Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Balloon Park, Copenhagen, Denmark

the beatnik poet ole lillelund infront of his house at the balloon park with pic. of himself and chairil anwar

The balloon Park

The balloon park is an independent self governing institutuion situated on Artillerivej, next to Amagerfælles and 5 minutes walk to the Islands brygge’s harbour in Copenhagen. The house or ’ rooms ’ are built of wooden tree painted in Swedish red with a military green door and white window. It was an old military camp that was built before the First World War around 1880s. The army used to store the air balloons in a big tree house next to the camp where they used them to protect the country from an air attack. The big tree house is now a horse riding school. It is also said that the army used to fly in the air balloon, so once up in the air, they could test and see how far the canon ball goes once it is being fired. It is off course a much easier way now on how to test the efficiency of a weapon and that is simply by clicking on a few buttons. Anyway that was how they did it in the old days and that is how the balloon park got its name.

The camp was taken over by the German in 1943 and after WW2, balloon park was also used to house the German refugees. In 1948, the place was taken over by the Copenhagen commune administration and the place was turn into a dormitory for male students studying in Copenhagen. There used to be an inspector that will go around the area to make sure that the rules were being kept but that didn’t stop the students from smuggling their women friends inside.

It was through Ole Lillelund, a beatnik poet and retired punk rock singer that I met at the Asian institute Christmas party, that introduced me to Erik, a computer animator, who later rent us out his house in the balloon park for a couple of years. We moved in the two rooms house around April 2005 and had our own little garden. Erik was very good with plants, so when spring came , all the flowers, from tulips, vintergækker to roses started to spring up. We didn’t have to do much gardening accept from watering the plants because Erik had pretty much did the hard work.

The rules in the balloon park are that everyman is entitled to have one room. Most rooms have its own fire place and a kitchen sink. We are not allowed to use the electrical heater and that is fair enough since we don’t have to pay for the electrical bill. We used the good old gas that came in in a yellow tank that we bought from the gas man that came around every now and then.

We had to walk about 15 meters out to the common toilets. There were about 10 small rooms with one small toilet bowl for the little children. The places were kept clean most of the time and nobody had heard of any kind of diseases being passed around since the place was inhabited. The toilets were quite airy and well ventilated since all the small rooms didn’t have any roof on top. This made it easier for you to hear your next door neighbor’s breathing or moaning when you are sitting next to each other. You can imagine what other sounds that can come out from that intimate moment. You could feel both disgusting and funny at the same time. Yes, you get used to it but I still at times feel rather awkward when caught in that circumstances. One morning I had the most painful stomach ache and I had to be in the toilet for a couple of hours. There was nothing that can stop me from crying and moaning of pain in the toilet but I was lucky enough not to feel embarrass because miraculously I received no visitors accept for my wife who came to check and see if I was still alive.
We also had a little piss bucket that we kept in the house and most of the ballooners each has one. It comes in handy especially when you had to pee in the middle of the night and didn’t feel like going out all the way to the toilet, especially not during the winter time. Those that don’t have a piss bucket normally did it in their own garden. It could stinks of piss after a few days but the smell is gone as along as you give the piss spot a rinse with cold water.

We were very lucky with the bathroom as far as the distance is concern. The bathrooms were right in front of where we live and it consists of a changing room, a guest room and a shower room. The first thing you see when you enter the bathroom is the changing room. There are a few clothes hangers attached to the benches that sit in the end of the room and on the wall were notice boards which serve announcements and the news about the place. On some occasions you could get free concert tickets because Thomas, our front door neighbor is a very well known concert organizer who have worked with the Beatles producers and had organized a concert with lead guitar of Buena Vista Social club, would put the free extra tickets up for the ballooners. One time he gave me a few tickets to Al Cooper’s concert, one of Dylan’s main keyboardists in the 70s which took place at Amager’s bio. The next day after the concert I asked him if he had gone there himself. He simply said no and said that the man was an asshole. He didn’t want to further explain why and I didn’t want to know more on what had happened behind the stage scene, but what I know was I had quite a really funky 70s night that night.

