The rains come down, how the september rains come down! From drizzles and mists to wind-driven blinding sheets, mostly blinding sheets. Saturday afternoon was spectacular with such driving rain i feared the balcony was going to be washed away and me with it. Worse is expected and not looked forward to. Bangkok’s governor warns that heavy rains due at the end of the month will coincide with the annual high tides and severe flooding is unavoidable, flooding similar to what the city experienced in 1983. If that happens then it will be quite serious as the ’83 floods put the place out of whack for several days. I don’t fancy wading everywhere. A seasoned colleague tells me that during the ’83 flooding he disappeared down a manhole outside the Indra Hotel and barely survived and since that’s where my local supermarket is i’m now making careful mental notes of the terrain to ensure the surface is sealed before the murky waters obliterate all.
The Ministry of Education has sent us a note at school asking us to leave half an hour earlier in the morning (as if we weren’t leaving early enough already) to beat the traffic. In a city of regular traffic, i’d be able to get to work by bus in ten minutes but as it is i have to leave the house at 5:45 to be able to get standing room on my bus. I get to work at 6:00 for a 7:30 start. If i leave the house after six i can’t get on any bus going by as each has anything from eight to twelve people hanging onto the doors and i can’t get a foot on the runningboard. The alternative, to walk, is too much to contemplate as i’d arrive in the rain and humidity worse than a drowned rat and completely worn out before the day’s work started. So it’s up at five every morning and to bed no later than ten each night. If you thought you could work in this city and enjoy the nightlife as well, think again.
Thailand is hosting the annual IMF conference this year and to celebrate the event the government’s giving all schools and ministries a four-day break. The real reason for time off is to ease traffic congestion, to show foreign dignitaries and delegates the city doesn’t have a problem. Well, it doesn’t if you let motorists stay at home while you have visitors in town. They’ve also built a new conference centre for the occasion, something like the Kuwaitis used to do in the good old days, and it has cost a mind-boggling sum. It was built next to one of the city’s largest slums and the authorities have erected a thirty-foot high wall around the slum for the time being, a barrier which will be removed once the delegates have left. The slum will pour out onto the streets once more and onto the grounds of the conference hall for sure. A cosmetic remedy of the first order.
Minor details such as that aside, Bkk rolls on. My new brief at school as speech and writing co-ordinator – how fancy! – is presenting challenges but i’m enjoying it even if i’m not getting the response i’m really looking for. The students have been studying an American curriculum for years, a curriculum too packaged and as dull as dried noodles and when i try to get them away from the text and into free thinking they flounder and look lost as their diet in the past has lacked fibre. It’s a struggle but i’ll keep plugging.
We’ve had an intake of twenty new teachers this year and i can’t say i like or dislike any of them: two are all right just about but the rest are featureless. The one truly interesting character was a large American who lasted a week. He stood out from the pack not for his flair or dash but for his awkwardness and obesity; he poured out of a black-and-yellow track suit at embarrassing flesh points and had cleavage in unusual places especially when he stood up after being seated for a while. The effete and terribly precious Chinese and Japanese ladies he was assigned to instruct were disconcerted by his outpourings but that wasn’t the reason for his dismissal after five working days, the poor man was found to be semi-literate at best. Since he left there hasn’t been a squeak out of the others and i’m reliably informed some of them are taking private tuition in numeracy and basic literacy in case they, too, fall foul of the supervisors. We have one young man who’s a grade eight homeroom (form) teacher and as a form man he must teach Mathematics for which he freely admits he has no aptitude whatsoever. That drawback hasn’t deterred him, he gets the brightest Taiwanese boy in the class to teach the maths for him and it’s working.
Each night before i retire i stand on my balcony and take a look across the city. All around me i see construction and construction, the yuppies are determined to put an office block or a hotel on every available space in the city centre. What they don’t realise or seem to foresee is the impossibility of the boom continuing. The Stock Exchange is nervous at the best of times and tourism has dropped and may never again reach the dizzy heights of the late eighties. There are too many visitors going back to Europe, America and Australia carrying tales of cheating, poor treatment and rip-offs for the industry here to prosper as in the past. The best days are over and yet, contrary to international opinion, the local travel agents keep forecasting record tourism in the future. They did so this year and are now eating their words as it’s just been revealed that the latest season was the worst in fifteen years. At the Shangri-La, a 600-room hotel, i spoke to one of the managers who told me they had thirty guests staying and all thirty were businessmen on discounted rates.
To solve the nightmarish traffic congestion the government has introduced legislation reducing the import duty on new cars. A Nissan that was 700,000 baht ($28,000) two months ago now sells for about 450,000. As a result, there’s been a rush to buy, 25,000 new vehicles have joined the queues in the past few weeks and that of course solves the traffic problem. For this wise move some influential businessmen and a moxy of ministers have received generous ‘compliments’ from delighted Japanese exporters.
Golf is all nowadays. The pursuit of the small white ball has led to the clearing of arable land and forest for the building of 18-hole courses – no one here would be seen dead on a 9-hole course – and the dams and reservoirs are under pressure to supply water for the greens. The biggest reservoir in the country, the Sirikit, is at an all-time low despite the heavy rains because 30% of its reserves are channelled to water golf courses and the local farmers don’t have sufficient supply to plant their quotas of rice. Let them eat golf balls.
A delightful scene this morning. I was brewing coffee at 5:00am in my kitchen on the balcony when much shouting erupted down below… and whooping and shrieking too. A bevy of ladies of indeterminate quality and gender was engaging in a violent fracas. There was dislodging of teeth, pulling of hair and torrents of swearing in both Thai and English – the f word is universal. Two of the building’s security guards stepped in to separate the opposing parties and were promptly set upon and decapped. Some of these ladies occupy adjacent studios on the second floor and are on notice from management for their loud music and intemperate language. In fact they’re on final warning and after this latest outburst eviction may follow. By the time i set out to get standing room on my bus there wasn’t a trace of any of them save for a ginger wig dangling from the flowering hibiscus and not a security man to be seen either. Perhaps all were spirited away by the mysterious forces occupying the shrine in the garden.