A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 7

The return – (23/11/11)

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

When I arrived at Bang Sue station to take the train back to Salaya, it was a much livelier place than it had been two-weeks previously.  The ticket seller sold me a ticket for the 4.08 pm train without a moment’s hesitation.  As we reached the flood-zone on the western side of the Chao Phraya river, the water seemed to have receded slightly in places and the speed of the journey took me by surprise as I suddenly saw the Salaya sign and quickly scrambled off the train less than an hour after departing.  The water appeared slightly lower but the platform community seemed to have grown.  There were also a lot of people waiting for a train to Bangkok.  I was ushered into a wooden boat paddled by a young bare-chested man.  He negotiated the flood waters expertly with his single oar.

I paid him 20 baht and stepped onto the road at the bottom of the bridge.  There was a fleet of motor-bike taxis waiting at the bottom of the bridge in the shade of a tarpaulin roof on a metal frame.   I walked with my bag to Pitchaya Apartments and found Tu and Ter, Ter’s mother, brother and a friend.  They offered me some dinner and I gave Tu the cigarettes she’d ordered from Bangkok. 

I popped in to see U and Pui at the coffee shop.  Their plank walkway was well above the water and I was offered a tot of whiskey. U informed me that my soi was dry.  Their latest estimate was that the water would be down to near-normal levels in about seven days.  As I walked home, I noticed that the roadside dwellers had a few smoky fires lit on the grass verge and guessed they were to fend off the invasive mosquitoes.  As I continued down the traffic-free road followed by some curious dogs, I passed two or three small snakes, their light-coloured bellies squashed on the tarmac.  A man with a torch was cruising the edges of the flood water with a trident-spear.

I arrived at my soi and was relieved to see that U was right and that my soi was dry and dusty with the sediment of the vanished waters.  My front yard was a mess with the debris of the receded water.  My bin on the wall was still full, my plants sat up there too, looking like I’d abandoned them during a drought and  when I opened my fridge it gave off a nauseous odour.  But all-in-all, I could only reflect that I had got off very very lightly .. this year.

Paul Wilson is a some time actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 6

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Salaya to Bangkok by train (10/11/11)

When I checked the water level at my doorstep, it had receded another centimeter.  I packed my bag for a trip to Bangkok by train.  As I splashed up the soi, one of my neighbour’s, Yui, informed me that she and a couple of other residents were also going to Bangkok by train and that a train was due to leave Salaya station at 2pm.  I thanked her for the information and said I would see her on the platform. 

The 20-baht boat ride from the bridge over khlong Maha Sawat was paddled by an out-of-work office worker.  As we made our way slowly past flooded houses and store-fronts and through trees to the station, she told me that a large crocodile had been spotted further down the flooded railway track.  When I arrived at the station, only the two platforms were above the floodwater. The right hand side platform was a bustling community with the flooded market as a backdrop. There were food sellers, the odd pick-up, tents and tarpaulins accommodating families and dogs as well as a few would-be passengers all sheltering from the afternoon sun.  I was greeted by my neighbours from the soi and was offered a place in the shade.  I was informed that the train was not due to arrive until about 4pm so I had plenty of time to wander up and down the platforms.  I bought some food and drink though there was no drinking water to be found.  I was generously offered whisky as well as a ‘boxing’ by some of the men.  
The train finally arrived making its way slowly through the water covering the track.  People loaded their bags and there was plenty of available space on the wooden bench seats.  I found a spot next to a window facing the front of the train.  We pulled out of the station and were on our way to Bangkok, normally an hour’s journey.
The spray from the wheels of the train gave the impression of being on a boat.  The train made its way gingerly along the submerged tracks.  Birds with striking white V’s swooped down low over the water.  The train slowed to go through slightly deeper water.  A man, chest deep, was coaxing some hens out of a tree.  Some washing was strung on a pole, but the bottoms of the garments were dangling in the water. Two telephone boxes stood three-quarters full.  At the next station, a couple of dozen cars were lined up on the platform, two or three of them having been converted into not-so-temporary homes.  On the opposite platform there was a row of motorbikes.  Some small boats were waiting for passengers from the train.  We passed a big walled estate with nobody home.  At a raised level-crossing, there were stacks of garbage accumulating.  Two majestic herons flapped low against the setting sun, inspecting the damage done.    A shouted salutation from the train startled a man in the water.  Over a dozen people were perched on a stack of girders and scaffolding eating dinner.  Two men on an ice-berg of foam were doing the same as the sun sank lower.  A shouted “Su su” from the train directed at no one in particular was followed by the creepy sound of rattling corrugated iron walls protesting against each other as the wave from the train swept through long-abandoned workers’ hovels.  On an unused siding, a community of tents and wigwams had developed.  A little further, a family was cooking dinner under a canvas awning outside a big house.
Some people were gathered on the steps of an empty up-market condo.  The doors were locked and there was washing hanging from the ground floor window bars.  A small bamboo raft loaded with two big bottles of water and some other provisions was being pushed along.  A woman, being rowed in a small boat, filmed the passing nine-carriage train.  An ‘Everglades’ boat manned by the army was waiting for the train to pass, the officer in charge sitting contentedly up high.  A teenager belly-flopped into the green water as the train floated past a dead-end bridge loaded with bull-dozers and other heavy works vehicles.  We passed a a solitary sentinel spirit house standing defiantly atop its shortened pole.  The full moon low in the east watched malignantly as a man almost up to his neck made his way trying to keep a small plastic bag and bottle of M150 valiantly above water.  The train slowed down as we approached Taling Chan junction, which was under renovation and home to many.  The floodwaters were pink and black in the sunset as we passed homes of blue and white plastic tarpaulin.
The glow of a charcoal burner under a canvas roof silhouetted a group of children with their sparklers.  There was a startling bang from the train as someone let off a firework, joining in the Loy Kratong celebrations.  Suddenly there was a new sound; the clack clack of the train as it found dry tracks.  Crickets joined in as we approached the overflowed Chao Phraya.  There was a welcoming fire-works display, red and yellow, above some buildings not too far away.  The train swayed as it passed a dry level-crossing and dry roads.  The mosquitoes were out in force as we arrived at Bang Sue, where an hour and a half after leaving Salaya I alighted the train.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 5

