Balls Deep in Dirty Waterby Creepy Steve / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 31.10.2011
There had been speculation about it for weeks, I had seen it on the Thai news, the reporters even wore printed t-shirts proclaiming “Flooding 2011”. Secretly I’d hoped it would come so I could get a few days off work, but school holidays arrived and there was nothing, dry as the Karoo. Ayutthaya the ancient capital of Siam, with it’s many temples and ruins, was already fucked. I guess they’re just more ruined now, all that heritage, meters deep in water, that can’t be restored. Shame, sorry for them hey.
One day the hardware store owner at the end of my street had erected a low sandbag wall; he beamed his gormless grin proudly as he sipped his beer. The next day I saw the sandbags had been removed and he had constructed a low brick wall of about a meter and graciously fashioned a set of steps from the remaining sandbags to facilitate entry into his shop. Still, foolishly, I paid no heed to the warnings. Thai people love to get worked up over a drama, hoax e-mails and misinformation flow freely. It was raining heavily one evening while I was drinking in a charming little bar I like to frequent in my area. I happened to meet a fat bespectacled smiley 40-something Thai woman, Piya, who had a reasonable command of the English language, quite a rarity in these parts. I sat with her and her friend, a Thai man, and we ate and drank. I told them jokes about how tiny my penis is and she told me how she learnt English by chatting online and regaled us with tales of her sexual exploits with clearly desperate Arab men. The Prime Minister Ms. Yingluck Shiniwatra came up on the TV looking somber, they told me it was some national announcement about the flooding. The rumor mill began to operate and Piya received some phone calls. She stated in mildly dramatic tones that the floods would arrive tonight at midnight the next day as five dams had reached capacity and were overflowing. By 1am nothing had happened, she offered to drive me home as it was raining. Outside my apartment she kissed me on either cheek, then snuck one in on the lips and offered to come inside and give me more. I politely declined saying I was very drunk and probably couldn’t get it up anyway. Saved by my fast thinking, thank you for your kind and generous offer though.
I left my little town of Prathum Thani (40km north of the capital) to visit friends in Bangkok. It was still dry. After a week of revelry in the Cock I was due to return home. Then I saw a photo of main street in Prathum Thani in the newspaper, inundated with water. Still I didn’t really believe it was that bad. Only as the two hour bus ride drew closer did I realize: “This area is fucking flooded!” People were frantically moving cars to higher ground, while their children frolicked in the brown water. People were stocking up like the prelude to a nuclear holocaust. The shops had run out of bottled water, rice, oil, sanitary pads and eggs. I rushed to my local Tesco’s. It was closed. There was an official looking paper sign on the door in that unintelligible Thai script that seemed to indicate trading hours during the flood, “Solly close five”. Clearly I hadn’t panicked early enough. I was beginning to believe in the flooding. As I waded closer to my apartment with my bag above my head, the panic began to manifest. The filthy water was waist deep, people were using boats in the streets, sometimes on the wrong side of the road for fuck’s sake, and most importantly, I had no food. The owner of the hardware store was sitting on his wall, which appeared to have the same amount of water on both inside and out; he sipped his beer and grinned. We smiled and I gesticulated (as people who don’t share a common language do) at how his wall wasn’t fucking working.
The water was up to the top step of the lobby at my apartment. The next day I abandoned ship, the water had risen 5 cm overnight. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it was enough to cover the road that the bus had brought me in on. Fuck this place. Who knew how long it would last? Two weeks? A month? An eerie thought crossed my mind “What if it stays like this forever”. I left my money under my mattress (I don’t have a bank account), packed my bags and again headed for Bangkok. We were evacuated in army trucks to Rangsit some 12km from my home. Rangsit is some 28km from Bangkok, though this area was also starting to take on water. From there I got the bus to the Cock to stay with friends.
Funds don’t stretch far in the Cock, you buy a transsexual a drink or two, and before you know it your moneys all gone. So pretty soon I deemed it necessary to return to my apartment to get the much needed cashola hidden under the mattress. That and i had overstayed my welcome with said friends. I phoned Piya. The situation had gotten worse. I caught a minibus as far as Don Muang, some 22 km from my home, where the van could go no further (even the flood relief center was flooded). I got back on the army trucks.
Things were starting to take on an apocalyptic air, we drove past abandoned waterlogged couches, a dog’s carcass. At Rangsit the truck dropped us off, the place was deserted. On a pedestrian bridge I saw a homeless guy smiling and eating dry 2 minute noodles out the packet. The next twelve kilometers was, perhaps, the worst journey your humble correspondent has ever experienced. Never again will I laugh at those old people who do aerobics in the pool, calasthanetics or whatever. After wading some kilometers I found muscles in my hips and thighs I never knew existed, aching. Bridges in this water wonderland had become dry oases of parked cars, people fishing and packs of ravenous irascible ownerless dogs who would think nothing of taking a bite out of a passing falang (the full term is falang ki nok direct translation “foreign bird shit”). Some people have also moved on to the bridges staying in tents, or in their vehicles. I was wading for a while with two young Thai men who were undertaking to wade 16km that day to buy “ice” (methamphetamine pills) barefoot under the scorching sun, undaunted by it all. Some one percenters came past me in a hummer towing a jetski, just another day of fun in the sun for them. The trip consisted of wading, an occasional boat ride from one bridge to the next, and on to the army trucks again. Finally I returned home. Of course the shops were closed by then.
The flooding is an annual event in Thailand, it’s an opportunity for Thais to commiserate, come together, donate food and money and fill millions of useless sandbags. A time for companies to run corporate social responsibility programs and get much sought after publicity for their brands and a time for exquisitely edited emotive television inserts showing the suffering. Just this time the powers that be, much like myself, grossly underestimated the severity of the situation. Bangkok is a city built below sea level, back in the day boats were the mode of transport. Left to its own devices, naturally, it would be a swamp. This whole massive area is still a series of connected waterways and sluice gates. The strategy to date has been to let the areas surrounding the city bear the brunt of it to protect the financial hub, but the waters will come eventually. The Prime minster Ms. Yingluck has apologised to the people for the government lying about the strategy at first. Which is a great consolation, really they’re sorry they didn’t tell us about how bad the floods would be. Now I am not the type of journalist who would try and baffle you with facts and figures but the Chao Phraya, the main river, discharges something like 80 million cubic meters of water into the sea each day and now we have between 200 and 300 million cubic meters of water bearing down on Bangkok. I’m quite proud of some of the locals who took matters into their own hands and opened sluice gates in their areas to reduce their flooding. Go people power. The army is protecting the gates now. Each day the water is encroaching on the capital. Soon enough it will be down there amongst the skyscrapers, the big screens, shopping centers, subways and elevated train systems. They have their sandbags ready. After all this anticipation It would be unfair for it not to happen. It’d be like ringing the bell for Pavlov’s dog without having a nice juicy snack ready. Let them get their ankles wet, I say. I’ve been balls deep in fetid water for a week now.
And let’s not forget the crocodiles. When people first told me about the crocodile farms they have in Thailand, I got nostalgic about our family excursions to Croc World in Scottburgh. But the croc farms they have out here aren’t really tourist attractions. They’re farms in the conventional sense of the word. They breed crocs to kill and make into ladies fashion accessories. With the flood, at least 200 of those crafty buggers have gotten loose. They’re printing lamp post ads and offering rewards for returned crocs. My neighbours have severely warned me against wading around drunk at night, which is probably for my own good anyway.
*Illustrations © Alastair Laird.