marcel barang

Notes in a time of ebb and flow – 11

In English on 16/11/2011 at 12:27 pm

– The little fish is alive and well and at large.
You guessed it: the morning very low tide has left us high and … almost dry.
In the early morning, the water in the lane was still above the gutters (and rising again as I write), but that was most convenient: there was just enough liquid for the few of us with a sense of collective welfare (five in all, but most people are away) to proceed, soft and hard brooms and dustpans in hand, to a first big cleanup of the whole cul-de-sac. Errant garbage bags were collected, muck piled up and then packed into those small black garbage bags we were given early on, and most earth swept into the gutters. Hardly had we ‘finished’ than the first SUV, spick and span, was back into the lane.
Meanwhile, back in the house, the working space is finally clean (sort of). So is the bathroom, whose door won’t close any longer.
The garage area is dry and its floor clean, thanks to Karoon’s water. I’ve blocked up the evacuation hole (a fistful of mud in a small plastic bag squeezed in and blocked with a brick or two is an effective stopper) and if the water doesn’t seep back through cracks and the soggy garden as before, the area may stay dry. Of course, the water tank remains full of filthy water – and will remain this way for quite a few days yet: no point in emptying it if a high tide tops it with filthy water again.
Isn’t it ridiculous in this context? I had to water the (potted) plants, even though they almost drowned last week.

– Food and water are still being distributed, but no longer door to door. One neighbour goes and gets them for his friends in the lane. Today, I qualify. That neighbour hasn’t talked to me – hasn’t seen me – in more than ten years, though I’ve all along exchanged a few polite words on occasion with his wife and sons: upon my word, they are my direct vis-à-vis across the lane.
After insulting me publicly at noon (pressed by another neighbour I’ve helped all morning clear the lane of muck while he didn’t lift a finger – ‘Don’t forget Khun Marcel’, she keeps repeating –, ‘Give one to tua farang duay’, he instructs his son who comes back with lunches and bottles of water – tua, the qualifier for animals, isn’t exactly nice when applied to a person), in late afternoon, as I sprinkle some washing powder in front of my gate to keep mosquitoes away from the almost stagnant water, he, loaded with food and water, actually walks up to me and says ‘Choose one set and take one bottle as well.’ Amazed, I wai him before picking up one bag of rice, rejecting something that looks like boiled greens and selecting a bag of orange curry, and add a ‘Khopkhun mark khrap’ (Thank you very much indeed) for good measure.
That man, Lung (Uncle) Pratheep – whom I used to call Phee (Big brother) in the early years when, an early retired jack-of-all-trades from upcountry who used to raise dogs he hates and catch snakes barehanded and repair cars, he fought boredom by seeking my company every day –, once took mortal offence at one of my sallies.
The front of my house at the time had a clump of bamboos I had planted myself. Very romantic, but they shed leaves worse than I dandruff and, day after day, I’d have to sweep the area clean. More often than not, a hundred yards deeper into the impasse Ms Whose-name-I-don’t-know (a divorcee with a would-be-drummer son, she had then the most beautiful breasts of the entire precincts, but the rambling voice and face of a horse and she wears neither skirts nor trousers but ghastly-coloured culottes (krapraeng in Thai) exclusively, which is why I never bothered to learn her name or her bra-size) would be out with a broom as well, and we’d engage in neighbourly small talk. One day, I told her, ‘I don’t understand why no one but you and I comes out and cleans in front of their houses once in a while. After all, we aren’t dogs or pigs, right?’ I don’t know how she reported that to her good friend, Pratheep’s wife, but obviously the fellow must have taken it as a personal slur – as well he should – and from then on no longer sauntered over to bother me. I soon grew weary of asking his embarrassed wife whether Phee Pratheep was sick. Later, I saw him and heard him, behaving as if I didn’t exist. And this has gone on for over ten years, until today. Let’s see what’s next.

– The post woman on her moped has indeed resumed her rounds. Yesterday she made waves to bring me an issue of the New York Review of Books and the latest Gavroche. Old habits die hard: I spent a couple of hours cursorily covering the latter’s issue in blue – hundreds of punctuation and language mistakes, none as glaring as the inch-tall main title on the cover: ‘Quand la pillule passe mal’. Pillule, libellule, c’est la faute à the pill, tiens donc. Anglais, quand tu nous tiens.

– I was tickled green by the TLS issue of November 4 2011. The page 1-cover has three human heads emerging from green jars (Beckett’s Play); flip it and page 3 has three Buddha heads (more in the blurred background) half immerged in dubious water. Thanks for the thought. Too bad that under the mysterious title ‘1.1.11 Bangkok’ (that far back?) the text is wishy-washy. Even at the time of writing, ‘some have questioned whether [PM and Bangkok governor] are presenting a unified front in the crisis’ is quaint: there’s been no wondering about it. And, take it from me, these human-sized statues of the Buddha are not ‘from the amulet market’ but from one of the shops specialised in such idolatry-mongering.

– Just now, the news on the telly tells me how lucky we are here: in this and that district, the water is hip-high, the water is chest-high; in central Bangkok, the Chao Phraya water today runs 30cm below banks; further south, 70cm above. Seree Supradit, speaking now in English after his round in Thai, says this spot on the map will be dry in two days, but that one over there, sorry, one month.

  1. So I can contentedly sip my post lunch cup of coffee and hope your twilight pastis will be savoured at a nice clean desk if not yet on a dry and sweet scented sofa.

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