by Emily Kawahara
Photo Credit: Paul Kim
The morning sky is dark, but lights are flickering on across the city. People are waking up. The BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway are near empty. The majority of tuk tuks, cabs, and motorcycle taxis gather on the side of the road, waiting. Soon, it will be rush hour. Soon, cars and motorcycles will weave around each other, around pedestrians, and between the painted lanes, which are really just guidelines. Street vendors will unpack their carts and ignite gas cooking flames. And the collection of shopping malls at Siam will light up the street with talking billboards and shining advertisements.
But it’s not that time yet. Bangkok is quiet.
Or seemingly so. You just need to know where to look.
Now, as the dawn light bleeds into the hazy sky, Lumpini Park is at its busiest. Nestled between hotels and offices, concealed within black iron gates and a dense collection of trees, an early-to-rise population is hidden. Here, practitioners of all types of fitness share the same paved walkways and grass fields, shaded and protected by the towering buildings around them.
Within the park’s main entrance, a few dozen people step, in sync, to a quickened techno beat. They follow an instructor, pumping their arms, and screaming encouraging “Woops!” in a complicated mash up of jazzercise, the electric slide, and a Broadway number. A constant flow of weathered runners and socializing walkers swerve behind them. There are no collisions. There are many near misses. When the main 2.5-kilometer loop becomes too crowded, some break off on the paths that wind through the heart of the park, along a large inhabited pond. The techno beat fades. Here runners must maneuver around different crowds: passing clusters of traditional Thai dancers, groups deeply engaged in Tai Chi, and couples swinging to salsa music blasting from a personal boom box.
A secret city is alive within these walls.
But at half past seven, the rising sun shines tangerine through the haze, creeping into the deep-set park. The tracks leading to the Sala Daeng BTS Station are barely visible through the tree tips, but the hum of the braking Skytrain is a reminder of the nine to five day anxious to begin outside the park gates. It’s time.
Runners finish their laps, Yogi’s bring their palms to prayer position, sword masters sheath their weapons, and dancers flick their wrists, snapping closed paper fans. But before leaving, there is a pause. To drink water and stare up in acknowledgement of the surrounding skyscrapers. To squat at the pond’s edge, watching the ripples expand. This pause is only for a moment. Just a moment of lone solitude. It’s a moment universally used. A moment to prepare for what’s next. To try and slow the clock or the inevitable rising sun. To try and keep something just as it is.
Then, when the moment ends, they turn towards the exits and disappear into rush hour. The sun seeps through the tree leaves, stealing away the shade, and unveiling the park to the rest of the city.
Rear Curtain intern Emily Kawahara is spending a year in Thailand. To mark the release of our special issue, we asked her to write about some of her experiences. If you enjoy her writing, Emily has teamed up with photographer Rammy Narula on his photo essay “The Train Story” in the Thailand issue. To purchase, use the link below.