Bangkok: True Believers

As November draws to a close, Christmas trees have appeared in almost every shop, every cafe, every mall… The trees differ in style, design and decoration… Some are classic, green trees decorated with lights and baubles… Others have a more abstract style… Last year at the Emporium mall the trees were decorated in a traditional style but with the addition of Star Wars themed decorations… This year the Emporium mall has gone for a different style… Again, we have a traditional style tree, but this year they seem to have gone with an animal-themed decoration… Plaster cast animals are everywhere, each one painted in bright colours, animals surround every tree in the mall… The huge tree that stands outside the mall is a classic design but its decorations are brightly painted plaster heads of animals… Animals. Severed heads of (admittedly plaster) animals. In Bangkok, we have a Christmas tree that is decorated with the severed heads of animals.

Stepping away from the tree for a moment, let’s look at the animal-themed decorations as a whole… Christmas animals… Traditional Christmas themed creatures… Reindeer? Robin redbreast? No. In Bangkok, we seem to have a more “exotic” animal theme… We actually have a Christmas hippopotamus on display… Yes, a hippopotamus… Do you know what one of the most deadly animals on Earth is?… Yes, it’s the hippopotamus… What’s Santa giving the naughty kids this year? Coal? No fuck that, let's go hardcore… Let’s give the little bastards a hippo… That’ll teach ’em. Oh yeah, we also have a Christmas polar bear too…Any idea how dangerous a polar bear is?… DEADLY… Cute tho, I have to admit that… To add to the Christmas joy we also have a plaster pig painted with fried egg designs... Yes folks, bacon and egg… Merry Christmas.

Also, this premature Christmas joy does nothing but than annoy me… It’s been a thorn in my side since when I lived in England… I understand that shops and stores have to start Christmas early, after all, it IS a prime time to raise some money… But the fact that Christmas starts earlier every year just annoys me… I love Christmas, I really do… But I love Christmas when it’s actually Christmas… Christmas, not November… I remember the joy of decorating the Christmas tree… As an adult, I looked forward to decorating the tree with my own family, how that tree would be the symbol of our Christmas beginning… As a child, the tree was a symbol of Christmas… I loved the tree being on display, I hated the tree being taken away… Christmas always seemed too short… Short yes, but special… Now we have people posting pictures on social media in November of their Christmas tree on display… A tree that will be displayed for well over a month… To me the longer the tree is displayed the less special that time becomes… It becomes the norm… The tree stops being special, it just becomes a thing that just happens to be stuck in your living room… I’ve been called a Scrooge in the past because of my views about the premature celebration of Christmas… But I’m not a Scrooge… Quite the opposite really, Christmas has always meant so much to me, and it always will… Severed plaster animals heads or not.

Away from Christmas stuff (Oh how I wish I could be away from the Christmas stuff) life here in Bangkok continues to be nothing short of amazing… My daily routine of walking Jo to work, followed by a session in the gym continues and I feel better about myself… The weather here just seems to be getting hotter and hotter… Life is good… Life is great!

Every Wednesday my gym routine is changed slightly to include a long walk in the sunshine of Bangkok… Actually, the change to the routine wasn’t included so as I could get out into the sunshine… It was actually included so as I wasn’t in our apartment while “Daa” our maid is working… I’ll explain… Or try to.

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I walk Jo to work then head to the gym… I spend thirty minutes using the cross-trainer machine, then I spend time lifting weights… Obviously, after this exercise I’m a bit (a lot) sweaty and in serious need for a shower… So I go up to my apartment and have a shower… However, Wednesday is “Daa day”… Daa arrives at 8:00 and leaves around 11:00… Which (if I was at the gym) would mean I’d be in the apartment either sweaty and smelly (nope!) or having a shower… Now, I’m not saying Daa would bother me in the shower, it’s just that I’d rather not be in the shower while she’s there… It’s a “me” thing I suppose… Anyway, I started to include a long walk into my exercise routine, I’d walk Jo to work then head to the park… I’d feed the cats (making time for a chat with Kika the cat of course) at Benchasiri Park before heading off to Benjakiti Park for the second part of my walk… Benjakiti park is larger than Benchasiri, it’s perfect for a long walk, in fact, I’d usually walk 12 km around the park before heading back to the apartment, bringing my total walk to about 14Km… This was all going well, the routine was working up until the temperature here in Bangkok began to raise up toward its current levels… The heat wasn’t the problem, the problem was the canal which runs near to the park, a canal I had to walk past every time I went to the park… The canal absolutely stinks in the hot weather… It wasn’t great before, but as the temperature rises the smell just got worse… I found myself gagging every time I walked past and eventually I began to remove Benjakiti Park from my routine… Now I spend longer at Benchasiri Park, I walk for 10 Km then head back to the gym, I do my weights then go for my shower, the timing seems to work out well, as I get to my apartment Daa has either left or is just about to leave… Sorted!

