marcel barang

Chronicle of a flood foretold – Day Seven

In English, Reading matters on 02/11/2011 at 9:37 am



Measurements at living room floor level [for street level, add about 50cm]
Day 6 [1.11.11]
[low tide: 1:51am: 0.52m]

8:45am: 14 cm
[high tide: 9:44am: 3.52m] [difference: + 3.00m]

10:40am: 22.5
1pm: 34 cm
[low tide: 3:30pm: 2.85m] [difference: – 0.67m]

5pm: 35.5 cm
6pm: 35.5 cm
[high tide: 6:42pm: 3.09m] [difference: + 0.24m]

7pm: 35.5 cm
8pm: 36 cm
8:40pm: 37 cm
10:20pm: 41 cm
12pm: 34 cm

Day 7
[low tide: 2:32am: 0.79m] [difference: – 2.30m]

8:45am: 2cm
9:40am: 10cm
[high tide: 10:37am: 3.52m] [difference: + 2.63m]

[low tide: 3:20pm: 2.85m] [difference: – 0.67m]

[high tide: 6:42pm: 2.93m] [difference: + 0.08m]

9am: As I wrote around midnight to a friend down the river after a thorough study of tide and ‘staircase’ water levels over the past few days, my alarm last night was premature: what explains the water here stagnating all afternoon and evening is the unusually small (24cm) difference in level of the high and low sea tides yesterday. The confirmation of this: very little water in the living room right now.

Some neighbours have already started their water pumps. But that, too, is premature: the sea in a couple of hours will have raised by another two metres – and there is still about 60cm of water outside the houses in the lane. At this stage, it’s pointless to flush water out that’ll be back with interest within hours.

To start bailing out just to get the living room dry and stay dry, I figure that the water within the house, and in the lane, must go down – at high tide – by at least thirty centimetres. That won’t be today. Frustrating, yes, but that’s how it is.

Unless major waterworks break down (that ‘water from the north’ wild card, and people’s ire), there won’t be a Round Two, but a succession of very long days of toil and moil.

9:40am: 10cm.

12:15am: I went out for over an hour and covered about a mile altogether. Only a few centimetres of water in the walking lane along one side of the temple but water nearly up to my crotch once back in my cul-de-sac.
I didn’t see more than four dozen people, and most of them in that cement lane that is usually a shortcut for motorcycles heading for the Rama VIII bridge or the Pinklao intersection. If there are people, they keep to their houses, and, whether townhouses, shophouses, houses or shacks, most facades are blind and locked up. Plants and vines are beginning to wither.
However, when I walk past her ‘floating’ grocery shop, Mr Hot Walls’ wife tells me her husband and daughter are ‘there’, which I’d never have guessed given that none of the usual noises from this deranged next-door neighbour have been heard in days.
Public handouts are a joke: in a small plastic bag, a can of UHT milk, a small bottle of water, five biscuits under cellophane, and another item I didn’t identify (a piece of soap?) as I promptly returned the offering to the four or five youngsters who sat, in a black plastic tub type of motorised boat with a hang-yao-style propeller (unprotected), handing out those wholesome gifts.
There isn’t much food for sale either, and at inflated prices: a few eggs of the 3-baht calibre at 7 baht a piece; a few sorry-looking raw vegetables, obvious leftovers; bags of boiled or fried titbits ranging from pork to gourd; etc. A bag of noodles goes for 30 baht; I buy a ‘double’ of egg noodles for lunch for 50 baht and know I’ll be hungry again three hours after eating it. Tomorrow morning, if there’s any left, I’ll go for khao kha moo (stewed pork leg on rice) at 50 baht a bag.

When I’m back at the foot of the stairs (water level: 15cm), again I scare a small fish which darts into the bathroom. Looks a little bigger than the previous one.

1:20pm: A loudspeaker coming up the cul-de-sac: ‘Mee khrai yoo barn mai khrap? Anybody home?’ Ah! That’s more like it. A whole team pushing a boat comes and hands out big bags of food: a few kilos of uncooked rice + half a dozen sachets of instant noodles + one middle-sized bottle of water. Trouble is, this farang can’t cook rice, hasn’t the wherewithal to even try; noodles I have, and drinking water. I have to turn this down too … and wash my feet again. 24cm.

2:10pm: The phone clicks. It’s Karoon: ‘I’m at Yamasaki. They’ve only got wholewheat. I’ll buy four for you, but how do I get them to you?’ ‘Thanks but don’t bother, I’ve got plenty of crackers, and in any case don’t buy more than two for your own use: Yamasaki doesn’t add preservative and a loaf lasts only four or five days.’
Looks like it isn’t my day.