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bangkok – Salaya by lorry (7/11/11)

After three days in a mainly dry Bangkok, I went to Bang Sue train station to find out about trains to Salaya.  The train station was so deserted I was slightly surprised to see two ticket sellers at the ticket counter.  I asked about trains to Salaya, but was informed that there were floods there and therefore no trains.  As I had previously been told that it was possible to go to Salaya by train I decided to persist and told the man at the counter that I knew that Salaya was flooded but that I wanted to go there anyway.  He curtly informed me that there would be a train leaving at 9 o’clock the following morning.

About an hour later, I received a call from Chai.  He told me that a lorry would be leaving Bangkok at 3pm for Salaya.

There were only about a half-dozen of us waiting for the flat-bed truck to depart.  There were boxes of provisions such as soft-drinks already on board. At the last moment, two boats were loaded, taking up nearly half the available space.  However, there was still enough room for everyone to have their own white, plastic chair to sit on.  We left Bangkok on the lorry at just after 5pm.  When we reached the floods it was already dark and the flood waters had a more sinister veneer.  We picked up and dropped off several small groups of waders, laden with bags of groceries, who loomed into view on their way back to their homes. On this return journey in the dark, I did not feel any of the excitement or euphoria I’d felt three days previously going the opposite way.  Perhaps this was partly because I was voluntarily going back to a flood zone and felt a little trepidation and foolhardiness. The other passengers also seemed subdued and there was not much chatter as everyone tried to make themselves comfortable in the limited space.  We arrived in Salaya after about three hours.

I found Tu and gave her the cigarettes she’d ordered.  M was there and informed me that at the Royal Gems Resort and Golf Club, not two kilometers away, a 2.5 metre crocodile had been found in a flooded building.  I popped in to see U and Pui.  U offered me a whisky and then showed me his infected foot.  It was an ugly sight; most of the sole of his foot was covered in angry red spots. He said he’d got the infection from the flood water and the day before he’d been unable to walk.  Today was his second day of anti-biotics and he was feeling a lot better.  The water level had gone down slightly.  They told me that on the TV they said the water would go down in two weeks, but that that really means a month. 

I cycled home and found the flood water at my doorstep had dropped by one or two centimeters.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 4

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Lorry trip from Salaya to Bangkok (4/11/11)

I popped in to the coffee shop on my way to the pickup place for the lorry to Bangkok.  I asked what ‘ROFE’ written in ink on the cling film of one of the loaves meant.  It quickly became clear that it meant ‘loaf’.  On another was written ‘Made by Italian chef’. While I was drinking my coffee, a customer came in and remarked on the ‘bang mii’ on sale.  She bought a couple of the small buns.  I arrived at the pickup place by 8 am, the agreed time.  Five hours later, it arrived stacked full of stuff and not a few people.  I climbed up and made a place for myself amongst the people, bags and other paraphernalia being transported to Bangkok. 

