The Bike-Eye View
“Smell was another gift from my bike journeys. The scent of food would lead my face and turn me toward their origins. The daily dishes were diverse. There was green, yellow, and red curry, papaya salad, fried chickens with sticky rice, and different kinds of noodles.”Nunticha Pongsroypech
As a young girl who enjoyed staying home, lying on the sofa, and reading, going outside doing sports—or even small exercises—would not have been an option.
However, I did manage to learn to ride a bike. Even then, I would only go on leisurely rides with my sisters, chit-chatting, or occasional trips to a nearby shop to get some groceries for my mom.
As I grew up, I continued struggling with sport, since I held lots of fear toward it. Little did I know that biking would show me a whole new aspect to everyday, simple things. Or, that experiencing my route to school on my bike would gift me new senses.
My first year of high school, because we lived nearby, our parents allowed me and my sisters to commute by bike. Even though I was not comfortable cycling, I was excited to give it a try in the back of my mind.
Wearing a sporty helmet, getting on a professional-like bike, and riding to school, while most students were commuting with their parents by car. That could be cool, I thought, and I could be cool too!
After leaving our home on the way to school, my sisters and I entered the main road connecting the entrance to our village. We headed north before stopping at an intersection and then turned right onto a small lane.
That’s where it all started.
It was an unknown lane, one that not many people, other than those involved, or locals who used it to travel in and out, would have known about. To be exact, this was in an area on the outskirts of Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, which was still in its development stage.
At that time, there weren’t any cycling or pedestrian paths—even the lane itself wasn’t properly paved. Moreover, the fact that the city’s traffic was one of the most turbulent in the world added a thrilling sensation to the journey.
After pedaling on the lane for a brief distance, we came to an intersection of three small roads, turned right a few times, bounced along a rocky path, and finally turned left, safely arriving at school.
So much adventure and it was just a two-kilometer ride from our home!
After sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car for years while driving to and from school, riding my bike was a completely different story; the route seemed new the whole time. Previously, from the car’s window, I noticed there were various structures along two sides of the path: garbage storage, a small stream, big houses, apartments, medium-size houses, a car washing service, taxi parking lots, local restaurants, typical Thai mobile food shops, hair salons, public schools, local temples, small houses, and some factories, respectively.
Yet, looking at these things again from the view on my bike, I realized there was so much more to experience. There was stinky fluid running from the garbage storage down to the rugged road. The small stream crossing underneath the path changed seasonally, from extremely dry during the winter to abundantly full of common water hyacinth during the rainy season.
Not far off at one of those houses sat gigantic guard dogs at the short front gate, who barked fiercely at strangers, including me and my bike, which was sometimes terrifying if traffic made me stop in front of those fierce creatures.
Smells were another gift from my bike journeys. The scent of food would lead my face and turn me toward their origins. The daily dishes were diverse. There was green, yellow, and red curry, as well as papaya salad, fried chickens with sticky rice, and different kinds of noodles.
Then came to the area where people were always busy buying stuff for breakfast and filling their stomachs during the day. Little kids walked hand-in-hand, accompanied by their parents, and headed to the school, making sure to arrive before 8 am when the morning anthem started.
On the opposite side of the school were small houses that consisted of little more than shelters. Some of them were local grocers, mechanic’s equipment stores, or tiny sewing shops composed of only a manual sewing machine and a lady who sat behind it.
What’s more, I could be stunned by a 1.5-meter-long lizard darting out from a small forest, causing me to stop as I watched it stroll across the road and slide down into a nearby pond.
Even though I biked along the same lane almost every day, I was always vigilant about avoiding hitting anyone or hurting myself. I was never bored!
It was fascinating to see people going about their daily activities from a close-up perspective, intimately, as we all lead different lives. By the time I started my morning journey to school, people were outside starting their day as well, including elders heading off to work, each of us walking and biking in different directions.
Some had started their jobs long before, diligently selling cooked food, fresh vegetables, and fruits, repairing clothes, and riding service motorcycles.
By the time the sun advanced to the west, I was headed home. A temporary evening market was held in the temple’s front yard, urging people to come around and shop for food, clothes, and more. After a long day, some were returning home, whereas shop owners were cleaning up the day’s mess and already preparing for the next morning.
So went the community’s lives and activities.
There were two different seasons in the school year: the rainy season and winter since the summer was reserved for holidays. These varied seasons provided me with different scenes and sensations.
As during most winters in Bangkok, it was quite dry and chilly, and the unpaved lane would often become especially dusty. When it rained, it became even more adventurous by turning into a small motocross track that melted into mud-and-water-filled pits of various sizes.
I was left with only narrow edges that I had to navigate my wheels through and zig-zag between haphazardly to avoid crashing. It was always an unpredictable situation since I never knew what lay beneath the water.
One time, a car stopped in front of me at the last minute due to traffic conditions, and I was forced to make a split-second decision: crash, or sacrifice one foot and dip it into the unknown pit of water. It was scary, but it worked out fine.
All in all, that was my daily activity, five days a week, during high school. Despite some of the scary moments, it is something I will never take for granted. Once I hopped on my bike, rode out from my safe zone into the street, and continued into the lane, I always had to be present. And that was the reason why I experienced so much from such a short route.
Unsurprisingly, it was far more than what I experienced looking out through my parents’ car window for eight years.
I have since graduated from school, and the lane has since been upgraded and paved with concrete. But those precious memories and experiences will remain in the back of my mind forever, always encouraging me to try new things, find the beauty in the everyday, and view life from different perspectives.
Learning to see and embrace all of these things is just a small way my cycling journey has opened me up.