marcel barang

Chronicle of a flood foretold – Day Three

In English, Reading matters on 29/10/2011 at 12:28 pm

8am: My daughter calls, waking me up. Downstairs, the water level is 13cm, pretty much as just past midnight, the last time I checked. Again, beautiful skies, cockcrows and a rumour of churned water; temperature climbing from 26°C to past 30°C as usual.

9:10am: Karoon calls to say he made it back around 8pm last night. A friend drove him from the airport through the elevated expressway to the other side of Pinklao Bridge. After making it across, he walked home, with water to his chest at the entrance to our street. There’s enough food in the house for the two of them, he says. We promise each other’s help in case of trouble, but basically things are going swimmingly.
My daughter calls again, offering to come over with food. Just how? I predict to her a maximum rise to 40cm today (‘Nothing to worry about, sweetheart.’) but what do I know?
While I went through breakfast (the usual two mugs of coffee and (last) four pieces of toast with butter and jam), I read the Post and The Nation online, which are both obviously running with skeleton staff. Accessing the Post is difficult most of the time, due to heavy traffic and the wrong decision to open all articles in the same window. The Nation comes up instantly. If only they had real reporters! The news part of both sites is pretty hopeless, scant, vague, confused or contradictory: authorities are obviously running with skeleton brains too. For instance: some big wig from Outer Mongolia kindly warned us last night that ‘Thon Buri might come under 50cm to 1 metre of water’. Is this on top of what we already have? On Thursday, civil servants were given five days off ‘to cope with the floods’; in the same breath, all Bangkokians were told ‘Don’t stay; scram!’ How many civil servants will show up on Tuesday? All of us, clamours the head of the Bank of Thailand; all branches will be open – to a flood of H2O. I can’t quite see Khun Ngoh, a department head at the Bank of Agriculture in Thewet, swim upstream and across the raging Chao Phraya to report for duty on Tuesday. She, like most of us townhouse people, won’t budge until we know what the score is, in the next forty-eight hours or so.

Fortunately, there are still some Post columnists to make us laugh with or without malice. Thank you, Thirasant Mann, for starting your piece with: ‘The American humourist Robert Benchley (1881-1945), on arriving in Venice sent home this telegram: “Streets full of water. Please advise.”’

10am: 23cm and up. As expected the sofa and armchair are thriving in brownish water: they are working up a tan.
For once the public address system is being put to good use. There are repeated announcements for slum people at the back to register to be taken by lorry to Kanchanaburi, ‘where there will be two meals a day and doctors to take care of you’. I hope they take their damn fighting cocks along with them.

10:50am: This is the real thing: the water is now on its way up to the second step, which means 26cm for the moment.
Karoon, with water to his black briefs out there, calls me out to take pictures and a video ‘of this historical event’. I strike poses for him by the 1995 wall, now hardly visible under the mucky water. A whole family I didn’t know was there emerges from the bottom of the impasse, kids in an inflatable round boat pushed by a man with a ‘volunteer’ jacket. No luggage but they’re having a whale of a time.

12am: 31cm. My ruler is too short. As I dip it into the water at the foot of the stairs, a startled little fish darts past in the direction of the bathroom!
Back here on the mezzanine floor, a couple of beautiful turtledoves are feasting on the creepers that cover the roof of the garage area. The creepers are going for a new round of flowering; their fragrant white flowers will soon attract the bees, midges and hummingbirds of the neighbourhood. Time for lunch.

2pm: 30cm! The worst seems to be over – for today. [Wrong: read on.]
I’ve just finished first-draft translation of ‘What happened in the future’, a mock sci-fi short story by Win Lyovarin. I’m not sure I want to polish it: Win often comes up with brilliant plots, but mars them with too much scientific or technical background or else, when sci-fi for him rhymes with social satire, fails to exploit them to their full potential, as is the case here. A forty-year-old son coming back to his parents trying artificial insemination begs them to desist as he doesn’t want to live in a country gone sour: the possibilities for satire come down here to a series of commonplaces: traffic jams, rote learning, ghost movies, deforestation…

7pm: Rising again: 32cm.

8pm: 38cm.
All day the public address system has been urging people to leave, becoming very insistent, even alarmist, before the ‘volunteers’ from whatever municipal unit manning it left at 7pm: ‘The mass of water from the north is huge; the level of water will not get lower but higher and higher.’
They seemed to have a point: the amplitude of tides today was 1.40 metres, but the water hereabouts receded by only two or three centimetres, and the sudden, quite fast rise of the water level has prompted me to act on Stage Two for the past hour: the water can now run as high as 1.50 metres inside the house before it sends anything floating.
For the time being, the upholstered sofa and armchair are a sorry sight; the water pump outside is totally under water; so is of course the water tank; murky water is entering the fridge but it’s still working. So is the coffee machine. With electricity, telephone and internet connection, I can still hold the fort. If they fail, I’m out of here.
I called Karoon at seven to warn him of the water rising again and suggest they leave: they’ll be better off with their in-laws in Chumphon – though the irony is I read it might be one of the southern towns flooded next, due to some imminent deluge.
I’ve just boiled the last four chunks of fish from the Pacific on the hotplate and thrown the remaining boiled potato with them to warm it up.
Earlier, I ferried clean water from the jar at the back of the house to a large pail in the mid-level bathroom, for my ablutions now that there isn’t piped water any longer. I’ve just noticed the pail leaks and has lost two-thirds of its content. Damn! More noria tomorrow. Less water to drink.

Now for some Colin (without Maillard) and some Freedom, which I didn’t find to be the Great American Novel last night, but let’s persevere.


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