Last week my walk around Benchasiri park resulted in me seeing Kika the cat and her kittens (if this were 1980’s comic book, at this point there would be an asterisk with a note on it… *Check out the last issue true believers!) This week I was walking around the park again, the park was full of people, some doing Tai Chi, the usual group of men working out at the weight training area, nannies walking with children… The usual sights I see on a Wednesday morning… After a short walk around the lake I headed toward the walking track (a purpose-built track that runs around the park) the track was quite busy, athletic types running around it, joggers jogging…. And me… Walking around it at my own pace thinking to myself and putting the world to rights (as I do)… I’ve been here for just over a year now and still I find myself at times just stopping and looking at how my life has turned out… I’m still amazed by it… This is a life I never dreamed I’d have… I pass two Asian women stretching their legs near a wall, one of them is swinging her leg back and forth I fear she’s in danger of kicking herself in the head or pulling a muscle… Or both… An old Thai man is jogging just ahead of me, he is jogging speed is below my walking pace and I know very soon, I’ll have to negotiate a course around him… Seemingly being able to sense this, he begins to change his course slightly, as I move position he counters and continues to block my path… Eventually, I pass him… Take that, old man! A short distance away from the old man I find myself at the place where I saw Kika the cat last week (*Last Issue, true believers) I don’t expect to see her but I look anyway… Amazingly she was there, her kittens were playing close by… I stopped walking on the track and walked toward her, she looked up and ran toward me meowing loudly (the soppy side of me wanting to believe she knows who I am… The reality being more likely that she knows a sucker when she sees one) I sat down nearby, gave her some fuss and opened up a pouch of cat food for her, she didn’t waste much time and began to eat as her kittens watched from the distance, one of the kittens came pretty close to me, not close enough to pet, but close enough to see how well he looked (He/She, I have no idea… I wasn’t looking THAT closely)… Kika has a few new scars on her which concern me, but the kittens look fit and healthy… I spent a few minutes with her before saying my goodbyes and continuing on my walk… A walk I continued with a smile on my face.

Fitness really means a lot to people here… You can walk around a park in England every day for a week and not see as many people jogging, exercising or lifting weights as you’ll see here in this park in Bangkok… There are also no limits on age either, there are young people exercising alongside old people, runners using the same track as people walking at a slow pace, the key is that whatever the age, whatever the fitness level, everyone exercises together.

Of course, amongst all this fitness-related positivity there has to be negativity (Come on, it is Me writing after all!) Back in England I hated going to the gym because of the number of posers that went there… Here in Bangkok, posing and vanity levels are through the roof… A few weeks ago I was using the gym in our apartment complex, a young Asian woman walked in, she walked on the walking machine for about five minutes before spending an age standing in front of the mirror in the gym taking pictures of herself… Only a few days ago while I was in the gym I found myself getting annoyed at some young Asian girl laying across the weights bench while some young Asian lad took photos of her… It’s a gym, not a photographic studio! It’s not just the gym tho is it? Any place they can pose for a photo, by God they’ll stop and pose for it… Bloody Instagram has a lot to answer for.

Maybe I’m just jealous because I’m not beautiful… Or maybe I’m just miserable… Maybe it’s both.

Ah well.. Until next time…

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Ade Cox

A working-class man from The Black Country, plucked from the factory and now living the best life in Bangkok