We turned left in front of Mahidol University and passed the flooded market and a boarded up 7-11 with a broken window.  A dog stood forlorn on a dry patio.  We went over a bridge, part of a network of circular flyovers which was full of cars and red and yellow municipal trucks, ranging from dustcarts to fire engines patiently waiting.  People were being picked up in ones and twos until I was perched on the top of the stack of bags.  We made our way slowly through the floodwaters in the scorching dry heat. 

There was a man sleeping on a foam mat on the roof of a car, itself perched on tyres in a so far successful attempt to keep the engine above water in the limited shade of a roadside tree.  A lone person with a plastic bag sat on a bus stop bench, feet above water.  A trials biker valiantly negotiated the flood, his bike fully loaded.  There were trucks full of people going the opposite way.  At one point I saw a modern townhouse estate partly underwater with workers still building though it was unclear if they were building the complex or flood barriers.

It was starting to get uncomfortably hot on the top of the lorry with no hope of finding any shade.  Everyone wrapped themselves up in long clothes, hats and scarves.  On the right, three young guys were spotted on a float hitching a ride behind a lorry.  We overtook a man wading through the water pulling a cockerel along perched on a black inflated ring.  Seven young men casually pushed a car on a wooden raft.  On the opposite side of the road a boat with a huge fan motor on the back like in the Everglades droned past.  “Bao bao!” shouted a man from the side of the street for the lorry to slow down as it passed his ‘riverside’ dwelling.  Some people filmed us on their phones as we passed by.  There was some friendly banter from sellers in their flooded shop houses and we were even serenaded by a man sitting on his pickup tail gate.   At one point I saw a man casting his fishing net in the middle of a three-lane highway.  A lorry going in the other direction was stacked high with three or four different types of boat.  Cars were triple parked on both sides of a flyover bridge and then I saw my first moving public bus in while; a red 189 ploughing its route through the flood. There were occasionally lots of shouted instructions to the driver as passengers were picked up or dropped off.

All of a sudden, there was a pleasant breeze as we picked up speed on a dry patch.  I saw sand bags being filled but also people picking vegetables in a roadside field.  It was an unexpected relief not to be able to see water for the first time in weeks.  We started dropping off more people than we picked up.  Now we had to hold onto our hats as we were going fast for the first time since leaving two hours before.  There was quite a lot of traffic and when we came up to a traffic light that was working it seemed strange to think how quickly normal things can become quite alien. 

When we arrived in Bangkok, the remaining passengers and I got off.  I asked what time the lorry would be going back to Salaya the next day.  This was met with some derision as the ‘pilot’, who had been directing operations from the top of the lorry just behind the cab, while shaking my hand, asked me where I was from and reminded me that they had just brought me from Salaya where there was flooding.  When they realized I was being serious, they explained that they were in fact headed to Uttaradit and wouldn’t be going back to Salaya until Monday.  Chai, who seemed to be officially in charge, and I swapped phone numbers and it looked like I would have to extend my stay in Bangkok by a couple of days.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

 

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 3

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bread Day – (3/11/11)

Today was the day I decided not to watch any more news on TV.   After a banana breakfast, I attempted to clean my front yard as there was a worrying amount of small flies accumulating.  I didn’t have any water proof boots so decided to use black plastic bin liners instead.  I put my plants that were on my doorstep, or still in water in the yard, onto the chest-high walls on either side of the yard.  I also put the black bin there too.  So my front step, which is the width of the house, was now empty except for one-storey of sand bags.  I got a hard-brush with a long handle and started to push the dark green sediment slowly out into the soi.  I swept and mopped the front step.  When I took the plastic bin liners off I discovered that they were not as water-proof as I had thought.  After showering, I received a call from Paolo.  He called to say he had successfully baked 11 loaves and some rolls.  I decided to have a second, more substantial breakfast in preparation for the day ahead.  I heated some baked beans and threw in some leftover rice, my anemic pet gecko giving disapproving looks.  While my food was digesting, I jotted down the sounds I could hear from my kitchen.

