Saturday, August 15, 2009

The best things in life happen when they’re not planned and today’s events certainly weren’t. I was bored and needed something to do, so I decided on a cycling jaunt into the city, anything to get myself away from Bang Wa.

Once at Lumpini Park, I just casually cycled around, forgetting about everything. Sometimes, I followed other cyclists as they raced around the cycle paths, dodging the occasional runner, casual walker and tottering infant who happened to hinder our passage.

Oh, what such fun! one particular peloton I followed created a kind of jet stream, a cycle vortex, which reduced the drag, allowing me to save on energy as I slid off the air flow created by them. It certainly made it much easier for me to follow them. Their bikes looked so wonderful compared to my cheap, tacky, Chinese bike. I noticed a few Italian designed Bianchi bicycles amongst them all too.

My old Chinese bike, the person who bought it just left it to rust.

Cycling around this wonderful park was incredible, especially after going through the motions of tagging behind somebody that you were never going to get to know. If they cycled too fast, then you just simply let them get on with it and found someone slower than you that you could keep up with. It was OK since the cyclists were out in abundance. With numerous small kiosks selling refreshments scattered around the park, there was no chance of getting dehydration. The clusters of trees also offered valuable shade and helped to block out the traffic, so any hint of any pollution was negligible.

In the distance, I could hear music coming from the northern end of the park. I cycled off to investigate. It sounded like brass instruments being played: trumpets, cornets and tubas to be precise. I navigated my way around the paths, avoiding the usual obstacles. It was one very busy park, full of exertion and activity by all ages.

The school with the band.

The music was coming from Suanlumpinee School. The school children were practising their scales on their shiny, impressive, musical instruments. They were interspaced amongst the trees, in most cases, just standing alone in complete solitude. It looked like a strange ritual rather than a jam session. ‘Count Basie, eat your heart out!’ The students sounded good as I cycled off, but from a distance, I could still hear their tunes slowly being synchronized together to produce some sort of melody.

From all around the park you could hear the distant echoes of music being played in between the stillness and tranquillity of the place, as they rehearsed as if for their grand finale. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and I’d cycled around the park at least ten times, possibly eleven. I could have stayed there all day, given the chance. Activities were going on all over the place, while others just watched gazing intently at the monitor lizards lounging around. Yes, this park had lots of these creatures. Occasionally, one would sample the air with its long black tongue, sensing if danger or dinner was present.

Water Monitor Lizard in Lumpini Park

I cycled along the top end of the park, up near the Sarasin Road. Through the trees, I saw something that just happened to catch my attention, extraordinary as it was. At first glance, it looked like a cycle shop, but it couldn’t have been.

Seeking out the Probike shop through the fence in Lumpini Park

What on earth would a cycle shop be doing so far away from all the other shops, in a city like this? It just looked a little incongruous. Then, I saw a window display of impressive and expensive mountain bikes.  Delirious at my discovery. I earnestly looked for the nearest exit to stage my mad exodus. This was too good to be true; in fact, it was captivating. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wheeled my bike past the rows of rot-khen catering stalls at the side of the road and then excitedly crossed over.

What became my best bicycle shop in Bangkok.

The shop was, in fact, a Probike shop, exclusively selling TREK bikes and accessories and from the outside, it looked like a cyclist’s paradise. I feverishly slotted my bike into one of the many bicycle slots outside and hurriedly wandered in with passion flowing to overflowing.

My Aladdin’s cave

It was both awesome, bewildering and intriguing all at the same time, as the delights of the highly polished bikes and the smell of new rubber permeated the air. I was dumbstruck by it all; my senses literally mesmerised by the phenomenon to the point that I nearly couldn’t cope with it.  At first glance, it looked like an Aladdin’s cave for cyclists, but this was no pantomime. It was full of some of the most impressive and magnificent looking cycles that you could only ever dream of possessing, especially out here in Bangkok.

