Aug 23, 2012|
About two years ago, a great empty space opened up next to Ratchathewi BTS station right near the center of town after the removal of a number of old shophouses. With the help of locals like Butdee Jongmoom, 35, a motorcycle taxi driver, the plot now more closely resembles a nature reserve, albeit one that’s overgrown with lush trees and people’s mini farming projects. Butdee tells us about the transformation and how he uses the space to grow vegetables.
How long have you worked around here?
About two years. I don’t know exactly what used to be in this space before because by the time I came all the buildings had already been removed.
How did the gardening begin?
It all started a few months ago when a group of university students came to plant some flowers and vegetables for their course. The crew of a TV show called Joh Jai also came here to plant some trees. But after they left, I realized there was nobody taking care of those trees. They were dying so I decided to transfer all the trees that were still alive into one spot where I also grow things like chili, tomato, lemongrass, basil, pandanus, kale and papaya.
How do you take care of it all?
I water the plants from about 6am. I normally use sewage water but it depends on the rain. This place is also home to many stray cats, so I feed them using money I get from foreigners as well as my own funds.
Why do you do all this?
I just want to do it. That’s it. It makes me happy. It also gives me something to do during the day while I wait for customers.
What hopes do you have for this space?
I want it to be a park. If you look up, there are buildings everywhere. But when you look at this green space, even though it’s really overgrown, it’s far more pleasant than looking at concrete. There are no parks around here, so it would be great to make better use of it. But the land has an owner, so it’s not really up to us.
Ten years after the land next to BTS Ratchathewi was earmarked for the construction of an expressway, little has changed. A sign put up by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) still bars people from using the space, but the flat concrete surface boxed in by old graffiti-strewn buildings has become a de facto playground for kids and adults alike.
Nearly ten years ago, a small group of sports enthusiasts started gathering to play street football among the debris and rubbish at an empty lot under the expressway near Victory Monument. Then Piya and Marnit Suk-udomlert, two brothers with a passion for football, decided to pour their own money into making the space a proper street football facility for youngsters in the neighborhood. Now it not only attracts regular faces every night, but it also helps nurture young talents, some of whom have gone on to play in the national futsal league and even the national team.
What drove you to support street football?
My brother and I decided to help develop this place after we saw that many people were coming here to play football on a really poor surface with only small goals. We thought it would be good to establish a stronger community for football players in the neighborhood, especially as we both just love playing the sport in the evening!
Aside from being a caretaker of the space, what else do you contribute?
Anytime I hear about an upcoming football or futsal competition, I round up the skillful kids we have playing here to compete. I often help with funding for these kids, too.
What reward do you get from all your hard work?
None at all! I return any tournament prize money to the kids and also cover most of the food, travel and accommodations costs. I am extremely happy to do this and don’t think of it as losing money. One year I spent nearly half a million baht. Now and then kids will ask me to help buy them football shoes or apparel. I don’t care about winning championships, I just want to give these kids a shot at playing the sport they love.
Does this space have any rules?
Anyone can join and we’re all considered equals here. The seniors help look after the juniors. Many kids use the space and I don’t want them fighting.
What would you like to see done with abandoned spaces like this?
Firstly, I’d like some new floodlights installed here, as ours are broken. As for other spaces, I think Bangkok generally needs more sporting grounds, so why not transform what we already have?
Bangkok is home to countless abandoned spaces, many of which are decrepit and far from beautiful. But for some graffiti artists they’re a blank canvas from which they can brighten up the city and encourage more people to embrace art.
How did you become a graffiti artist?
I always liked drawing and went on to study fine arts. I had a few friends who were into skateboarding which is part of the same urban culture as graffiti. When graffiti became a big trend I pretty much taught myself how to do it. It’s an adventure to go out and spray walls. The first time was so much fun. Now I can’t stop myself. It’s given me a different angle on art.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My art is really influenced by my daughter Madee. Whenever I see her do something, I try to translate it to art. I’ve already carved out a signature style of my own, which I want people to recognize as being specifically Thai.
