Celebrants were invited to wear either white or pink tops in honor of the king or were encouraged to wear their native or national traditional garb. I must admit that I was very glad to don one of my aloha shirts that day instead of a pink polo! There were many beautiful and exotic outfits on display including men in kilts, women in colorful hill tribe dresses, and even one German herr sporting lederhosen, suspenders, and a Tyrolean hat!
At 5 p.m. it was time for the parade. Organizers arranged the marching units by nationality. Many countries fielded contingents, some small, some large. Our ZOE group consisted primarily of some of our Karen tribe staff members and ministry school students. They had a large banner printed for the occasion to march behind. As the units began leaving the plaza and onto the road for the parade, all of us missionaries (except our Aussie mate) were gathered with the American marchers. But almost as one, we decided that we would rather walk with our ZOE family and we bolted to the other side of the plaza and swung in behind our ZOE group. The parade traveled about 3 kilometers at a leisurely pace and ended in a large open area along the Ping River. As evening fell, the stars came out and the stage lit up with more singers, dancing, presentation of flowers, and tributes from representatives from many nations. All the while, the atmosphere was akin to a summer picnic with food vendors selling delicious fare, ice cold drinks, and ice cream. Groups gathered in clusters to talk and laugh. We all stood at attention as the national anthem was sung and, later, several songs dedicated to the king were sang by the entire crowd (with many of us farang humming along). Candles were passed out to everyone in the crowd and one of the king’s relatives lit a candle from a special lantern and passed the flame on. The fire was passed from candle to candle until there was a sea of bobbing lights. Finally, a dazzling and deafening show of fireworks erupted directly overhead (and not all that high). One of the fellows I was talking with was so startled that he dropped his candle and jumped behind me at the first blast! In fact, he stayed behind me for the duration of the fireworks show so I think perhaps this was his first experience with pyrotechnics.
At 9 p.m., tired and happy, we hailed a songtaew and caught a ride home. Song phra charoen! Long live the king!Now I wish I could show you pictures of the scenes I just described. But, alas, our trusty old camera recently gave up the ghost. And our “professional” photographer, Elli, and her little pink camera were not with us. My thanks to fellow missionaries Dave and Kaylee for sharing these pictures so I could share them with you.