Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thai Klong Housing

For a great many residents of Bangkok, housing developments consist of clusters of subsistence housing, often lining one of the numerous klongs, or canals, that criss-cross the city. Home construction varies, from solid concrete and wood two story, to those made of any available material, and kept up through the years by repairing with such items as discarded political posters, corrugated tin sheets, odd planks, and baling wire. The structures are simple, usually one room with mats on the floor for sleeping, cook stoves next to the house, and rainwater conserved in large clay urns for showering during the dry season. Scavenged wood planks allow access to doorways across mud or water.

One of the best ways to see the "other" Thailand, always just within reach of any tourist destination, is to walk along a klong settlement and talk to the folks who live there. That is the subject of this photo essay.

Klong settlement, Ramkhamhaeng Road, Minburi

These gentlemen insisted that I have two shots of whiskey and a soda 9 AM. I obliged, of course.
Many times one sees groups of men sitting in the shade, chatting, smoking, playing cards, drinking, just about anything other than working. Some are retired, some unemployed, others piece together jobs when they can. Nearly always they are congenial and happy to shoot the breeze with a farang (foreigner). It goes particularly well if one can speak at least a bit of Thai. It shows respect for their country, culture, and language.

Where do these little kids learn about "the pose?" Delightful youngsters.
 It doesn't seem to matter where I am, kids materialize out of the nowhere, either to stare at the farang who they rarely see in their neighborhood, or to pose for photos. In this case, it was both!

This was as far as I got on one side of the klong. Notice the planks leading over the water to the back door.
This particular klong was at capacity, unlike most others in our area, and spilled a bit over its banks and across the walkways into an adjacent rice paddy. The residents are undeterred, simply walking or biking across.

Raising roosters for cock fighting. The adult fighting males are kept sequestered in one of the baskets.
Chickens roam freely in most Thai neighborhoods, and this one is no exception. Once the roosters reach maturity however, they are trained to fight, and spend the rest of their lives (the losers usually end up as dinner) alone in a split bamboo cage. 

Time for hair brushing.
Some scenes are simply variations on universal domestic themes: watching TV, preparing food, washing clothes, bathing, sipping tea and chatting with friends, helping the kids get dressed in the morning.

The simple life and smiles seem to go together in Thailand.
Each home allows a peek into the private lives of the people who live on the klong. Wide open doorways and windows provide access that at first seems impolite, too intimate, to a westerner. I had to take many trips into such neighborhoods until I learned that if I was to be welcome--and to feel comfortable--I had to smile, show respect and greet each person I came across, and really mean it. More often than not, people are happy to chat, as in most parts of the world, about the weather (in this case, impending floods), their children, the beautiful spirit house that they lovingly attend. I find that it is a two-way street: they also want to know about me, and especially what I think of Thailand and khon Thai (Thai people).

These ladies were not too concerned about the coming flood. "We're safe up here." It was less than a meter above klong level.

Aungs, ceramic water urns full of monsoon rain water for use during the upcoming dry season.
This was my first, but not last, visit to this neighborhood. I look forward to returning and getting to know the gracious folks who allowed me to experience a tiny slice of their klong life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bangkok Flood Preparation

As the massive flood waters rise to the tops of levees around Bangkok, residents prepare in various ways. Some have taken belongings upstairs, some have left for locales away from the city, schools have canceled for 10 days. Here in our moobaan neighbors have made preparations all along the continuum. Here are a few photos that illustrate:

Some erect strong barricades. Nothing goes in or out!

Some do nothing, not believing the reports.

Others go to extremes, like a boat complete with outboard motor.

Our street guards will deploy a metal boat if necessary!

We've decided to take no chances! Prioritize!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bangkok Flood Photos

For the best photos of the current Bangkok flood, visit this website: Beautiful shots of how people, their livelihoods, and personal lives are affected, taken by my friend Jeff Harper.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't mess with Mama

Bangkok is abuzz about the flood "of the Century" (an already worn-out phrase used across the globe to describe recent natural disasters--We're only 11 years into this century and already we somehow know that this one will be worse than any in the next 89 years). Anyone with a scientific understanding of heat and water can tell you that there will be many to come that will be far worse. But that is irrelevant at the moment. 

Almost anything that could have been done to prevent this devastation was not done, beginning with the filling in of Bangkok's drainage canals (klongs) a century ago to make room for pavement that would cater to the automobile. The resulting gridlock and pollution do not seem to deter the typical Bangkokian: more autos add to the traffic headaches daily. The swift elevated skytrain and subway systems help, but are too little too late; they cannot offset the new vehicles being sold. 

The Thai army and engineers are feverishly working to build dikes and dredge the klongs in an effort to divert billions of cubic meters of flood waters around the city center to preserve the financial district (and of course the important embassies and homes of the wealthy). This could have been done years ago, but of course, human behavior dictates only reacting to effects, not prevention. Finger pointing is the choice of communication. As of this writing, the main body of the flood waters are just reaching the city. There is little to do but get possessions to the second floor, buy canned food and bottled water, and wait.

An obvious lack of understanding was indicated earlier this month, even as flood waters began their slow march to the gulf: Thai and Cambodian officials celebrated an agreement to jointly drill for more oil offshore. But it doesn't really matter if people believe the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding global warming and climate change: Physics will dictate more powerful storms, continued bleaching of coral reefs (a friend told me a few days ago that the beautiful coral he saw three years ago off Koh Tao in the gulf is completely gone), heavier rains and resulting floods. Nature pays no attention to surveys.

Every once in a while, to quote my wife Kat, "nature shows us just how unimportant the physical things are that we place arbitrary value on, and forces us to deal with it."