4pm: 31cm. Uncle Pratheep’s son keeps bailing water out of their living room … Yesterday, his father proclaimed, that son had managed to purchase a rubber tub boat ‘from a factory very far’. They’ve sat in it just once in the past two days, for about ten minutes, drawing loud reproaches from a trading woman from a neighbouring lane on the theme ‘Why didn’t you tell me beforehand? I’d’ve given him the money to buy one for me too.’
Apart from that, the usual: bright sky; from 26°C at sunrise to 33°C at sunset, pleasant enough heat with some breeze; oodles of chirping birds; and those chronic cockcrows. Add to this unusual, bemusing watery views. No, I don’t mean the muck downstairs.

To keep in good spirits, I’ve been counting my blessings so far:

– no power cut; internet and (battery-less) laptop okay; telephone temperamental but still usable; ditto the hotplate and the camping gas; plenty to read, and being deprived of Hollywood movies on TV is good for my sanity; the only big challenge is the lack of piped water, but I have plenty of fresh water to drink (normally) and wash with (sparingly) and enough canned food, coffee, pastis and cigarettes to stay put for at least a fortnight without outside help or forays;

– contrary to expectation, now that the living areas are flooded, my living space has widened: for years I’ve felt guilty using not even a third of this townhouse meant for a family of at least five; I’m finally using the bathroom attached to the master’s bedroom at the top, the mid-level bathroom for ablutions, the ‘kid’s bedroom’ for much of the cooking and nighttime smoking and the mezzanine room for residence – not counting the forays into the flooded ground floor and beyond;

– wading through thigh-high water is excellent exercise; so will be bailing out;

–  perfect health; no skin infection; no rash; no wound; no loose bowels; no stink;

– mosquitoes have been massively destroyed: hardly a bite in a week; ditto for resident cockroaches (I did that);

– at the first sight of water in the lane, the violin scratcher that passes for a national artist left the premises: no more painful scales from a variety of poor rich kids in the daytime; no more criminal renditions of RK’s Scheherazade at any time of the night.

Years ago, the sod – who, besides, kept his playful bull terrier chained in its dejections – simply ignored protests of neighbours far and near and sawed on his crincrin round the clock all windows and bay door open … until I had the bright idea of fighting noise with noise; so, after warning everyone else up and down the lane, I stood squarely in front of his house and started banging two frying pans together, to immediate results: he had no idea, he swore, but he’d proceed with his trade strictly in camera; shortly thereafter, he had his townhouse refurbished and his ‘classroom’ air-conditioned and, when he doesn’t ‘forget’ to close his windows, the pain is down to dentist drill intensity.

But sorry, this is turning into a chronicle of the lane. There’s too much to say on that score. So I’ll stop right now.

6pm: 30cm

7pm: 29.5cm

8pm: 30cm

9:45pm: 30cm

11pm: 29cm

Since the sea high tides will decrease a little until Loy Krathong (November 10) and rise again thereafter, and there are still oceans of water to run off from the north, the above figures are, if I may say, the shape of things to come: perhaps a fortnight, perhaps longer, of wading through mucky water downstairs and then around the house and then bailing out, cleaning, discarding soggy items like padded sofa and armchair, out-of-joint cupboard doors and the front door itself, replacing the termite-sodden parquet with cooler marbled tiles, repainting walls, and so on, as money and local labour allow … sometime next year. (Flooding as an excuse for long-mulled changes.)
Who will want to read about that? As Ms Jojo commented here earlier today: ‘No more mention of the floods on TV5 these days’.

So I’ll close for now this daily chronicle and do my ‘soggy wait’ on my own, with occasional reports as the mood strike.

And to end on a positive note: tonight I found, in issue 54 of Chor Karrakeit, a short text I’ll translate soon and post around year’s end, as a classic. Written forty years ago by the late Jang sae Tang, it’s all about a flower, and pure poetry. I’ll dedicate that translation to the flower in the fog, who’ll take care of its thorns.

  1. No more mention of the floods on TV5 these days (ils ont d’autres chats à fouetter). But ironically, this morning they showed a short documentary which was about some new fashion growing in popularity in some European countries. It’s called ‘barefooting’ (in French it came out as ‘barre fouting’ which sounded strange and took me a while to figure…). It consist in taking one’s shoes off and enjoying the ‘sensations’ one gets from the different type of grounds while they walk about barefoot. To be sure, they do stay on dry grounds and guess what? They have not heard yet about the ‘after shave’ treatment…

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