A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 2Kevin (เควิน) Khaosan
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.
Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul’s Top Man Tone Facebook Page…