A passing helicopter
The splutter of a boat’s engine
Distant voices
The boat revs up then fades
As it passes down the klong
Relative peace now
Birds chirruping
The hum of a water pump
The voices and birds barely distinguishable
A scratching on the roof
A bird or a squirrel
A water bird trilling
I made it through my gate without having to put my foot down.  I decided not to stop at U and Pui’s semi-submerged coffee shop as I felt time was pressing.  I left the bike at Pitchaya apartments and saw Tu and a guy at the entrance to the apartment complex selling bottles of water, coke and ice under a big umbrella.  I went to have a chat.  Tu suggested I wait with them in the shade for a lorry.  I suggested we swapped flip-flops as mine rubbed my feet.  She kindly obliged.  I got bored of waiting for a truck and decided to head off on foot.  After five minutes, I arrived at the bridge over klong Maha Sawat.  I arrived at the top of the bridge in time to see a fisherman fire his catapult spear down into the klong below.  His line being pulled in different directions as the fish tried desperately to get away; there was little chance.  As the fish was pulled up from the water, the 10 inch spear dangled on the end of the line having cleanly gone through its body just below its head.  A friend of the fisherman threaded the spear back through the fish and the fish was dropped onto the hot tarmac of the road to flap about in desperation.  I crossed the bridge to the awaiting flood water.  I was hailed by a gaggle of people with boats.  They were offering me a ride through the flood water over the railway to Mahidol University, about 500 metres away.  The price was 10 baht; someone suggested 100.  I got in the designated boat and was pulled along by Ming, a 13-year old school girl who wasn’t at school because it was closed.  I felt a bit uncomfortable sitting in the boat like a mandarin and urged Ming to get in so that we could paddle.  She refused as it was easier to pull the boat than to row it.  In no time, I was at some metal steps up the sandbag wall outside the Mahidol entrance.  I took the dry long-cut through the Mahidol campus.  I rejoined the flooded road in front of the university further up but used the sand bag wall alongside the flooded road as a footpath and made it nearly all the way to Big C without having to go in the water.  I passed the Tesco Lotus, closed because of staff shortages.  I went into Big C but discovered that they’d obviously not had a delivery since I was last there two days ago.  I bought some cream.

I went into the water and got my shorts wet for the first time that day.  I waded towards Poalo’s, passing the Mahidol Arts Faculty on my left, and a bit further up the Royal Thai Navy School with the guard in full uniform inside his sandbagged kiosk.  Four navy cadets were playing in the water, showing off to four girls who were sitting in the floodwater.  “Pai nai?”  I am asked a bit further along the Salaya – Nakhon Chai Si road.  “Durn len” I reply, using one of my stock responses, which hit the target.  On the right was an outside depot of flood goods.  I popped in to see if the price of a boat had come down.  5,500 baht, so the price hadn’t changed.  As I turned to leave I heard ‘4,000 baht’ and was informed that another type of boat was 4,000 baht.  Unfortunately, it was made of metal and weighed 30 kilos which would be too heavy to carry over dry patches alone.

I passed the Ministry of Culture on the left.  The last two hundred metres of the trip were the deepest at chest-level and I was glad to get to Paolo’s restaurant at Rangsee Place without being attacked again.

Paolo poured me a glass of beer while I had a quick shower and put on some dry clothes.  I took my beer into the kitchen of the restaurant and Paolo proudly showed me his bread. It smelt and tasted delicious.  He explained that it had cost him about 300 baht (not including his time) to bake the 7 kilosish of bread.  There were 11 huge loaves weighing almost 700 grammes each as well as eight small buns.  He reckoned the big loaves would cost about 100 baht at a supermarket.  I paid him 500 baht for the lot, though we both agreed we weren’t in it for the money.  Paolo cut one of the loaves in half and then cling filmed all the loaves. I had another beer but said I’d better not stay too long as I didn’t want to get too drunk.  Paolo informed me that it was the last of the beer anyway.  I insisted he keep one of the loaves and we packed some of the bread into my bag and the rest I had to carry in a black plastic bag.

I retreated into the water very carefully as I didn’t want to slip and waterlog the bread and started my journey back home.  Paolo had revised up my previous estimate of the distance and I now realized that I had to cradle the bread above the water line for seven kilometres and not the five I had previously guesstimated.
I hoisted my two bags of precious cargo above the water and felt relieved to get through the initial part of the journey without slipping and the bread still dry. 

I passed the Navy College on the right and then the Faculty of Arts.  I negotiated a couple of fast flowing tributaries and was happy to reach the sandbag wall just after Big C on the right with the bread still safe.  This was the half-way point, or at least psychologically, as I knew that there was a real possibility of not having to go into the water again until I reached my flooded soi. At a bus stop I encountered a couple of women eating.  I offered them one of the two half-loaves.  They were appreciative though one of them did ask if there was anything inside it.  They offered me a couple of bottles of water which I declined.  A hundred metres later, I was at the gas bottle shop and dug out the other half loaf to give to the woman there.  I stepped down into the Mahidol University campus and started along the long-cut.  Immediately, a young guy on a motorbike offered me a lift.  This was much appreciated as it was hot and the bags were getting heavier.  When we got to the exit with the sandbag wall truck pick-up/drop-off point, I delved into my bag looking for a roll to give him.  He waved me away saying he had plenty to eat and then he was off.

