marcel barang

Chronicle of a flood foretold – Day Four

In English, Reading matters on 30/10/2011 at 11:20 am

8am: Another peaceful air-conditioned night. Sometime after midnight, leaving the water about level with the second step (about 26cm) and apparently receding, after only two glasses of pastis and a dose of Franzen I fall into a sleep which must have been very deep: when I take the laptop out of hibernation this morning, I find a distraught message from my daughter, posted 00:55, complaining she can’t reach me on the phone. She must have had a terrible night. True, I’ve disconnected the True line downstairs but the TOT line still works fine – the Alcatel handset on the table is less than a yard away from my sleeping head.
Not to wake her up again, I mail back: ‘Water is down to 18cm this morning.’ She hasn’t read the message yet when she calls back, annoyed at me for her scare.

9am: Water rising again, to 28cm. There’s little movement all around. The cockcrows are deafening in this silence – and resound nonstop. Birds are chirping: it’s a bright day.
First things first: breakfast and carting fresh water upstairs for a shower.
There are empty plastic bottles in a kitchen cupboard I can use for that purpose. When I open the door, they come out, bumping into each other drunkenly. Worse: so does the top shelf, lifted off its tacks by the intruding water, and the five bottles of ‘other’ booze (the whiskey, bourbon, gin, vodka and rum I keep for guests) are equally drunk. I rescue them.
The local papers online tell me that, according to the PM, the worst is past, there’s less water from the north than previously feared. Is that so? Then, what of the alarming calls of those municipal workers yesterday? Where are they, by the way? Oh yes, this is Sunday.
Voranai Vanijaka’s for once factual investigation rather than opinion piece in the Sunday Post confirms what I’ve been deploring all along: that the decision to spare Bangkok has made the situation much worse for all than it should. He points the finger straight at the Bangkok governor for keeping the canals underused with re-election prospects in mind rather than common sense and the common good. Except that I seem to remember reading that Banharn did the same early on for his Suphanburi fiefdom and sundry Phuea Thai stalwarts for their strongholds.

We should know by the end of the day whether the worst is past and what the future holds. In the best-case scenario, it’ll take days for the water to leave the houses and then the lane and probably a couple of weeks or longer to get everything dry and attend to household damage.

Meanwhile, on Day Four, I realise I’m still alive and well, working some, reading for work and for pleasure, even listening to FIP at times – and telling the world about it. Hundreds of thousands of people all around are much worse off who sleep on roofs or starve or are sick, unattended, or see the little they owned gone forever or are out of work and penniless.
Relatively privileged that I am, it’s quite an experience nonetheless, having to think twice before going down to waddle into that highly polluted water to minimise the risk of foot and skin disease (‘Oh shit! I forgot the spoon for the jam.’); having to reassess almost every habit of daily life (‘Ah, no, I can’t do the dishes like that.’ ‘Where did I put that …?’); having to find new approaches to use as little of the precious clean water remaining as possible – I find it takes less than a mug of water to brush one’s teeth and the rest of it to rinse one’s feet after cleaning them with … a drop of washing liquid; and so on.
In the enforced slowing down of life’s pace, there are also precious moments, such as when I went into the bedroom at the back last night to smoke a cigarette and listened to the various sounds of the night: the exultant guttural trills of the toads celebrating the welcome bonanza of water galore, answering one another at a sustained modulated pitch which abruptly stops and then resumes, stops and then resumes indefatigably; the shrill yet discreet racket of the crickets like stitches on the cloth of silence; and of course those zany cockcrows. No engine noise, no human sound. The world slept under a blanket of water.

10:50am: 38cm again. Wait! What’s that noise downstairs? Oh, great! The jar still a third full is now floating in the backyard. I’d been wondering about that.

12am: 42cm. I call Karoon. No answer. So I venture out for the first time, in my briefs and Phan Ma Ba t-shirt. Brown to black water thick as soup up to the hips, and to the waist at the entrance of the lane, a little lower in the next lane. Karoon and his wife are busy shuffling things in their front yard. ‘Actually, it’s a lark shifting things,’ Karoon says. ‘See, everything floats.’ ‘Stop fooling,’ barks Khun Lee. Khun Yui has just one word, ‘Seng!’ (Fed up!). In the next lane, three men are conveying a huge refrigerator standing on an inflated rubber boat to a townhouse down my row. ‘In my house, sixty centimetres,’ says one of the men proudly. I’m told some old people have taken refuge in the Wat Karaoke, which, hard to believe, isn’t flooded. Yet a few centimetres can make the difference between dry ground and disaster. No crocodiles around yet.
Back here, a large, low table is floating freely. So is the sofa. I fold the door curtains on themselves as I reckon their ends won’t stay on the top of the sofa. On the other side, the armchair is weighed down by the rocking chair, and things, and the door curtains, which I can’t reach. When I measure the water level again, it’s now 45cm. The full Monty.

Now for a shower. No! I must prepare lunch first.

18:20pm: 41cm and going up from a low of 37cm at low tide…
It looks like every new day adds a dozen centimetres to the tally, even though high tide is due to gradually decrease from morning to morning from its yearly high yesterday. This promises long days before the soup leaves the house.

With the water ten centimetres below its plug, I’ve unplugged the hotplate, which means that cooking food is going to be a hit-and-miss affair with the defective Picnic contraption. Hot water from the coffee machine won’t cook spaghetti but might help swallow oatmeal. I foresee a future of cold meals…

I spent some time this afternoon bringing whatever edibles can be consumed uncooked to my living level (should have done that earlier, actually), and solved, I think, the problem of shit and pee, as the ambient air was developing a smell I don’t quite fancy. Having three bathrooms helps. I wonder how the others, often with multiple household members, do cope – nobody talks about this. At best, they assure you they’ve plenty of water to shower.

Survival tip: I find that after-shave is a better alternative to whisky or rum to anoint my already itchy toes or newborn scratches.

New problem, after a series of tests with daughter and Karoon: the telephone still works when I call but it either rings or doesn’t ring or shuts up on a click! when one calls. This might explain why I never heard it when my daughter called last night or my brother by 3pm Bangkok time yesterday (though he got through today). From now on, I’ll email my daughter twice a day, since she seems averse to plugging into this blog. Remarkably, her family compound is still dry and she’s confident she can make it back to work in the Sathon area on Tuesday.

7pm: 43cm. So, who was right, of the PM last night or of the guy warning us that ‘there’s only up and up’?

Oh, I forgot. A friend sent me this link.

9pm: 44.5cm.

11:35pm: 37cm.

  1. Did you manage to stabilize the jar without anything oozing in?

  2. No need. The water in the backyard is stagnant, so no bumps, unless I open or close the back door too energetically. Let it float, poor thing.

  3. Thanks for your updates and for the link. Les photos sont magnifiques mais désespérantes… Let’s hope monday sees you (s) in better conditions!!!

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