My friend has been living in Thailand over the years. We have been having hilarious conversations over the cultural differences experienced as we interact with others in the different countries in which we find ourselves – for long or short periods, or even lifetimes.
Unless you are under a rock (where some of us happily reside), you have to interact with another person, at times, even under the same rock!
Here below is one of his recent letters in which he shares vividly his navigation through the rising waters in Thailand as he seeks higher ground…
Most of my friends suggested that I keep them up dated on what’s going on at this end. In so doing this would become the most difficult and hilariously painful piece of writing I have ever attempted as it unfolded in a two-day period just when I was getting around to doing some serious work…for there have never been a time like this.
To begin at the beginning. A banging sound down stairs woke me at about five-thirty in the morning. This was the morning of 22nd October. It was my small freezer floating around in what has now become knee deep water on the first floor of my house. At that time I did not know what I was in for. Knowing me; I decided I was going to tough it out and Nawapan (my adopted daughter) agreed with me. We went ahead working from the top floor. Within two hours there were a series of announcements in Thai blaring out from speakers on top of lamp posts. The announcements stated that the district is planning to cut electricity and water supply to homes. Nawapan went on line and had us registered in a shelter, which is really a university a few towns away. Looking over the balcony I discovered that most of the people in the village had left or were leaving. A decision was made within five minutes that to remain in the house would be foolish…for there have never been a time like this.
Within thirty–minutes two knapsacks were packed with basic essentials and we were ready to evacuate; to where we were not certain…but out the house yes. We were now a little over knee deep in water as we waded through the first floor. My motorcycle was now half submerged and water was at the floor board of the car.
I turned off the main circuit breaker then lock the gate. By the time I reached the road outside I was in water up to my chest. There were people behind, in front and to my left and right. They were all carrying plastic basins on heir heads or pushing it on the surface of the water. A few of the villagers smiled at me, A smile that said, “Hey foreigner, we are all in this together.” There was an old man in front of me pushing a child’s bath tub with about ten puppies. Further up front the street was nothing more than a long stretch of polluted water chest high punctuated with people, all going in the same direction….in search of dry land, “and I was with them all”….for there has never been a time like this. I suddenly became afraid…afraid of what I really don’t know and can’t say. It could be that I am caught in a situation in which I have no idea how to resolve or when it would be resolved, coupled with the fact that I am now homeless and must rely on the goodness of others for temporary shelter and other amenities.
After forty-five minutes of wading through polluted water we reached a high bridge. There were hundreds of people with children, babies and pets waiting for the kindness of pick-up drivers to take them to the bus station, as most people in the village where I live have roots in provinces outside Bangkok and its periphery. A pickup driver asked me where I would like to go; Nawapan did the translation. I could not respond…my mind went totally blank and I had to sit down for a few minutes. It was only after my head was cleared that I realize that I had two options: the shelter or my wife’s apartment in a safe and dry part of Bangkok. We got as far as the pickup driver would take us then we transferred to a taxi and headed for my wife’s studio apartment. After one night I realize that it was a bit cramped for three people and decided to take up an offer from a Stanford trained Jamaican born unemployed MD (Orthopedic doctor) who lives in Bangkok. He lives in a penthouse of a very up-scale high-rise building on the 45th. floor. However, his building owners are caught up in a bit of corruption, legal wrangling and fight with the bank over a $20,000,000.00 loan/mortgage they are not repaying and he has not paid rent for close to one year, therefore he has no running water or electricity. (An interesting story I will tell you sometime in the future). I decided to go back to my wife’s studio apartment after one night in a waterless high-rise….there have never been a time like this.
Within hours of leaving my friend’s place a decision was made for Nawapan and me to go back to the house to retrieve some important documents. This action was one I am not certain up to this moment was a wise one.
