Once Upon a Bangkok – A Street Scene

sathon bangkok

If you want to cross the intersection at Sathon Road and Naradhwas Rajangarindra, you have to pass the plaza where there’s a Christmas tree made of bicycles.

The plaza covers the intersection entirely, accessed by pedestrian bridges that are your only way to the BTS-Chong Nonsi station and elevated train. And anyways, it would be impossible to pass below, through the steady sea of cars that never obey the lines painted on the road, and the mopeds that never pay attention to the steady stream of cars, and the ever-flowing taxis pushing their way through all of that. Even when it’s past 11 pm.

At that time of night, the Christmas tree of bicycles are brightly lit with slowly-changing LED lights, from green to blue to purple and red and back again. All the more helpful to read the sponsors’ logos on the white wheels, from CitiCorp to AIG to HTC and D-Tac and back again. There are still people from time to time, mostly couples now, not the masses of commuters headed to and from the terminal.

At one end of the plaza, a couple lazily walk in a close embrace, both shuffling by in sandals but one in lanky pants the other in a flowing dress. He stops to get her picture near the bike-tree with his cell phone, motioning her to cross over the little sign and low bar that’s meant to keep the lesser bold from better close-ups. They have to look at it huddled together to make sure it’s right. He must have said something funny because she pushes him away, but only laughingly. Then it’s his turn for a close-up.

Five other youths are at the other end of the plaza, where it steps down to meet a pedestrian walkway before narrowing into the passage to the trains. Two or three run up to the wheelchair access area, skateboard down, and ollie up and over the steps. The others somehow got a hold of some cigarettes and feverishly pass them back and forth like candy they secreted away before dinnertime. It’s hard to tell who’s waiting their turn for a skateboard run and who’s waiting for another drag.

There is a guard for the plaza, a short, squat man in a neatly pressed olive-colored uniform, complete with officer’s hat. He strolls up and down the plaza and its passageways, with a barely-perceptible randomness to his meandering. His steps are small, like he gets paid by the step, but his speed is slow, like he gets paid by the hour. His face is pudgy, but only in his cheeks. He is doing his best not to look at anyone in the plaza.

And still more people come, even after the BTS has closed. And still the steady stream of cars and scooters below.