Whenever we drive into Bangkok from Suvarnabhumi airport we always come in on the Sirat Expressway (which runs over the top – literally – of Rama IX), dropping off onto Chalerm Maha Nakorn Expressway and down onto Sukhumvit. It’s always tricky to get into the right lanes, what with the Thais using the hard shoulder with careless abandon. Anyway, as we loop round we always cross over a train yard with some old diesel locomotives, all polished up in the best Thomas the Tank Engine paint. I’ve always fancied a visit so I decided to try it. After looking hard at Google Maps – and I hate to say it, but it’s not terribly good at anything other than the main roads in Bangkok – I worked out I could turn left on Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Bumrungrad International hospital) and work my way over khlong Saen Saep – everywhere you go in Bangkok you’ve got to cross water.
So, I got on my bike and started here..as you can see it is a disused railway line which people use as a cut through to Petchaburi. Good to walk, terrible for a cycle. It swiftly proved a fruitless journey as I wove my way around the area – click on the map above if you want to see a few double backs and twists & turns. I got very close to the railway line; heck I even got into Makkasan station which is a real functioning station. I say this because I had to wander through a small market, skirt round dogs lolling in the shade, passed through a ticket venue that was derelict and onto the platform where seven or eight people patiently waited for one of the two daily trains. There was a great picture of a Harley Davidson helmet which forms the “Featured Image” of this blog. British Rail this isn’t. Recently the main rail route from Chiang Mai to Bangkok had to stop all service because the derailments were too many. 13 so far. Which says it all…a few are allowed over here before action is taken.
I followed the train line as far as my destination and, through a link fence could see the prize of the gleaming trains. Twice I came across entrances, but they are all guarded as it is a working line. Disappointed I turned sharp left and headed due south homewards. But, here are some photos of the route. This time I wanted to focus on less of the Gucci and Prada vistas, more on the grim reality of life for some people:
When I got there I remembered there was an invite…
Today, at the apartment where the Diplomat, Isla and I reside, there was a traditional Buddhist celebration and ritual. It was a two-fold event:
Firstly to celebrate the birthday of the owner. He is a Chinese gentleman who was celebrating his 98th birthday. Apparently, in Thailand he is 96 because his birth certificate is dated 1917, but it was quite common back in the day in China for people to be registered for birth a year or so after the blessed event. He tells his family that he is was born in 1915…so be it. The man has lived a long and fruitful life. Though he did not fight in World War I, to meet a man who was alive at the time is a rarity.
Secondly, September 19 is a day that is auspicious in the Buddhist lunar calendar. It is Amitabha Buddha Day. Now I might be wrong on this one as a couple of websites gave differing names for this date – I think it depends on which calendars you’re looking at; but, suffice it to say, this is what I was proudly told by the Thais who were celebrating.
To assist in the rituals and birthday cake nine Buddhist monks arrived (9 is a very auspicious number for the Chinese). They sat, cross-legged, facing us all in a row in the open air central atrium. There was a small votive temple by the “elder” monk, two lit candles and a long ball of thread that ran from the youngest one (they seemed to sit left to right as I faced them in order of age) to the eldest, across the “temple”, up the stairs and then around the entire building. This was done so the serenity, prayers, and auspicious good will of the rituals would reach the entire home. The youngest monk seemed to be in his teens, the eldest in his sixth decade. Each of them had a bottle of water and some tea in a china cup placed in front of them.
As I sat there, I didn’t understand the words that quietly filled the space, but there was a continuous chant for twenty minutes, followed by blessings on the 98 year old owner. After that, the monks were all seated at a table and offered a sumptuous feast (monks are not permitted to eat after noon). At this point I took my leave, but not before I had caught a bit of their ritual on film…it was a privilege to be invited and to observe…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?