In most parts of the world, running is a test of physical endurance and mental strength. In Bangsue, running is a test of quick reflexes, high steps and the adaptability of the respiratory system! Although one of the most appealing aspects of the sport is the chance to let the mind wander and refresh itself while the body takes over, such an indulgence would result in disaster around these parts!
Let me take you through a typical morning run in Bangsue, Bangkok.
My alarm(s) go off at 5 a.m., and I do my best to be out the door by 5:10. I walk down the six flights of stairs, greet the night watchman downstairs (if he happens to be awake) and head outside. The first thing I notice is that the neighborhood doesn’t sound much different than it did at the time I came home the evening before. Taxis and tuk-tuks and motorbikes and buses are still making their way up and down the road, the (mass) population of dogs is still barking at said vehicles and there are quite a few food stalls open with their radios playing and patrons talking in the dark of the morning.
I say hello to the nighttime tea lady and the noodle soup lady next door (they are still there from the night before, finishing up their allotment of Hong Thong whisky with soda) and also to the morning tea lady (who definitely disapproves of alcohol). They always smile and wave and often offer a drink, I smile back (in my most convincing 5 a.m. effort) and begin my run.
The first mile involves getting off of our road. I run down the sidewalk, jumping into the road to avoid the chicken lady throwing buckets of soapy water at her stall for morning cleaning, jumping back onto the sidewalk only to have a motorbike come out of a front door; luckily I’ve mastered the art of anticipating such things and am (almost) able to dodge it as though it’s the most natural thing in the world. I then step over a sleeping dog or five without breaking my stride and weave through a group of people at the bus stop.
I finally get down to the 7-11 where I cross the road, stopping in the middle to wait for a break in traffic. If I make it there by 5:15, I have the sidewalk nearly to myself. If I get there at 5:20, the banana lady’s husband will be backing his truck onto the sidewalk for unloading; by 5:25, the rest of the market vendors have arrived for setup. I then get to the end of our road where I make a left, weaving through another group of people waiting on buses and staring at the crazy white girl.
I make a left onto the next road, Prachachuen, which is much quieter and cleaner than our road. I squeeze my way through the group on the corner which, without fail, consists of a donut lady, a chicken lady, a rice-porridge guy and a tuk-tuk driver. I run up the stairs to the bridge and cross the road, ending up on the small brick path that runs along the canal.
The brick path is nice to have, as there are no vendors and (usually) no motorbikes driving on it, but it certainly isn’t ideal. A good 40% of the surfacing is complete crap, as bricks are missing or broken or jutting up into the air. Not a huge deal, except when it’s dark out and you’re underneath the only trees in the vicinity. As you might expect (especially if you know how incredibly graceful I am), I’ve had a handful of pretty impressive falls on this path! Luckily nothing has been too serious, just some scraped up knees (it’s like I never left age 4) and a few rolled ankles. In any case, I’m much better about picking up my feet these days!
Every half mile or so the path will cross either a cross street or a bus stop. The cross streets will nearly always have a motorbike flying onto or off of them and the bus stops will always have at least one person standing right in the middle of the path. Luckily I’ve also mastered the art of painlessly getting around them; as I’ve said before, it’s not considered rude here and there’s really no sense in getting irritated over it.
At least three days per week (I can’t identify any sort of order to this) a huge water truck makes its way down Prachachuen, spraying water onto the path (sometimes it hits the trees too). When this happens, I have to turn around and out run it back to the last bus stop to avoid getting pressure hosed with canal water.
Eventually I make it across the train tracks (often waiting for the train, watching the motorbikes and tuk tuks weave their way through the railroad barriers at the last minute) and to a highway. I make a mad dash across the service road and pick up the path on the other side. The path is much better-kept on this side and sometimes I even see another runner or two (typically Muay Thai boxers who train at a nearby gym. They can fight, but they can’t run!). By now it’s fully light out (the sky is getting light by 5:30) and morning traffic is in full force, so while the path is better, the exhaust fumes are doubled and the cross streets twice as hard to deal with!
Once I finally get down to the next highway, I turn around and run back. By this time, Prachachuen is in full force, with breakfast vendors out, rice and curry cooking, school kids jumping onto motorbike taxis and barefoot monks collecting their morning alms. People are pretty used to me by now, and I get plenty of smiles and a few ‘Good morning! Where you go?’ inquiries from laughing tuk tuk drivers.
Rather than head all the way back around to my road and deal with the war zone that is the morning fresh market, I cut over on Soi 11, smile at the old man who always jogs past me there, step gingerly past the boxer/great dane mix who sleeps in the middle of the lane and soon end up on my road, 9 miles later, across from my building. I spend anywhere from 2-8 minutes waiting on a chance to jump across the road, nod at the line of monks filing down our sidewalk and I am finished! I head upstairs for a wonderful cold shower and get ready for work.
Strangely, despite my scraped knees, developing smoker’s cough and mental exhaustion, I’m running stronger than I’ve run in a couple of years. While I can’t wait for some clean air, green spaces and quiet time out in the countryside, Bangsue has worked out better than I ever would have imagined!