word.
From the pricks of light a song began to form. With the voice of every citizen present it grew in strength. A strong, sweet melody. As the last song faded away a loud noise erupted near the back of the gathered people.
Fireworks sped to the sky in unbridled delight, like half-crazed cousins to the small candles.
Soon, even the festive fireworks finished their play and we were left to wander the streets under the trees lit by cascading streams of light.
It had been a long day, but it was worth it to witness such a celebration.