A place where cyclist’s dreams come true

I walked around as if I was in some sort of trance, awestruck by the sheer array of bicycles and cycle gear, which were on display; you name it, they had it. This was a place where a cyclist’s fantasies became reality. This was the sort of place that I’d been searching for since arriving in Bangkok. I knew, sooner or later I’d stumble across such a shop, but the question had always been when?

Unbelievable and all under one roof

‘Hello, can I help you?’ one of the female sales assistants asked, catching me by surprise and off guard as I woke up from what I considered to be a hypnotic trance. She was very articulate in her use of English.

‘Err… oh, yes, err… Your bikes are very nice. Err… I’m looking for a suitable road bike – a good quality one of course.’

‘Well, all our bikes are of good quality. We exclusively sell Trek bikes.’  She said it as if the bike name spoke for itself, but I was rusty on brand names. I knew of Raleigh, Daws, Muddy Fox and Peugeot to name a few, but I was more than happy to take her word for it.

The lady who sold me my bicycle. Possibly the happiest and best, the saleswoman in the World.

She was intent on trying to impress me with her prowess as a sales assistant. Her in-depth of knowledge seemed to be impeccable as she eloquently and effusively ran through the bikes’ full specifications. She succeeded in impressing me with the quality right down to the finest detail, which for me, probably consisted of the hubs, spokes and rims.

Up to that moment in time, I’d not even bothered to glance at any of the prices. I’d just marvelled at the sheer volume of cycle gear all under one roof. It wasn’t really a large shop, just exceedingly well presented and laid out. The price of the bike in question was certainly not cheap. On seeing the price, I was momentarily lost for words. The sales assistant seemed to realise that she was winning me over though.

The sales assistant could not wait to take my measurements if only to see what they’d got in my size.

‘I think we’ve only got one left in stock in your size and once we’ve sold that we don’t know how long it’ll be until we get the next delivery,’ she said sanguinely as if I was made out of money.

‘Yes, I understand that.’

My heart was telling me to buy, but my brain was dithering on the finer detail. Pensively I thought, could I really splurge out on such an expensive bicycle as this? My joy and jubilation were certainly winning me over in this, in my newly discovered shop.

The aspiration to have such a bicycle was far too strong for me to resist. The thought of the intrepid adventures through tropical rainforests, mountainous terrain and into Thailand’s great unknown wasn’t even worth considering. No doubt, with a new bike and my passion for cycling, I’d be able to go to places that up to now I’d only dreamed about. I envisaged that I’d become inseparable to it and would literally go anywhere and everywhere with it.

Checking available stock on the system – talk about customer service

After checking her system she said ‘Yes, we’ve got something that I think you’ll like in our stockroom; it’s part of our new range and not too expensive, no, definitely not expensive at all; wait here.’

At that moment, she left me to wander around the shop. Her last words repeated in my mind again and again “not too expensive,” as if it were some incantation ploy to entice me to buy, I felt like I was under some sort of spell from a sorcerer, but would I now be taken advantage of, before the magic wore off?  I waited excitedly in anticipation of what delights she might have in store for me, just to see exactly what their latest model would actually look like. It was as if they’d saved it under wraps, especially for me. Maybe they’d had a premonition of my coming. This was going to be a good shop which to buy all my cycling accessories from, but the bikes here certainly were not cheap; some of them came with a price tag of well over 100,000 baht (£2,000) – certainly out of my price range.

The sales assistant returned, accompanied by another member of staff and together, they carried a large long box, inside which, I presumed, was my ultimate dream machine. The bike slowly came out of the box, resplendent in its red, white and black colours. A team of cycle mechanics slowly and meticulously began to piece this wonderful bicycle together. It was exquisite. The whiff of polished alloy and rubber just seemed to send me back into my former trance.