You have to past the changing room if you were a guest living in the guest room. The room is 15kr a night with three extra beds, the cheapest in town and probably the whole of Scandinavia. One time, there was an Australian guy living in the guest room. He was invited to stay as Ulla’s guest. Ulla is a ceramist artist, cheerful person, had her work-studio behind the bathroom and lives in the balloon park with her husband ‘captain’ Jacob who sails as his hobby. The Australian chap, around his mid 50s was an old American hippie stranded in Tasmania and eventually got married with one the local Tasmanian women. He off course feels right away at home here in the Balloon Park and love going in the shower where I first actually talked to him. The shower room is also actually a place where you could do some socializing by having some small talks and conversations while scrubbing your head, shampooing your hair or shaving the hair between your legs. Anyway, the Australian or American guy, or half Australian half American became acquainted to us and would drop by to say hi and one time came to visit us around 8am when I was busy preparing to go to my language school and at the same time trying to get our little son ready to go to the kindergarten. He looked as he had just woken up but were fully energized and very gay telling us about his old hippie days and would leave us a visit Tasmania tourist leaflet with a picture of Tasmanian devil with his own added bubble script saying ’ gidday princess, haven’t you miss home yet’. He told me to give it to the crown princess Mary if I see her but I sadly lost the leaflet when I actually met her.

At another time, Ulla also had a Swedish man from Gothenburg as a guest who was staying at the guest room for a couple of weeks and was doing a photographers course in Copenhagen. He would also come and visit us often during his stay. He told us that he had this theme about father and son that he was working on since he himself have had a kind of strange love hate relation towards his father to whom he doesn’t see often. He became interested in the story between me and my dad, pretty similar to his with the exceptional of the hate relation. He took pictures of us as a family altogether in bed with his old haselblad camera and then would asked us if we can all took our clothes off. I felt something strange about it, not that i have any prejudice about taking nude pictures, because I myself have had a couple of times drawn from a life nude model, but I guess I didn’t like the way he sounded when he asked us , and so I without hesitation said no. He also took singles pictures of me with my work in the background and came back the next day saying that he had to do it again because they were not good enough.
After a few days I realised that he would often visited me when Pia and Ilyas were not around and something saying some really strange depleted things and at times coming to me very strong. I felt very uncomfortable in his company after this and started to avoid him as much as I can. I guess he must have felt it. We didn’t see him when he left the balloon park but he returned back the spoon and bowl which he borrowed to use for eating his morning cereals in front of our door. A couple months later we received a letter from him saying that he was on his way to see his girlfriend in America and asked us to give the photos of the people that he took when he was at the balloon park. The black and white photos did actually turned out pretty good and we were quite pleased with them but we never heard of him after that.

We also had our own guest staying in the guest room. Tony Kusuma is an Indonesian friend that both Pia and I knew when we were in Jogjakarta Indonesia. He was a very helpful person and would drove both me and Pia around in his moppet in the busy city. His trip here to Denmark was arranged by Jesper, whom we got to know before he left for his field work over there. We gave Jesper Tony’s contact number and told him that Tony would be glad to help and show him around, and indeed he was. So in returned for Tony’s good deeds, Jesper arranged that Tony could come here to study in ’Højskole’ in Herning. At the end of his 6 months stay, he came to visit us in the balloon park and would sleep for the next couple of weeks in the bench in the kitchen, dining room, studio all put together in one. The room was about 30sqm and it was beginning to feel a little crowded and also a bit inconvenience after a while since we have to use the kitchen every morning while Tony was still asleep. We decided to rent the guest room for Tony for the rest of his stay here. Just like me, he also had a little problem adjusting with the shower room situation. One time he came running out of the shower back to our place while his hair was still covered with shampoo and said that he had to get out of there because a woman just entered. He was also afraid that he wouldn’t be able to control his ‘little brother’.