I felt greatly encouraged when I realized there was a fire engine about to depart that was going to turn right.  So, without having to wait on the grassy knoll, I was transferred to the fire-engine and clambered up the ladder on the side of the truck.  I got off at the bridge-cum-car park and walked towards Pitchaya Apartments where the school is.  I passed the boat-makers on the left side of the road welding metal panels to the boat frames.  Just ahead on the same side of the road was the closed post-office whose grounds were now home to some families.  When I arrived at the Pitchaya complex, I encountered one of the municipal workers who was camping out in front of the school and gave him a loaf.  He suggested to the security guard that they could share it.  I popped in to see if Tu or any of the gang was about.  I gave a loaf to Ter’s mother. Ter, Ter’s mother, M and one of the cleaners all immediately tasted it and agreed it was delicious.

I retrieved my bike and pedaled to the coffee shop down the road.  I gave U a loaf of bread and then suggested he might like to buy some of the remaining loaves to sell in his coffee shop.  He asked how much I was selling them for.  I told him 70 baht a loaf.  He immediately agreed to buy the remaining five loaves that he could see in the black plastic bag.  I fished around for the buns and pulled out five which I sold to him for ten baht each.  He telephoned Pui who came along and paid me the 400 baht.  I had a can of Leo and after the mandatory tot of whisky I was on my way.  I arrived at my soi and bumped into Thip and her housemate who were out for a stroll in their wellies.  I showed off the bread and told them I’d leave them some on their gate.  I stopped at Oum’s and gave her a loaf.  She gave me a lime that she explained I should use to ward off snakes from my house.  Safely home, I checked the contents of my bags.  There were three small rolls left.  I put two in a small bag and paddled opposite to hang them on their gate.

I came back home and went upstairs to fetch the peanut butter.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 2

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Notes from the Flood Zone – (1/11/11)

“One month we’ve been waiting for the water” Thip, a neighbor, said as she stood at my gate in her short black wellies in three inches of water.  I was on my doorstep not venturing to put my feet into the perturbingly murky water stagnating in my yard.  Thip then informed me in her near perfect English that there was a possibility they might cut the electricity and water.  We agreed that that would probably be the time to evacuate.  “Anyway,” she said “they will give us two days’ notice.”  My next-door neighbor came out and started sweeping out the floating muck from her front yard which then flowed into mine.  Thip pointed out that I had some mushrooms, indicating a floating stick with some fungus growing on it.  I thought that sweeping the muck out of my front yard could be a sensible thing to do, but maybe not today.

That morning, I had woken up at 7 am in my friend Paolo’s Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia at Rangsee Place on Nakorn Chaisi Road about five kilometers or so from my house.  I felt a bit rough because Paolo had insisted the night before that I drink as much of his keg of beer as possible as it wouldn’t keep much longer.  As soon as I opened my eyes, I inspected my feet which to my relief were not swollen as I had been convinced they were before falling asleep a few hours previously.  This paranoia had been mostly due to the sting or bite I had received from an unidentified water creature while I was wading to the restaurant the previous day but also possibly partly fuelled by the beer.  Mario was already up too, and Paolo made the three of us coffee.  We surveyed the water level around the restaurant and apartment complex island. The level, although high, was not as high as I’d feared it might have been.  Two of the three pumps were working to get rid of the shallow water in the car park and out into the street-cum-canal on the other side of the wall of sandbags.  It was a beautiful morning and it was clear that it was going to be another hot day with clear blue skies.  The usual circular discussion ensued about water levels and whether they would rise or not and for how much longer the water would stay.  As Paolo needed a new gas bottle for the restaurant the plan was that Mario, who was staying at Rangsee Place, and I would leave together with the empty gas bottle by boat.  I was hoping we would take the biggest boat so that we could sit in it and not have to wade through the chest high water on the road in front of the restaurant, especially after my incident the previous afternoon.   My hopes rose as we were allotted the biggest of the three boats, well two really, because the wooden one had obviously seen better days and did not look ‘road’-worthy.  However, my hopes of a dry trip were dashed as the bottle, the size of a small man, took up nearly all the place in the boat, meaning Mario and I had no option but to wade through the water guiding the boat along.

There was little traffic, by which I mean boats and waders.   The going was quite smooth and the bottle reclined magisterially in the bottom of the boat with its neck propped up on the back seat as if to better admire the view. The water became less-deep after a short-while.  We had some bemused looks and some lovely smiles too as we pushed the boat along. A bit further, the canal became very shallow and the road re-emerged for a couple of hundred metres. 

