“Where the Wild Things Are;” Or, a weekend in Lamlukka? (Illustrated Edition)
Lamlukka area of Pathumthani, a neighboring province to Bangkok become suberb is not the most exciting place in the world. For the most part, it is purely practical. Buildings are non descript and concrete. Streets are two lanes, perpetually busy, and lacking a sidewalk. Bogs between apartment complexes are trash dumps; ferral dogs the nieghborhood wildlife. There are no craft markets, no bars, no hostels. There is one mall, and my what a mall it is, a true testiment to western influence and capitalism in Asia. Dinner is done street side, there are a couple schools, two wats, and a Tesco Lotus (British Walmart). Stores are open 24/7 to snare what buiness they can, owners more often than not spread out on a couch, watching TV, and waiting for work. Small drink stands with discarded couches or van seating and decked out in Christmas lights are the local watering hole and cockfights, petanq, and one karaoke/girlfriend bar are the venues of liesure. There is always traffic, on every street. Mostly pick up trucks on the way to or from a job, or motorbike taxis ferrying people round the city.
November, our second month here in Thailand without a paycheck, was tough. Except for a couple trips to the mall for 60 baht movie night, we did very little in terms of entertainment. Nights were spent drinking cheap Thai whiskey to an episode of Sopranos or while eating at a local venue that often aired English premier league games. We were on a strict budget, so weekends consisted of sleeping late, laundry, and wandering around looking for a green space or serene wat we could use to get out of the house.
The search was, for 3 weeks, fruitless. We did find one wat down the street, complete with an array of animal feeding opportunities. There was a pond full of hungry turtles that were willing to walk right up to your feet for a snack. A river that ran next to the compound was stacked with 2 ft. snakeshead carp that enjoyed bread or fish pellets (and probably your finger or any small rodent that fell in the water) and the roaming chickens and dogs were more than willing help finish any lunch you were unable to put down. There was a small collection of stands that didn’t quite constitute a market, but that did provide the essential snack, useful oddity (like silverware, screwdrivers, or batteries), or alms for the temple. And, with the stands was a cohort of shopkeeping children sucking on popcicles and ever ready for a game of checkers. Still, there was too much reverence in the air. Who can relax when eternal salvation, nirvana, whatever, is on the line and a diety is overlooking your every move.
So, we took to the streets again, finding other unappealing mini-markets and plenty of carpentry shops. It appeared Lamlukka was destined to be boring. Until, one day, we came upon an odd park, directly on a main road, but hidden by nondescript fences and a line of trees. It was well maintained and eerily empty, so we broke the still air and went in. As we sat to eat lunch and enjoy the silence, eyes began to appear in the bushes. From behind a tree, around a fountain, through some branches, and from atop a building we were watched intently, as if being hunted. Soon enough we were surrounded by people. Children flooded into the playground and adults quickly and mechanically set up stands in the parking lot. Within 20 minutes the venders were bustling and there was a monotonous din of bargaining envelopping the park, pierced only momentarily by sharp cries of excited children. Naturally, I flipped on the Flip and Cengiz went to go see if he could snake a shot or two on goal. What started as a comedy act of Cengiz playing soccer with an 8 year old Ronaldo and his practice lackey turned into a full fledged, 4 on 4, no shirts, no shoes soccer match.
Our arena was an old bandstand. The concrete shell, a replica of the Sydney opera house was dirty and abandoned and the field was a tiled, concrete, raised general standing area for shows long forgotten. We enjoyed 20 min of true football until the kids realized they were being taped and their attention was lost. What was this pocket sized device that showed a picture on its back, this long, enormous black looking thing that was next to it? Cengiz began an impromptu lesson on digital visual arts and before long he and the 4 kids were consumed in a photo rompus.
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing with the new toys, meeting each other, and having a generally good time. I kicked it around for a bit longer with a much older, more serious adolescent, eager to prove his worth on the soccer field. Cengiz continued to play with the kids and cameras and slowly started ensnaring nearby observers into his net of digital imaged. Afterwords, we marched over to the market to see what was for dinner. Fresh roasted corn, fish still wiggling in coolers, mushrooms, greens, sushi, fresh whole chickens, popsicles, fully equipped drink stands, gizmos and gadgets, everything you needed. Not everything you wanted, there were no tin crafted Thai landscapes, intricate Buddhist Yant tapestries, or clothing. It wasn’t the street market you are going to find in a cultural center like Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya, it was a local street market. Where the whole neighborhood could find something they had a taste for that night, or the supplies they needed for the next day. The adults gathered round stands, the young kids at the merry go round and swings, the older kids on the step to the soccer field, or on an abandoned grassy tree lawn, bumping Rick Ross.
It was a fantastic atmosphere and a monumental discovery. It turns out, there was some place in Lamlukka after all where you could go, sit outside, play, eat, drink, and blow off steam. It turns out that, contrary to all other observations, kids actually do have at least one place to play amidst this overly crowded concrete jungle. It turns out, that on those boring weekends, when the temperature was perfect and the bugs were mild, there was a place to go relax and be social, a place where you could run and jump and scream without the threat of being hit by the perpetual traffic, or worst, the tired and ornery elder within ear shot. There is the place the wild things are.
That turned out to be half of our first great weekend in Lamlukka. We also ended up successfuly producing a desperately respectable Thanksgiving. We were far too poor to even afford the bus fair into Bangkok for a credit funded, robust and bountiful dinner with a throng of people on the guest list. In fact, we couldn’t even afford a whole Thanksgiving meal from the credit card hating KFC; so, we got creative. Cengiz and I gave our thanks over a full roisserie chicken from Tesco Lotus, with KFC mashed potatoes, Cokes, and jelly filled donoughts for desert. It wasn’t huge, we finished it all. And, it wasn’t exceptionally delicious, but after a month without western food it was mouth-watering. While it probably wont be remembered as one of the best Thanksgiving of my life, it may certainly be remembered as the most unique. And, it was certainly special. Even the Mekong and Sopranos tasted, looked, sounded, just a little bit better that night.