What’s something cool that’s happened to you while doing graffiti?
A long time ago, one of my foreign homies visited me in Bangkok. While we were spraying some walls around an abandoned space, all of a sudden this guy came up to my friend and asked, “Are you tired? Would you like something to eat?” My friend was totally afraid, but after I translated what was said, we went and had a great meal at this stranger’s house. Most Thai people are really open-minded like this; I rarely run into too much trouble.
What do you make of Bangkok’s abandoned spaces?
Quite obviously, these places are symbolic of our local economy. In a way, they’re monuments of failure and corruption.
What would you like to see done to these spaces?
I want them to be devoted to art. Thai people generally don’t visit art galleries, so maybe it’s better to have it all set outside. Personally, I like the idea of decorating our city with graffiti but these creations must have deeper meanings that really resonate with people. Often when I see a deserted place, I just can’t help but go ahead even without a permit.
It’s an all too familiar sight in our newspapers: great big pictures of officials shaking hands to open another community gym for the benefit of our children. Sure, many of these are still operational but others, like the one under the Rama 9 expressway on Praditmanoontham Rd., have fallen into complete disrepair before being completely abandoned. This particular gym once had the backing of a famous promoter; now it’s just a space where two boxing rings stand and gather a thick layer of dust. Thankfully, the surrounding concrete space sees a little more action, but it took a bunch of youngsters, calling themselves the Bangkok Hard Court Bike Polo group, to revive this lonely spot through their sport, a variation on traditional polo in which bicycles replace horses.
When did you start playing bike polo?
About two years ago after meeting others who enjoyed playing bike polo in Saimai district. But we had to stop playing there because my bicycle shop was closed down. That left us having to find other suitable places to play as bike polo requires a large, open space like a convenience store parking lot.
How did you find this place?
My young friend Hilmee told me about this place he said was abandoned and might suit our sport. When I came to check it out, I realized it was the perfect fit. It used to be a community boxing gym but no one uses it anymore, only a group of children who come to play football every evening. So we decided to use the court during the day time when they are not here.
How do you manage the space?
We regularly clean it up because it gets full of dust and garbage. We also built a low wooden fence to prevent our ball from going astray. My friend and I spent about B1,000 of our own money to buy the wood then built it. But as we share the place with others, we have to pull down our fence when we stop playing. We hope to keep using this space because the cover from the expressway means we can play in any weather.
What are your long-term plans for this place?
We all like it here and it’s best that we have a space where we can play regularly, otherwise it’s difficult to encourage more people to take up the sport. We currently play every weekend and we all keep in contact via our Facebook group “Bangkok Hard Court Bike Polo.”
How do you feel when you see similar spaces going unused?
It’s pretty disappointing. People can do lots of fun things with these abandoned spaces. Just imagine if we had a ramp for all sorts of extreme sports under the long Ramintra expressway. Wouldn’t that be cool? I also want more parks. This city is crying out for more green spaces. There’s so little room and every piece of land has an owner. I’d like for some rich people to invest their money in developing more public parks. For now we just have to make do with the spaces we have.
I’ve lived around here for three years and I see so many kids come to ride bikes or play sports. At dusk some migrant workers also come to play sepak takraw. It would be good to see the place tidied up a bit.
39, bike shop owner
I’ve already sent a proposal to the BMA to use the space for fixed gear bicycles, but I haven’t received a reply. Some people play basketball and football but there’s also a fair bit of drug use on-site. I’d like it to be turned into a green space, so people can exercise in a pleasant location.
28, futsal player
Many years ago, I was one of the people who first painted the lines for the pitch here. We still source our electricity for lighting from a nearby shop and we all split the bill. We’ve had a little assistance from the BMA who helped put up a fence, but we really need some new floodlights.