We parked the boat at high and dry Sabai Boutique Apartments where I was relieved to find an ATM that wasn’t flooded and was still working.  We met a guy who lived nearby.  He said he was living on the second floor as his ground floor was flooded.  He also casually mentioned that he’d seen a crocodile that morning and hunters had shot it, which perhaps explained the loud bangs we’d heard earlier at breakfast.  It wasn’t really what we had wanted to hear, though the man explained that there was no danger of there being any crocodiles where we were going and reassured us that any snakes would only be small ones and not big.  When he enquired about a meal at Mamma Mia’s, I generously agreed that he could eat for free, but then forgot his name and didn’t inform Paolo of his unwitting generosity.  We left the boat and bottle attached to a lamppost and continued unencumbered towards the gas-bottle shop.  We thought that perhaps they might have a car or truck big enough to come through the flood waters to pick up the empty gas bottle.  After 200 metres, the road dived back into the flood waters again and we continued through water up to our thighs.  There was a Big C so I went in to see what, if any, food they had left. 

There was lots of instant coffee, whitening cream and shampoo, but nothing that could sustain anyone for very long.  I rang Oum, a neighbor, anyway to see if she might like some sauce or such like: “Mii kanom bang mai?” she enquired. “Mai mii.” was pretty much the extent of our conversation.  I thought I should pass her over to the lecturer of criminology who I’d just met wandering between the bare shelves, but apparently their conversation was as equally straightforward.  I bought some nuts, a chocolate bar and some instant coffee as well as some shampoo, and though my skin was turning an alarming shade of red, forwent the whitening cream.  Mario and I carried on through the flow. 

There were people paddling small boats, sometimes metal, sometimes plastic.  Some boats were being pulled and some had engines though these were rare.  People were being pulled on rafts made from bottles, big black inflatable rings, or even tubs.  Some people were evidently on their way out of the flood zone as they were carrying their most precious or essential belongings; clothes, dogs and the ubiquitous electric fans.  People were floating their dogs along in plastic containers. 

Plastic boats were being sold for 5,500 baht or more.  People hitched rides on the big trucks which came past occasionally trying not to send tidal waves over the sandbag flood barriers on the right-hand side of the road.  Some people were playing in the water.  Sometimes, at a junction or soi entrance on the left, the water flowed quite strongly into the main thoroughfare.  A few men were fishing with trident-like spears at one point where the flow of water cascaded down a short waterfall.  We watched for a while and though we spied a couple of fish, we didn’t see a catch.

We finally found the relatively dry gas-bottle shop on the right-hand side behind the sandbag wall which doubled as a pathway for people who preferred to try and stay out of the water.  The woman who ran the place with her husband said that it would be impossible for them to collect the bottle as the water was too high.  Her eyes lit up as I handed her my shopping.  As Mario pointed out, she had evidently misunderstood my explanation; I was handing her my stuff to look after while we went back to fetch the boat and bottle.  After clearing up the misunderstanding,
Mario and I started to make our way back to Sabai Boutique Apartments.

We soon stopped at a street restaurant and had a quick meal sat at a table in ankle-deep water.  We then continued along and then happened upon a higher som tum restaurant with healthy looking vegetables on display.  We quickly agreed to stop and have some more food.  We asked to use the toilet but ended up washing our hands in the kitchen instead. 

We stopped to watch the trident-fishermen again, and this time we witnessed a catch.  The fish looked like it came from the sea; it was by Mario’s estimation about 5 kilos which he later upgraded to possibly 10.  (It was later explained to me that this fish had probably escaped from a local temple). By now, the sun had reached its zenith and I was worried about getting too sun burnt.  We got back to the boat and took out the gas bottle, rolled it down the dry part of the road to the wet, then went back to fetch the boat.  We carried the boat over the dry stretch of road, put the bottle back in the boat and carried on to the gas-bottle shop. 

The empty bottle was exchanged for a full one and Mario paid the woman the 940 baht Paolo had given him.  I think she was impressed with our efforts as she gave him a discount.  The new bottle loaded into the boat, we turned around and went back the way we had come.  The current was in our favour.  A few people seemed slightly amused to see us passing by for a fourth time.

When we got to the dry part, we stopped and decided to wait for a big orange lorry that was coming our way.  The lorry had a huge winch which the driver expertly manouevred and with the help of a rope hauled the bottle upright and onto the back of the truck.  Mario and I passed the boat up to the people on the back of the lorry and Mario climbed in the cab.  As my help was no longer needed, I bid Mario farewell, thanked the lorry people, turned around and started off in the opposite direction home.

