Saturday, May 23, 2009

I woke up again to the relaxing meditational sound of Bali chant, just as I’d done all week. Today, my adventure was to find Lumpini Park. This had been my director’s idea. He told me that if I arrived at seven o’clock, then I could participate in one of the many activities there, from running around the park to joining in with the Chinese Rhythmic Movement Classes known as Tai Chi Chuan, not that I had any desire to make a complete spectacle of myself, especially in public.

My dilemma, however, was how to get to this park by bicycle. Peter, one of our students, had suggested heading for Taksin Bridge. The route seemed straightforward on paper, they always do, but I was sure to get lost. To press I’d not yet managed to find a bridge that I could cycle across the river and also there was the congested traffic to contend with.

I was now euphoric that I’d found a suitable bridge which crossed the river, allowing me to extend my cycle excursions to the east side. A sense of achievement overwhelmed me. This would now give me access to the southeast and hopefully, the northeast of Thailand, as well as Issan, which I had been told, was a beautiful, idyllic part of the country.

From the Taksin Bridge, I cycled on to Sathon Road, which was about 3km long. The buildings there were intimidatingly large and lined most of the route, all the way down to where it met up with the Rama IV Road.

Sathon Square Office Tower,  the building that looks like it is splitting at the seams (2016)

This concrete jungle, with its unremitting traffic congestion, seemed to be drawing me deeper in; seducing me as I went. I felt so minuscule and insignificant amongst the array of all these large, monolithic buildings, which towered endlessly above me. The Thais, it seemed, had an insatiable appetite for this extraordinary modern architecture. One, in particular, that was under construction was the Sathon Square Office Tower, situated on the Narathivaj Road, near the Chong Nonsi BTS Station. This iconic design, with its tinted glass façade, made the building look like it was actually splitting at the seams and as if it was about to come out of metamorphosis. Standing at 181 metres tall, with forty floors, it was certainly eye-catching.

Sathon Square Office Tower, photo taken from BTS Station footbridge

Construction, it seemed, was going on everywhere, converting this huge, fast-moving, modern megalopolis into a super megalopolis. Hadn’t Bangkok got enough of these high-rise buildings; did it really need any more? Couldn’t they just be satisfied with what they’d already got before they completely blocked out the sunlight?

I cycled down to meet the Rama IV Road, which ran from east to west. Here I turned left and headed westwards. The road ran parallel to the southern section of Lumpini Park. Compared to the concrete jungle of Sathon Road, this was going to be a completely new experience for me. I cycled on towards the park’s verdant offerings, momentarily hypnotised by what I’d just newly discovered. No doubt this luscious, verdant park was going to abduct me and pull me in through its gates into its floral sanctuary and away from this bewildering, thrown-up, polluted and pre-fabricated city. I was green too, albeit in a different way.

King Rama VI statue in front of Lumpini Park

Outside the park, in the centre of a courtyard, was a large, bronze statue of King Rama the VI standing on a plinth. He had been responsible for donating the land for the park’s construction back in the 1920s – a kind offering to his subjects.

King Rama VI, the King who donated the land for Lumpini Park

Once I’d cycled past the grand statue, I entered the park by the main entrance before being confronted by a myriad of paths. There was a designated cycle path, although cyclists were only allowed in the park between ten o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon.

Through the main gates  and into the great expanse of Lumpini Park

The park was beautifully landscaped, with huge lawns for visitors to sprawl out on, while listening to the birds, the breeze and the insects in the trees. The trees seemed to haunt the park with their imposing dimensions, looking majestic as they cast their daunting shadows across the parkland. I watched a group of boys playing takraw: a kind of kick volleyball type game, consisting of a court, a net and a rattan ball. Each side has three players and the aim of the game is to keep the ball up in the air in your side of the court and ground it in your opponent’s. If that was achieved, your team gets a point. A player can make contact with the ball using any part of his body, except his arms and hands. It is a fast-moving and energetic game.

Other activities that were taking place in the park included: running, aerobics, cycling and Tai Chi Chuan, which was the discipline which Rungrot had mentioned previously.

A Trumpet flower

I cycled around the park, occasionally stopping to admire the superbly maintained flowerbeds which included Royal Jasmine, a native species with a white, star-shaped flower. There were also Desert Roses, vibrant red and pink in colour, originating from the same family as Frangipani. I personally liked the Golden Trumpets, with their bright yellow, funnel-shaped heads. There were countless more plants, including giant palm trees and orchids, which grew from tree trunks.

Epiphytes growing on a tree.

