Sunday, April 1, 2012

An introduction to Bangkok

So after my visits to London and Paris had flown by, I headed to Bangkok for the next part of my adventures.  I arrived in the city and was welcomed by a sudden gust of hot humid air that hit me the moment the airplane doors opened and forced me to take off the multiple layers that I had been wearing.  I was immediately struck by the “foreignness” of the city, which is very different from the other places that I have visited over the past year and a half of traveling.  While many aspects of life in Bangkok were similar to things that I’d seen in other cities, there were a lot of things that I had never seen before, and unlike most of the other places that I visited, my “foreignness” couldn’t be hidden by keeping my mouth shut and nodding and smiling, instead it was broadcast to all passerby's by my "Western" appearance.

Within a few hours of arriving in Bangkok I met up with the other members of the Parkour Generations family that had congregated in Thailand.  While not all of the visits had been planned to overlap with the others, there were way too many of us for it to be called a coincidence.  After spending an afternoon and evening getting re-adjusted to the climate and the time change, we met up for a group training session at Lumpini Park, conveniently located near the guest house some of us were staying at.  The training group was an international medley featuring Andy “Kiell” Day (UK), Violetta (Spain), Stephane Vigroux (France), Leon Lawrence (UK), the Annty Marais (France), Bruno Peixoto and his wife Rafa (Brazil), myself (USA), and some of the guys that Steph had started training with from Bangkok.  Anan Anwar (Thailand) and Shaun Wood (Australia) also showed up to the park accompanied by Jason Paul (Germany), who was in town to hang out with the guys and make some new videos with Team Farang (more details to come).  Since I’d been hearing about these guys from various people throughout my travels it was good to finally be able to train with them and see them move in person.  Needless to say, we weren’t a particularly small or inconspicuous group and we soon discovered that the Thai park authorities were not nearly as understanding and accepting of parkour as their British equivalents and we found ourselves moved on from one spot in the park to another.

A PkGen family (+ extended family) reunion in Lumpini Park my first day in Thailand.  Photo courtesy of Leon Lawrence.
 The next day we spent the morning exploring the city before heading over to Saphan Taksin to meet up with some local traceurs.  The park that we met in was located under a major highway overpass and had a number of basketball, football, and sepak takraw (think volleyball + football) courts, a weightlifting area, and most importantly, a metal climbing structure that looked like it had been built for insanely heavy children, or just designed to stand for the next 200 years. 

The park.

Perhaps the demographic that it was initially intended for.

While the design of the structure may look pretty simple at first glance, the simplicity and unadorned design is perhaps the genius of it as a training structure as it allows for an almost infinite amount of creativity in movement.  The park happens to be the preferred training spot of a group of young traceurs (aged 8-23) that call themselves the “Dark Monkeys”.  While it still isn’t clear to me how much of their movement in the park is inspired by traceurs like Anan Anwar and the other members of Team Farang who have been using the park for the past few years and how much is totally organic (there seems to be a pretty incredible amount of “play” and “natural exploration” that goes on among the group, most of whom are between 10-16 years old), the routes and movements that they do show just how much time many of them spend there (it is almost guaranteed that 5-10 of them will be there any given afternoon after school lets out).

The first 2 minutes of the video below shows some footage that Leon took of movement at the park.

As one can see from the videos, the park offers seemingly limitless opportunities for creativity and expression.  It was pretty amazing to watch the kids “playing” in the park as their movements seem to defy their ages in many cases and show just how much time many of them actually spend in the park.  Training with the kids was a lot of fun and it soon became our “default” training spot throughout our time in Bangkok.  While many of the traceurs had a high skill level when moving around the park, many aspects of “Parkour Generations/Yamakasi” training were pretty new to them, most notably many of the warm-up and conditioning drills.  It was interesting to see how the kids had developed in the atmosphere of “play” which was very different from the atmosphere that exists in the Yamakasi and Parkour Generations training tradition.  Many of the kids were very curious about the way we trained and even more so once shirts started coming off due to the heat and there was a a notable difference between the physiques of the two training methods (Leon was probably the most obvious example and his Hulk-like muscles were fascinating to the kids).

Leading a"Parkour Generations style" warm-up at the park.  Photo courtesy of Violetta  Beral.

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