Not so long ago I translated a story by Siriworn Kaewkan, ‘Lanta, Carrie May and me’, which takes place in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, as a pendant to his dreamily poetic ‘Ariya’s first voyage’.
About the same time I also translated ‘Let’s hope Kimarz won’t be wrong again’ by Jadet Kamjorndet, which also takes place in the aftermath of the tsunami, but has an altogether different take on the cataclysm. That story is due to be published in the Bangkok Post on Nov 6, the day Jadet will receive his SEA Write Award in a glitzy reception at The Oriental.
Last night I received an email from Siriworn saying that he and Jadet will come to see me on Monday ‘from 5pm onwards’ – a long-awaited visit I’m looking forward to.
Except that there might be an uninvited guest.
Her Thai name is พระแม่คงคา or คงคาเทวี, Mae Khongkha, the Ganga goddess, who rules the flows of rivers and notably that of a certain Chao Phraya running past some four hundred yards from here as the frog jumps.
How thoughtful of the goddess to join us!
If I am to believe the news, starting tomorrow a massive volume of water from the north will reach my immediate neighbourhood and coincide for a few days with the highest sea tides of the year, which add two to three metres to the mean level of the river – all this with or without the bonus of tropical downpours.
So I wonder if Siriworn, Jadet, the Ganga goddess and I will be able to party here together that Monday evening at all. The answer in a few hours.
Actually, if those two aquatic writers from the distant South manage to reach my door, they’ll be on dry ground. So long as the earth of my front and back mini-gardens does not perspire, my townhouse is waterproof: at the onset of the Big Flood of 1995, the open garage area was walled in and, since I have no car, that little wall, complete with a low portion the width of the front door, has never been knocked down. To smirking neighbours who have enquired now and then why I didn’t pull it down, I’ve been telling that Bangkok was sinking and, never mind the puny ‘flood wall’ set along the river by the BMA in the late nineties, it was only a matter of time before…
Well, here we are. Perhaps.
Sixteen years have passed and now is my turn to smugly watch my neighbours preparing for Calamity. One has just walled his castle in the most radical manner: a solid, one-metre-high brick wall (two concrete steps in front, one inside) before his garage sliding gate, without even a tube at the bottom to evacuate whatever slanting rainwater will find its way inside – but he may have a pump. His half-dozen cars have been exiled to higher ground somewhere in town. Another has blocked his entrance with a broad plank across it, which promises major leaks. A few others have acquired brand-new sand bags they have yet to set in place. But most are just hoping for a miracle or don’t believe the news or can’t do a damn thing about it anyway. This goes for the growing slum of tin wooden shacks in the terrain vague at the back.
Today, perhaps to prevent the impending collective footbath, Wat Karaoke next door has been ululating and yodelling and cooing since morning louder than usual. So I’m of two minds: that Mae Khongkha leave us alone; that she submerge the whole area and thus short-circuit the blasted public address systems in the neighbourhood.
Let me rewrite this: I’d rather have both. I don’t mind waddling out of this place to meet Siriworn and Jadet somewhere else, and I could do with as good a dream time as I had sixteen years ago, when over one month of flooding translated into stunning views of my lane under water, and blessed liquid silence, and friendly neighbourly exchanges. Or let it be like the following year, when the river for a while came visiting twice a day, ridding us of sundry creepy crawlers, and left without much damage, muck, lichen or foot fungi. Amen.