My face must have been gleaming with exhilaration as I watched them passionately assemble this prized and splendid bicycle. They didn’t have to try to convince or coax me into buying it. I’d already made up my mind. With lights and speedometer, the on-the-road price came to 27,000 baht (£540). This bike was coming home with me; that I was certain of. I impetuously jumped at the thought of buying it. I handed my bank card to the sales assistant, knowing that I’d have to return tomorrow to collect my old, dilapidated one.

After joyfully wheeling it out of the shop, my first port of call was to cycle around Lumpini Park. I decided to name my bicycle ‘Hood’, after one of the Royal Navy’s most attractive and impressive warships of World War II. The new bike was certainly much lighter than the original ‘Hood’; that had weighed in at around 47,430 tonnes! I’d had no second thoughts regarding buying it, nor did I think I was being extravagant. This bicycle was beautifully designed and wonderful to handle.

At first, it took me a while to get used to balancing, as the wheels were half the width of those on my old bike, but I was intent on making the most of it and it didn’t take me long before I had mastered my new fangled friend.  Now, with better wheels for speed, I could follow the other cyclists around the park and felt much more a part of the cycling scene here. I started noticing other TREK bikes too, in fact, there seemed to be more TREK bikes than any other make. I now felt like a fully-fledged member of the TREK cycling fraternity.

I successfully completed five laps of the park and now, with a speedometer, I could also track my speed, my average speed and distance which was all recorded in kilometres. Cycling on this bicycle was certainly energizing. Where all my energy and enthusiasm had suddenly come from startled me, but it was certainly a sensation.

Time ticked on and soon it was time for me to head back home. I was certainly getting carried away by the events of the day. As my imagination went into overdrive, or should that be overcycle? I was sure that I could have cycled forever and a day, but I knew that I’d to be careful and reminded myself that I had yet had to cope with the traffic going home. As far as I was concerned, this bike had been built for speed and for the open road. The roads in the centre of Bangkok were far too busy to become complacent. If I really wanted to test out my cycling ability, then I’d have to find longer, quieter roads somewhere, out in the middle of nowhere.

I carefully cycled along Rama IV Road, until I came to the junction with Sathon Road, there I turned right. Cycling on this new bike was a vast improvement on the old one. I didn’t have to pedal half as hard and it certainly carried me much further. I cycled west, wondering if I’d arrive back home before I had actually set off, or was that just reserved for time machines? At times, I felt like I was literally floating. The bike handled the road exceptionally well. I just had to take care of the narrow cracks on the chronic road surfaces and the elevated manhole covers to name but a few of the persistent obstacles.

I eventually arrived home, cycling down my dreary, dull and grotty soi. I now pretended that I was on the aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes (the Greek winged messenger god) and that it was the 21 July 1982: I was approaching Portsmouth Naval Harbour after the Falkland’s War. I remember that day all too well: the homecoming celebrations for British forces. Scores of people had come out onto the quayside, cheering and welcoming home their loved ones.

My dreary looking Soi – Soi 33/1 Phetkasem Road

For my return today, however, there was nothing. Not even the stray cats had bothered to come out in curiosity. So much for the phrase: ‘Curiosity killed the Cat.’ Then reality set in, with the knowledge that the only body of water within my vicinity was the local khlong, and that certainly wasn’t big enough to berth even the smallest of naval patrol vessels, not even a dinghy.

The Dream Machine

With my mission accomplished, I took my bike up to my room and gave it a jolly good polish over, then sat back on my bed and lovingly slavered over it. I imagined all the wonderful places to which I could now escape to. There was no delusion here; I was going to go to new places and cycle there in style. Clocking up those kilometres should now be no problem at all. But now the day was over.

A Tropical Sunset

My bike stood resplendent and motionless against my apartment wall. Just like anything else brand new, it seemed to be calling out to me wanting me to use it, but I knew that I’d to be sensible about all of this and not allow myself to get too carried away.

I slumbered there in my room dreaming about cycling around Bangkok and out towards the distant horizon and beyond, to the far-flung corners of this intriguing, wonderful country. Would my appetite for cycling around Thailand now become reality or was it still tied up in fantasy land?