The big splash in the big heat…
As the mercury climbed to the mid-30s C and the ‘real feel’ soared to more than 40C Songkran was back with a bang. You either love it or loath it! As the festive days intensified in enthusiastic exuberance the Scribbler found himself falling into the former category! But I admit I didn’t venture far, confining myself to my known Chom Thian comfort zone. Several soakings, welcome in the heat, soon had me in the Songkran spirit. The days slipped swiftly by culminating on Wan Lai in an extravaganza of a drenching, dousing, sousing grand finale symbolising the washing away of the past year’s misfortunes. Long may the tradition flourish!
Confessions of a railway romantic…
Rail journeys have been central to the plot of countless novels and films as well as the subject of scores of poems and paintings, and fired the imaginations of writers ranging from Tolstoy and Dickens to Buchan and Betjeman.
Although never likely to reach anywhere near the skill of those talented artists, as a fellow railway romantic I share their passion! Being a railway romantic is a million miles from the mundane world of the “train spotter”. We romantics care little for locos, bogies and wagons. For us it is the atmosphere, ambience and aura the railway evokes that we find so captivating. So with a fondness for trains and a love of the East rail journeys in Thailand fulfil two passions!
To the Scribbler, Bangkok’s 126 years old Hua Lamphong Station has always recalled a lost era of rail travel and holds a special place in this railway romantic’s heart. Now its long reign as the nation’s railway hub is over. The shiny new(ish) aluminium intercity expresses have abandoned the old place in favour of the equally glossy new main line terminus at Bang Sue. Now Hua Lamphong serves only local traffic – demoted and diminished rather like a once grand lady now living in “reduced circumstances”!
Of course the old station has long been in steep decline. From what must have been glory years in her first few decades of a long life she had deteriorated into a shabby, in places frankly filthy, shadow of her former self cannot.
Requiem for a grand old dame…
Oh Hua Lamphong, once grand and vast
A terminus where memories last
For years you stood a grand old dame,
A symbol of the nation’s railway fame.
No more the hub of railway land,
Your glory days, now at an end,
So now we must bid adieu,
To a cherished landmark, forever true.
A railway reminiscence…
Some ten years ago one of the Scribbler’s earliest transits through Hua Lamphong inspired him to write this piece for my blog ‘Idle Times in Ban Somboon and Chom Thian’, www.theidlescribbler.wordpress.com
Arriving at Hua Lamphong, the capital’s main station, at the end of a coastal Christmas break at Chom Thian I eagerly anticipate my first trip aboard Train 67, the overnight ‘express’ sleeper from Bangkok to Sisaket. The 450 km journey will take more than ten hours to cover. I’m undaunted at the prospect – another railway adventure is afoot!
Hua Lamphong is heaving. I pick my way through the throng to the Black Canyon coffee shop on the upper storey gallery overlooking the station’s bustling concourse, a location I have found to be a perfect people watching perch.
Today the scene is one of bustle tempered by Asian patience. Monks, as befits their status, are provided with their own private and spacious seating area. Nobody, at any rate while I’m watching, seems even to think of, never mind making, any attempt at violating this semi-sacred space.
The station clock shows six pm precisely and all commotion ceases as the first notes of the Thai National Anthem sound. At once all is still and silent, even the most frenzied train catchers stop in their tracks. Time is suddenly frozen as if someone has hit the video pause button. As the last note dies the buzz begins again. Unlike the silence on Remembrance Day, which is softened by a lengthy build-up, here the contrast from one moment to the next is dramatic.
Looking down on the bustling scene below I try to imagine how it would have looked in Hua Lamphong’s earliest days. Surely no young ‘back-packers’ then. Any farang would likely be clad in white ‘ducks’ and probably sporting a ‘solar toupee’!
Train 67 at last appears on the departure board. I pick my way through the throng to the tracks. In the timetable Train 67 is termed a ‘special express’ although an average speed of just 40 km per hour express is perhaps somewhat misleading!
Aboard this express I could have travelled first class with a private compartment. However, still playing the geriatric backpacker I elect to travel second class air-con. To imagine the train’s interior think old American movies such as ‘Some Like It Hot’ where much the action takes place in the old ‘Pullman’ type sleeping cars. Train 67 is much like that. Soon after departure the train crew move down the cars turning the seats to beds, clean cotton sheets and pillows in a miniature bedroom with cosy curtained-off privacy.
It’s a lot cheaper than by air and a hell of a lot more comfortable than the most luxurious buses.
A megastar is gone…
As I write news comes through of the death of that Australian comic genius with an unparalleled talent for satire and parody Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage, megastar housewife from Melbourne’s Moony Ponds, aka Sir Les Patterson, the wine soaked ‘Cultural Attaché’, aka Sandy Stone, the gentle but slightly senile Returned Serviceman. I’ll miss them all.