Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Preparing for the great 2011 Bangkok Flood

I guess Thailand is one of the few places on Earth where one ponders how insurance can be claimed if one were to ram into a boat. It is indeed mystifying this situation. Thailand is also one of the few places on Earth right now that your friend calls you to bring him beer by boat should the flood sets in. Also, only here, we have live vest as part of household necessity items. This season, there is no need for car wash, just drive into the flood to give your car a quick bath.

In the supermarkets, instant noodles had been snapped by the lot leaving the shelves empty. And in the alcoholic aisle, Singha beer had been depleted. There were still two boxes of Tiger left, showing Thais prefer Thai beer after all.

Many provinces in Thailand had been inundated starting from a month back. This season, the rainfall is abnormal and we all conveniently pointed the finger at the easy excuse of global warming. Some folks in my office blamed the so many dams and hydropower plants abundant in this country that challenged nature. When it rains, we hold the water preventing floods. Dams benefit the farmlands holding in water for irrigation. Dams benefit the country's power demands as the held up water churned the turbines, like a battery these hydro facilities are when charged up by the rain. But we prevented the natural flow, and guess what happens when you charge a 1.5 V AA battery over a 115kV line? Like now, we have too much water.

Thais see everything in a different light. One individual said, this is the Lord Buddha washing the country clean of its dirty politics. Another said, this is an intervention from up there resisting the Prime Minister's policy to grant first time car owners a one hundred thousand Baht rebate by wiping out the Honda factory just up north. Over lunch, little coffee breaks in the pantry and during small talks over business meetings, this has been the main topic.

These two days, driving to work has been a breeze. Where have all the people gone? Many folks had returned to their provinces, to help their old parents move that TV and whatever valuables to the second floor I was told. I live in a condo, my room will never flood. But I do try to park my car on the second or third level if lots are available. We live in Bangkok, it is still dry for now. But many have been making arrangements by renting a lot to park their ride in multi-storey office complexes, or that big shopping mall nearby wherever they live. Bangkok had been dry so far because of a system of walls and levees previously build. So far we had kept Bangkok dry at the expenses of surrounding provinces drowned. The waters now embrace our protected space flowing with resistance into the sea. Many said its only a matter of time before we see New Orleans in Thailand. The levee will break.

I seek excitement, I want to witness. I want to drive with the rushing waters chasing my car behind as the levee of Chaopaya gets breached. I want that adrenaline rush or so just to experience what back in Singapore I do not. But do I? And I went to find out for myself. I drove over the bridge crossing Chaopaya and saw that she was heavily bloated. The brown river was strong and just less than a meter before water flows over the long resisting wall. The riverside houses of the poor, many half submerged.

U-turns along some roads are no longer possible. Like with all bridges over the myriad of canals here, you find a u-turn below it. The Mercedes driver thought his European car standard very good and so he plunged into what seemed like a meter of water. He never made the u-turn. I do not want to be floating down the canal in my sphere of a Honda Jazz, so I went on to look for the next u-turn down the long road. I made the turnaround a long distance further. The sandbags already breached and a few of them had toppled in, the black water flowing effortlessly over.

In a village near Bang Bua Thong I was and the next thing I realized was that the exit out was being flooded. The water had breached the village and they had to prevent the flow out onto the main road. By then the water was too deep and trucks making their way out had waters to the mid of their doors. The excavator was activated and was pushing sand to block in the village, a sacrifice - small village flood better then Bangkok flood. Now I know why the news of many stranded in the so many moo-barns in Thailand. Fortunately, I found another small exit rear of this encampment, but I had to negotiate the flooded roads and over a small desperate makeshift levee. Any time later, I would have made wherever I was my second home.

At Nonthaburi pier, the boats were sighted above the line of sand bags. That told me how delicate the situation was. Just one break and I will be paddling in water. The volunteers are on their 24 hours watch, napping in between on the embankments, ready to jump into action to plug that impending breach.

Some shop houses had put up cement walls, that which to be taken down after the flood and that which seemed too low to me. ATMs had been sandbagged in, probably to prevent people like me from dragging a floating ATM to my apartment during the flood. One thing I did like to do if the water breaks then, was to stick around and see if money flows out of these boxes like water, I would be happy.

Its dry now in Bangkok, we go about our daily lives. False security I am not sure, the flood will come we are not sure. In fact we are not sure of anything, even the government is not sure. But deep down, evil in me, I want to see it coming, it's gonna be a selfish experience of a lifetime. Phenomenon like these, never happens in Singapore unless you are talking about the joke that happened on Orchard Road. There is a high chance the flood of Bangkok will happen, but again these are just speculations. Flood, come get us. We are all ready at least.

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