Ah, the glorious celebration of America’s Independence Day on the 4th of July. Fireworks. Fireworks everywhere! Rockets’ red glare. Bombs bursting in air. Indeed. And, of course, the flag is still there.
I grew up in the middle of Bangkok. We’re a house, a small street, and a mote away from the U.S. Ambassador’s backyard, another block from the embassy itself. Every 4th of July, there would a party by the U.S. Embassy somewhere either at the local hotels or at the Embassy, and we’d see fireworks from our house. It was special treat for us since traditionally, there isn’t any Thai holidays during that time that involve fireworks.
Thailand celebrates many holidays with fireworks. You probably have just seen some pictures from the King’s anniversary celebration. To celebrate the King’s and the Queen’s birthdays, there are always huge display over the Royal Palace and Sanaam Luang. As for the rest of the country, major fireworks holidays for us Thais are New Year’s Eve and Loy Kratong.
When I was growing up, fireworks are available year round in the mall or grocery stores. We’d be out playing with sparklers and other bottle-rocket types during our summer break. And when it stopped raining. And when it got cold. Pretty much, whenever we felt like it. I think there is a law now to restrict the use of fireworks.
Big fireworks holiday season like New Year’s Eve was my favorite time of year. You see, back in the 80s, being in the middle of the city as we were, we could still see the fireworks happening around us. The Chidlom/Langsuan area was—and is still—surround by hotels. Back then, the only things our line of sight is the 5-storey apartment building next door and the skinny pine trees surrounding our property. We would be running through the house in our pajamas, upstairs, downstairs, down into the backyard, and back up again, tracking the sounds of the fireworks and trying to catch a glimpse of the sparkling fires in the sky.
From my folks’ balcony, we could see fireworks from the Erawan (now Hyatt Erawan), the President (now the Continental), the Siam Continental (the Paragon now stands in its place), and once in a while we’d see some from the National Stadium. On our side, we’d see them from the Regent (now the Four Seasons), the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, and some other hotels back on Wireless Road and down Sukumvit. If the US Embassy did one from their site, we’d see that clear as day as well.
Only twice a year and towards the end of it we’d get such a big show around the neighborhood. So, 4th of July was a nice treat in the middle of the year. I think we get to see ’em from the British Embassy on seperate occasions for either the Queen’s birthday or Guy Fawke’s Day or something as well.
Earlier on New Year’s Eve, my brothers and I and sometimes our 3 cousins would be in the yard, lighting our fireworks with our nannies close by for supervision. Our parents watched from the balconies, and I remember a few times that grandmother came to watch us play too. It would be the same routine on Loy Kratong after we returned from floating our kratongs at Lumpini Park. So far, we have all survived any fireworks mishaps with all of our digits intact.
Sure, we had one accident. My brothers were 15 and 13 and therefore got the license to play with fireworks with no nanny supervision…as long as I was not involved. So, I was on the balcony and my brothers in the gravel parking lot next to the backyard where my dad’s staff park their car. (His office is on the same property.) The bottle they used as the launch pad fell over and inadvertently shot fireworks into the back wall of the Israeli Embassy which was one house over. The motion censored light came on. We ran inside and thought for sure we were all going to be arrested. Nothing happened though.
In the 90s, the skylines of my neighborhood began to change. High rises went up around us. We couldn’t even hear the sounds of the fireworks anymore unless it’s shooting up right next door. Around the same time, the landscape of my family was also shifting. My brothers left to study abroad, one by one. Running around the house by yourself wasn’t as much fun. And then it was time for me to leave home as well.
Every time I returned home, something changed. First, the pine trees were cut down. The organic walls that once separate us from all of our neighbors were gone. Apparently, our pine trees have grown so old and weak in the ever increasingly urban setting that one of them fell onto our neighbor’s roof after a strong storm. Dad decided to have them all cut down as they were becoming a liability. In their place, my mom planted Tonn Mahk–palm tree like plants that shoot straight up and bear a long bunch of tiny fruits. They’re just recently grown into quite a nice height. Enough to keep the privacy, but nothing like the pine trees—Tonn Sohn—which used to line the entire area and the namesake of the tiny street behind my house, Soi Tonn Sohn.
The amazing thing about the whole shift is how our 3-storey red brick town home on a property covered in trees exists right next to high rises, SkyTrain, in the heart of a bustling metropolis. Something just doesn’t change.
But man, I missed the panoramic viewing of fireworks from the house.