If you enter Lumpini Park in Bangkok through Gate 5 on Sarasin, you can cross the strip of car park, use a broken slab of pavement as a ramp, turn to your right, squeeze past a waist high cement bollard and you’ll find yourself on what’s uncommonly known as “Cat Alley”. This is the first part of the Diplomat’s walk to the Canadian Embassy every morning.
On it slouch languid felines; usually these are late afternoon denizens of this dusty, dry strip of tarmac some hundred metres long which is really a side alley to enter a small area of the park given over to cultivating blooms for replanting in the wider acreage. Yet this is their Kingdom of Lions where a yawning, hissing, back-arching, sniffing disdain is a daily demeanour for their circle of life in Bangkok. An old tree is fallen, shoved against a rusty wire fence; more chainsaw-hewn sections of trunks lean drunkenly against each other like a fallen house of cards; intermingled with blocks of breeze that have failed to make the construction grade.
Cat urine soaks and dries on the tree rings, a marking of territory, a victory of sorts of animal over plant as the acid slowly bites into the dead wood.
Every day under a fierce Bangkok sun, whose heat blisters the concrete city, out come the cats to play, to feed, to sleep; they fill the alley in this humid park resplendant in its green botanics, alive as they sinously coil themselves into the backdrops of the verdant pinks, oranges, whites, purples of a Thai city oasis.
More often than they care to admit, these lords and ladies, these princes and princesses sidle warily away as the true Lords of Lumpini drag their weary bodies on short, alien limbs from sluggish water to bolt holes. Violent greys ripple across reptilian skin as the Monitors growl like public school authoritarians at anything that interferes with them. Their tails whip slowly, ominously, tracing faint trails in the dust, their passing accompanied by the artificial shutter click of gawking selfie posers gathered as close as they dare to these varanidae. They have owned this land since the Pleistocene, humans are as much an irritant to them as the cats who know enough to move on swiftly.
This grand old five foot adult slides away and the cats who have kept still flick ears once more, resume their indolent watchfulness. They may not own Lumpini but it is their home as much as the dogs who howl amongst the tombs of the old Chinese cemetary on Silom…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?