Yesterday I came back by minivan from Bang Saen, the nearest seaside resort, some seventy-nine kilometres from the Victory Monument in Bangkok. It’s almost a straight line through the winding expressway.
I was sitting in the second row, next to the door. On that door, a notice in Thai said something like: ‘The speed of this van is monitored by GPS and must not exceed 90 km/hour. Excessive speed will be fined B5000.’
During most of the trip, the needle on the dashboard was at 120/125 km per hour.
At the level of Bang Na 2 Hospital, three-quarters of the way through, the middle-aged driver suddenly fastened his seat belt and had the perpetually nodding-off lad on the other side fasten his. The tall young woman sitting in the middle had no seat belt to fasten. Oh well…
We soon reached a tollgate, cop-deserted that noon. Right past it, the driver unfastened his seat belt.
Traffic by then was getting heavier. At 110 km/hour, most of the overtaking of lorries and vans was done in the left lane.
I was dropped at the Victory Monument and took a taxi home. It had been a smooth, comfy, fast, uneventful ride.
Why Bang Saen?
When I was an impecunious freelance journalist learning Thai full time over three decades ago, I was addicted to the mosquitoes of its cheap bungalows and to spit-roast chicken on its coconut-tree-lined beach. The former gave me passing blisters; the latter, a nasty case of worms only a mega-pill from the tropical diseases hospital in Paris got me rid of many months later.
An old man now, I have developed a vexing hip problem which makes it very painful for me to walk on flat ground over any distance (I still climb stairs like a mountain goat). This has meant in the past year or so staying at home as much as possible, save for shopping trips and visits to bone specialists. (More on these later.) Lack of exercise and giving up smoking has translated into an alarming weight gain, of some ten kilos in one year, with no end in sight until last month.
Last month, my visiting daughter, on furlough from her brilliant law and French studies in France, drove me to Bang Saen on a whim: perhaps I’d find there a bungalow where I could while away time working by the sea. Bungalows we found … just as I had left them, but in a parlous state, without even a coat of paint in the intervening years.
However, we did spend a night in a small, modern, well-designed guesthouse with a swimming pool, run by a genial middle-aged couple. There and then I decided this was where I wanted to spend working days (forget about weekends: Bang Saen still draws hordes of Bangkok hoi polloi on the loose) if only I could stand the rigours of the journey back and forth by minivan. Tried that the next week or so: with motorcycle taxi, taxi, minivan and motorcycle taxi from home to guesthouse, I did hardly any walking.
The sea there I can see from the second floor as a post stamp three hundred yards away in a gap of the greenery. I can always borrow one of the hotel’s bicycles to reach it, but prefer exercising in the modest swimming pool.
Meanwhile in Bangkok my neighbour has gifted me with his exercise bike and I force myself to pedal every day I’m here; I’ll soon reach the half-hour of boredom universally advocated to stay in shape. To stop for good the garnering of fat, I’ve cut down drastically on booze and have resumed smoking; I’ll soon be back to my life-long packet a day.
Over the past year I’ve also endeavoured to follow doctors’ prescriptions. The half dozen eminent specialists I’ve consulted have something in common: they don’t seem to take my predicament seriously as soon as I, who unfortunately still look shipshape, tell them I climb stairs with a smile, and they discount recourse to an MRI to try to figure out what the hell is wrong down my spine. ‘No need,’ the latest one said, ‘just do some stretching.’
For all that, they divide into two groups: the first two prescribed pills (not the same) for a week that worked wonders for a month or so but couldn’t be taken on a regular basis; the others swear by kayasart – physical exercises (not the same either) over time. I dutifully gave each of those a month, to no noticeable effect, and now have decided to treat myself until I get better or die trying.
In the past month I’ve stopped gaining weight and my new-cut trousers are getting baggy. But I still can’t walk to the police station down the street without pain.