I stopped off at Tesco Lotus as it was open.  It had slightly more food options than Big C.  A bit further along, I took a long-cut through Mahidol University which had been kept dry by a huge wall of sandbags and came out at the exit opposite the Salaya – Bang Len road, the road to my soi.  On the sandbag wall some people had organized an official looking pick-up/drop-off point for people.  I was kindly offered a boat to sit in for the three metres to the waiting truck.  As soon as I had climbed aboard, the lorry pulled away and we passed the flooded police station on the right.  We made our way slowly down to the railway crossing, which although raised, was under shin deep water.  After the lorry had climbed like an amphibian up onto the bridge over the flooded khlong Maha Sawat, everyone disembarked onto the dry road.  I crossed the bridge and made my way on foot.  At Pitchaya apartments, I saw Tu, the manager, outside her office with a couple of guys hauling packs of bottled water.  I told her that I’d slept at Mamma Mia’s and she urged me to go and check my house as she thought it would be flooded after the previous night’s surge.  I picked up my bike and then stopped off a hundred metres down the road to have a coffee at my usual place.  They filled me in on the latest news.  There was another customer in the shop who summed things up by saying nobody knew what was really going to happen because they never tell the truth on TV.  I suggested that it was sometimes stressful, sometimes boring and sometimes sanook.  They agreed that it was sanook.

I rode the short distance to my soi wondering how much worse the flooding in my soi was going to be compared to 24 hours before.  To my relief, the water level had not risen too much and was now about 3 cms deep at my doorstep.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 1

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Sand bags – (end Oct ‘11)

There had been a continuous crawl of traffic along the Salaya to Bang Len main road for about a week.  Pickups packed with families, their possessions and pets, the usual volume of 10-wheel trucks but also trucks carrying cars out of the flood zone from further up north. 

I walked home past the traffic jam going the other way and as I entered my soi I could sense an atmosphere I’d never felt before.  There were more people out in the street than usual and it was clear something was afoot.  A neighbour came over and explained that they had had an hour’s warning from the police that the flooding was coming.  Before long, a lorry delivered a huge pile of sand.  There was a frenzy of activity as everyone helped fill sandbags and cart them off to their front steps.  A car’s headlights were used to light up the scene as the sun had already gone down.  The mosquitoes were voracious, relentlessly attacking our legs.  After the pile of sand had been devoured, inspecting my now blistered hands and rubbing my sore back, I watched a police car approach slowly.  I did not know the hierarchy of the soi, and perhaps neither did they, but they pointed out that some people had higher levels of sand bags than others.  What is more, some houses, whose owners had the misfortune of not being present, had none. 

An hour later, there was no sign of water coming up through the drains as had been feared.

A few days later, though, water appeared at the bottom of the soi nearest the klong, which is just the other side of the wall at the end of the soi.  Each day, a nervous eye was kept on the size of this puddle.  Some neighbours built knee-high walls in front of their homes. The water, silently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, spread up the sides of the soi, obeying the camber of the road.  I had images of the future, when I would be looking at higher and higher reference points to judge how much the water had risen.

As the days progressed, the traffic jam on the main road became more desperate with more and more families and lorries crawling along.  Some families decided to go no further and simply stopped and set up camp on the grass by the side of the road creating ‘Grapes of Wrath’ type images with homes made from corrugated iron, pieces of tarpaulin or advertising banners, albeit with an opposite foe. 

Back in my soi, the water had crept into my front yard.  To gauge the pace of its advance, I decided to retreat my potted plants away from the water, nearer my doorstep a tile at a time.  Alarmingly, I found myself moving the line of plants more and more frequently until after just a few hours they were sitting on my front step, a penultimate line of resistance in front of the sandbags.  As the water then continued to rise up the step, I thought I’d better take some hitherto neglected emergency measures.  I started boiling water and filling buckets and moved some of my remaining stuff upstairs.   I stocked up on black bin liners as possible substitutes for the toilet. 

My neighbouring sois were not so lucky; they already had substantially more flooding.  To get to my local grocery store two sois away, for example, I had to wade through knee deep water.  The shop was slightly elevated and they had built a low wall, so for the moment they could still operate in relative dryness.  Lots of the residents from canal-side homes were evacuating to higher ground, pushing boats laden with their possessions and children.
I decided to offer space in my dry house to people less fortunate.  I offered a place to stay to some people sitting despondently on the side of the road.  My offer was declined as they said they were waiting to get picked up.  I tried down by the klong, where the exodus of people had gathered together and were already forming systems for food and sleeping.  A lot of families had chosen a huge metal platform with a roof but no walls which sat just above the canal.  Others had occupied an unfinished, two-storey indoor market also without walls adjacent to the canal.  I offered my house to different old couples or people with young children.  They all politely declined my offer explaining that they preferred to stay with their community and that they had free food and toilet facilities.
The next day, a neighbor came to my gate in her black rubber boots shouting frantically.  By the tone of her voice, I imagined we were on a two-minute warning to get out.  I grabbed a bag and shoved in some things.  I rushed out of the house as her shouts seemed to be becoming more agitated.