There are five showers sticking out of the ceiling with two medium size mirrors against the wall and a few big size plastic bathtubs enough to fit a little baby elephant in the shower room. There were no patricians whatsoever and so going to the bathroom to take a shower became one of my great challenges in life. Coming from the east, growing up in Malaysia as a Muslim and Malay values and culture, this is something very understandable. As a Muslim , you are not allowed to be alone in a room with another woman even though you are both fully clothes. This is to avoid slander and gossips.
I remember when I was in the USA that I was feeling rather shy when I had to shower together with other men in the men’s bathroom in the university’s gymnasium, or felt very uncomfortable going into a sauna when there was another person around. But I soon get used to it and thought that ok, we are from the same species. But together with a woman, or women, total strangers, that was something else. I didn’t go into the shower the first two days when we moved into the balloon park. From our glass window, we could see who goes in or out of the shower. On the third day, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I simply had to wash myself. So after checking the bathroom scene for a few hours and seeing that nobody has gone in the bathroom, I quickly sneaked in and had my long needed shower. It was a great relief to be clean again but at the same time I was feeling rather nervous in the shower room with the hope that nobody will come in while I was in there, especially not a woman. Nobody did come this time but my luck ran out after a few times and I was trapped in a shower with another woman in the same bathroom. I can’t really recall with whom I had the shower with but I remember I felt very uneasy, shy, nervous and guilty. Uneasy because I was alone in a room with a naked woman who was a total stranger, shy because we both were bare naked, nervous because never was I in that kind of situation and guilty because my religion forbid me to do so. But above all was this feeling of guilt that I had to deal with for the next few weeks. I was beginning to feel frustrated, confused and afraid because the sins I committed by sharing the shower room with women was piling up and there is nothing mush I could do about it.
But luckily it was the same religion, Islam, that brought my soul back to peace and came to terms with the odd situation. The Koran says if you are trapped in a desperate situation, you are allowed to do what was forbidden. Like for example, if you are dying of hunger and there is nothing to eat except for pork meat or a dead corps, then you are allowed to do so. In my case, I had nowhere else to go to wash myself. I wouldn’t die off course but I will surely stinks like hell if I don’t do so. So naturally I chose to share the bathroom with the women and the men, just like what the rest of the ballooners were doing. My main intention to go to the shower is to wash myself and once I had that cleared in the head, then I don’t feel so bad anymore about having those showers. After a few months, I don’t feel the guilt anymore, and going to the bathroom wasn’t a big problem, it’s just that you see that you have different parts of the body with different shapes and sizes with one common interest, to get a good wash. Whether I sin or not, that is another case but let the Big Guy be the judge, He is the most knowledgeable, the omnipresent and the most forgiven person in the whole universe. But off course if I have a choice, I still would prefer to have a shower on my own and I guess the same goes to most of people that live in the balloon park and perhaps most of us.

Another interesting thing about the shower was that we sometimes had to share it with dogs. Sometimes there were people who bring their dogs with them to have shower together. I don’t really mind dogs even though it is forbidden in Islam to have direct contact with them especially when they are wet. I am not really sure the reason why but some said that it has got to do something with rabbis. Anyway, as much as I don’t mind having them around me, I think I do mind having them in the shower room. To me dogs or simply animals do not belong in the common bathroom where you share it with many other people which also include children and little babies. My son for example like to have a little bath in the bathtub and these same bathtubs were used to wash their pit-bull or longhaired dog that cleans the dirt when it moves. It is true that dog can be man’s best friend but you have to be somewhat selfish thinking not to leave your best friend out of the common bathroom.

There are over 100 inhabitants in the balloon park.
As exciting as the name of the place, so are the people that live in the area. There all kind of people that lives in the balloon park. there are lawyers, teachers, pædegogs, artist, poets, carpenters,students, musicians, pensioners, drunkards, and hash dealers.

( thi stext was written somewhere in 2006-7)

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