We started out at ten in the morning to get to the village where I live, which is about 15 miles from Bangkok proper where we were. On my motorcycle, I would usually cover his distance in thirty-five minutes. However, on this day, fighting traffic and gushing water, the journey took four hours. Then I had to walk on an embankment; a kind of a river defense wall that was 1.5 meters high. However, this wall was already under ankle deep water and I kept slipping off into the chest deep water. I kept my little plastic pouch which contained my money, digital camera, car keys, driving license and ATM card in my hand high over my head so things would not get wet during the ordeal of trying to walk on a river defense wall that in made of mud and is under water.
After thirty-mines of walking, slipping and sliding, getting dunked and climbing back on the embankment I was ready to give up. A teen-age boy came next to me with one of those fiberglass canoes and offered to take me to a hump bridge up ahead. I agreed and did not mind paying the demanded price in Thai currency, equivalent to $15.00. As we got close to the bridge the unexpected happened. The small canoe capsized and I went one way, while the small plastic pouch containing my money, digital camera, car keys, driving license and ATM card went in another direction into the water and within seconds was swept away between the surface and the bottom. People joined in the search for my plastic pouch but the swift moving water showed me no mercy and I was forced to accept my loss.
I waded to the bridge, stood up all wet and dripping. I looked up at the sky and I instinctively knew that Sibelak, the God of Cruelty was looking down at me with glee. That was when I shouted, “Is that the best you can do. Is that your best shot? I’m Guyanese American, out of Brooklyn.” For that brief moment I felt good and the people around me, although they could not understand a word I was saying smiled I empathy and probably said, “That is one crazy Falang (foreigner).”
Stay with me it gets better.
I was now on a bridge over a canal that was by this time over-flowing its banks by about 12 inches. This bridge is the start of a road which runs past my house, a distance of about three kilometers. The time is now 3PM; five-hours since I left Bangkok to arrive at a point that normally takes me forty minutes. Nawapan sensing that I was not in the best mood, vehemently decided that I should find a spot on the bridge and sit and wait until she return as she intends to go to the house alone. Now, if I did not state before I will do so now. Between where I was on the bridge and where I live is about three kilometers, separated by 1.4 meters deep of flowing water. And for some reason at that time, did not call to mind that Nawapan is 1.5 meters tall and does not know how to swim…before I realize what was happening she stuck her mobile phone in my hand and was off, trudging knee deep water on the outer main road in search of a way to get to the house.(remember my phone is now someplace near the Gulf of Siam) Then it dawned on me that I could not call her, neither could she call me as I had the only phone in the group of two. According to Godfrey Chin, “You think it easy?”
As I sat on a piece of cold hard Siamese concrete, the twilight spectacle before me revealed a flotilla of makeshift rafts, comprising anything and everything that could provide buoyancy. The ferrying of old people, pregnant women and domestic pets found their way from a once comfortable dwelling not too far from me to a now dark, hard and cold concrete bridge.
The ferrying slowed as a result of poor light and the danger of accidents. My anxiety level was slowly ratcheting up as it was now six-thirty PM, getting darker by the minute, colder by the second and no Nawapan. Six forty-five, the phone in my pocket rang. It was Nawapan and her words were, “I just reach the house. Stay where you are.” Then she hung up. Another two hours would go by before she called again. This time she spoke a bit longer. She explained that she was able to retrieve some important documents and further stated that I should try to make my back to Bangkok from the west of the village and she would try to make her way back to Bangkok from her end. I did not bother to tell her that all the money I had is now gone to Davy Jones Locker. How I negotiated my way from Pathmtani to Bangkok with no money and no ability to communicate in Thai is another adventure story.
I reached Bangkok at about eleven PM Nawapan came in an hour later all wet and smelling like a dog’s breath but holding a plastic bag of documents plus some medication. She apologized for the delay sating that she had to wade through the water both going and coming…I was dumbfounded, and humbled beyond words then we ; one could only laugh…for there have never been a time like this.
Stay sharp as I search for higher ground.
More to follow…