The main attraction for me though was the lake. This had been designed to make it look as natural as possible, in that its shape was indescribable. It was large, with a headland branching into it, creating what they called the ‘floating island.’. I watched people in pedalos and children feeding the ravenous fish, which lethargically swam around getting fatter and fatter on the treats and titbits that were being offered.

The lake in Lumpini Park with the concrete jungle looking down upon it (2016)

In the murky depths of the lake, lying dormant, were the water monitor lizards, Varanus salvator, the monsters of the deep, which only occasionally surfaced to reveal their presence. These slow-moving giants were harmless to humans, timid and quiet, but like any other wild animal, they had to be treated with extreme care and respect. Sometimes, they climbed trees in pursuit of birds’ eggs.

A water monitor lizard. (I managed to get close up to this one)

I cycled to a park bench and there, I decided to sit down to reflect on the ambience of my newly discovered surroundings. The sun glistened, as it’s rays pierced through the canopies of leaves, sparkling intently as the branches swayed in the slight breeze. The lake was disturbances too by the gentle breeze that blew across its surface creating soft ripples and by the occasional fish that surfaced, which created more of a splash. The mighty shadows of the trees slowly crept across the park, not noticed by the crowds, only by those conscientious enough to notice those sedately advancing silhouettes.

Late afternoon and shadows cast across the park

I was captivated by this scene; tranquillity had overcome me and people watching had prompted my curiosity. People of all ages and backgrounds were enjoying themselves. My imagination started to get the better of me; as I wondered what some of the great authors might have thought of this place. Maybe Rudyard Kipling could have written short stories, a sequel to his Jungle Book, but this would have been about a concrete one. Maybe Agatha Christie could have written Death in Lumpini Park – a thriller set in this tranquil park with a macabre twist to it. Maybe one day, even I could step up to that challenge. I pondered for a moment, attempting to be inspirational as I considered a convincing plot. I decided, however, that cycling was probably more suited to my capabilities at that moment in time, especially with me being dyslexic, writing these blogs were bad enough.

A Chinese Clock style pagoda in Lumpini Park

I cycled around the park, dodging the sprinkler system, which sprayed water in every conceivable direction, except where it was intended. I felt very composed, happy that I’d come. This park was ideal for those people like myself who just simply loved the great outdoors. It would have been wasted on those people whose only desire was to spend their time being mesmerised by their mobile phone, constantly messaging on Facebook; this had crazily become the trend the world over, certainly amongst the young. I’d never really liked all those Apples or Blackberries and all those other crazy, little electronic gadgets and gizmos. Life was much simpler without them and probably more enjoyable too.

A Chinese Pavillion 

The park housed a number of attractions from pagodas to statues. One statue had a caption on it which read, ‘Women in the Next Three Decades.’ This attempted to depict what Thai females would end up looking like if they didn’t change their eating habits or lifestyles soon; voluptuous; for many, it was already too late. The same went for the males too.

Women in the next three decades, so it suggests

It took me, at most, fifteen minutes to cycle the perimeter of the park, but obviously less to forget that I was actually boxed in on all four sides by concrete, steel and masonry. Lumpini Park was known, as the ‘Lung of Bangkok’ and it was not hard to understand why. It was probably the only large expanse of verdant territory within the city centre. Bangkok certainly suffered drastically from the lack of wide-open spaces. Whilst here, I could forget the fact that, out there, was that man-made conurbation, that was slowly and steadily expanding upwards and outwards.

The city sprawl on a cloudy afternoon (2016)

I’d never lived in a city or a metropolis before; certainly not a mega-metropolis, so it would take some time for me to get used to it. Then again, it did have its interesting qualities, with its startling shopping centres and extraordinary looking architecture, which was certainly on an impressive scale.

One of the more interesting pieces of architecture in the capital. It is supposed to look as if it has a ribbon wrapped around it. (2016)

I was to come to Lumpini Park many times following this first visit. I always attempted to cycle around it at least twice, if only to relax and loosen up before heading off on a more strenuous adventure. It conjured up all sorts of romantic feelings. There was an air of mystique about the place, probably due to its sheer size and beauty. It was certainly considerably different to what I’d previously experienced in Bangkok. Lumpini Park was to become my beloved Lumpini Park and as far as I was concerned no other park here could match it.

The BTS (Skytain) on its way to Bang Wa, running under Rama IV Road

School children playing their heart’s out to Maurice Jarre and Paul Anka’s theme to ‘The Longest Day’ in Lumpini Park 2011