We got to the end of the soi nearest the main road when I realized I hadn’t needed to bring my bag.  My help was required to help unload a delivery of sandbags to build a wall at a part of the soi which had no wall to stop over-flowing water from the huge pond behind the houses opposite mine coming into the soi.

A short time later, I noticed that there was a buzz of activity at the other end of the dead-end soi by the 6 foot wall.  One or two teenagers had climbed over and were in the waist deep water on the other side.  As the plan became apparent, I volunteered to join them, thinking that being in the water might be a good option in the intense heat.  We started feeling around in the unclear water for submerged sandbags, which had evidently been overwhelmed in their previous job of protecting a wooden canal-side home half under water.  When we had retrieved a couple of sandbags each and hauled them up to people on the wall, a big plastic boat was passed over the wall from the soi.  Thus, we were able to load the sandbags, made heavier by the water, into the boat and then when the boat was full pull it to the wall.  The hardest part was then to pass these sodden, dripping weights up a small ladder and onto the top of the wall where people passed them down onto the bed of a pickup.  It was back-breaking work, but at least we could take pauses lounging in the cool murky water. 

After unloading each boatful, we had to turn the boat over to empty it of water and sand. Underfoot, one’s feet first felt the vegetation and squidgy mud of the small bank from the wall to a small canal side lane, then the comforting feel of tarmac.  We then used our feet to feel for sandbags.  When a sandbag was located, you then felt down with your hand to locate the open end of the sandbag to pull on.  As the locals seemed at ease in the dubiously coloured water and even sometimes dived under, I tried not to think of snakes, crocodiles or water-borne diseases, and tried to keep my head above water.  When, finally, it was deemed that enough bags had been pulled out of the water, we climbed back over the wall. 

It was not until later that evening when us ‘sandbag divers’ were being treated to a meal in one of the neighbour’s houses that I learned that a one and a half metre crocodile had in fact been spotted in the floodwaters on the other side of the canal earlier that day.

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…

Royal Barges in Thailand

Royal Barges in ThailandOne of Thailand’s most spectacular sights for visitors would have to be the flotilla of Royal Barges carrying the Thai Royal Family elegantly down the Chao Phraya River during traditional annual celebrations. Although such a spectacular marine procession can only be seen just a few times a year, the Royal Barges themselves, when unused, are housed and maintained in sheds located about 45mins walk & ferry away from KSR and can be viewed daily by the general public between 8:30am to 5:00 pm at an entrance fee of just 30 Baht. It’s a chilled out way to spend time between waking up and happy hour and another great opportunity for visitors to get up close and personal to some unique and important Thai works of art.

Beautifully hand crafted, a Royal Barge procession would total an approximate number of 25 boats; however, only few of these are the “actual” Royal Barges with most numbers taking up roles of Royal Escorts, and fantastical Mythical Creature Barges. Once you’ve found the Royal Sheds (which requires a little patience) you will see that every Royal Barge is headed by a mythical figure or creature and is ornately decorated. The barges themselves reach an approximate length of around 50m and require a crew of over 40 men to row each. These majestic barges are all hand crafted, intricately carved, colourfully painted and inlayed with hundreds of tiny mirrors/glass shards to make each barge seem to shimmer and sparkle, day or night. Of course, as expected, the largest barge of all named “Suphanahong”, is reserved for the King alone. The barge itself is over 50m in length, is wonderfully decorated and has to be powered along by 50 oarsmen.

Royal Barges in ThailandGetting over to the Royal Barge Museum is quite easy. The sheds themselves are located along Khlong (canal) Bangkok Noi, which is just across the Chao Phraya River, and is very close to the Pinklao Bridge. You can head over to the Museum in a taxi or Tuk Tuk, but if you’d prefer to avoid the traffic around Pinklao Bridge, then take the river instead. From KSR take a short walk around to Phra-Athit Pier, on Phra-Athit Rd and catch a ferry boat just across the river to Station Pier. When you?ve crossed the river, follow the road up to the Arun Amarin Road junction. Here, take a right and head across the bridge for the canal, getting off the bridge on the other side via the stairs to your right. A small sign and the few food stalls around mark the entrance to the museum. Although the entrance path is quiet long (hence the need for patience), just follow the signs as you zigzag between local homes; spotting the “house of beer” will mean that you’re on the right track, until you finally reach the Royal Barge Museum. Enjoy.

And remember…

Keepitreal