The “cool” season has arrived in Bangkok. This means that the rain has stopped, the skies are blue, the humidity is low, and the temperature ranges from the low 80s to the low 90s. Not quite the same as a crisp fall day in New England, the Midwest, or Upstate New York, but still quite pleasant.
On Saturday, I headed out to Sri Maha Mariamman, which is also known as Wat Khaek Silom. Sri Maha Mariamman (point B on map below) is an Indian temple located about 2 miles from our apartment building (point A), and it is not too far from the Chao Phraya River. I had two objectives — first to get a first-hand look at the temple that I have only seen when riding by in the car and second to see if there were any signs of flooding from the river.
Wat Khaek Silom was built by Tamil immigrants from India in 1879, and it is dedicated to the goddess Uma, the wife of Shiva. While the Hindu community in Bangkok is not large, there is a large Hindu influence within Thailand. The former capital, Ayutthaya, is named after Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama. The Garuda, a lesser Hindu divinity that is half-bird and half-man, is the official crest of the Thai Royal Family as well as the National Emblem. Thailand’s kings are referred to as Rama followed by a Roman numeral e.g., Rama I, Rama II, etc. As noted in an earlier blog post, there are also several Hindu Shrines in Bangkok where both Hindus and Buddhists worship. The Sri Maha Mariamman temple was full of worshipers on Saturday.
The Sri Maha Mariamman temple is completely unlike the ubiquitous Buddhist temples. The architecture is highly colorful and the entrances (called gopuram) are adorned with statues of Hindu gods. No pictures are allowed inside the temple grounds, so the shots below were all taken from along Silom or Pan, the two roads that border the property.
There was no sign of any flooding near the temple that, not surprisingly, was protected by sandbags. Indeed, it seems like the entire city is now barricaded behind sandbags. No matter where you look, you see sandbags, frequently covered with polyethylene, in front of driveways, doorways, loading docks, and any other openings to business or personal properties. So far, the sandbags near us are still just precautionary — we have not yet seen any flooding in our neighborhood, so the nearby sandbags remain dry.
I spoke to the GM of our building the other day, and he told me that he has deployed 1,600 sandbags around the property. To construct a one-meter high barrier, twenty sandbags are required for each linear foot. Since each sandbag contains about 50 to 60 pounds of sand, we have somewhere between 40 and 50 tons of sand on site.
The Bangkok Post reports that one local bank used over 100,000 bags to build flood protection walls around its property near the river. Bangkok covers 600 square miles, it has more than 1,000 skyscrapers, over 10 million people live here, and there are hundreds of miles of canals and waterways. It is not hard to conclude that there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions of sandbags in this city.
Inspired, I imagine, by McDonald’s, the military has begun deploying supersized sandbags that weigh 2.5 tons, equivalent to 100 regular sandbags. These large sandbags were used to construct a 3.5 mile levee to protect central Bangkok by diverting water to the eastern and western parts of the city.
During my conversation with the GM of our building, I asked him what he was going to do with the sandbags once the flooding crisis had passed. He told me that they would be donated for landfill. I suggested that we could use a beach here at the apartment, but apparently the sand is not beach quality.
Many businesses have been constructing concrete barriers in front of their doorways. The barriers typically begin with concrete blocks, sometimes solid ones but often more decorative open blocks. I would imagine that it simply depends on what materials they can get. Once the blocks have been set, concrete is spread on them to make a solid wall. In order for customers to get in and out, sandbags or blocks are used as temporary steps to get over the new barrier. The picture on the right shows a newly constructed, temporary wall with makeshift steps in front of the entrance to a local laundry.
The death toll from the flood has now surpassed 500. Nationwide, over 11 million people have been directly impacted by the waters. Many people have left Bangkok with large numbers going to nearby Chonburi, Rayong, Pattaya, and Hua Hin while others retreated to other up-country destinations.
We are still safe and secure, and we are trying to carry on as usual. If there is one upside to this, it is the traffic, or, more precisely, the lack of traffic. While far from deserted, the streets are far less congested than I have ever seen them and traffic flows very smoothly. There are some shortages of bottled water and food items but not enough to be a problem yet. Most businesses continue to operate unless they are in a flood zone. Restaurants and entertainment venues, however, seem close to empty as tourists stay away, expats flee, and locals hunker down.
The government is now telling us that Rama II, the last major unflooded road south from Bangkok to Hua Hin, cannot be protected and it will soon be under water. While this cuts off one possible evacuation route, the good news (I guess) is that once the water hits Rama II, the water will only need to flow 5 to 10 more miles before it finally reaches the Gulf of Thailand.
A photojournalist for the Bangkok Post has written a fascinating first-hand account of living with the flood. He and his neighbors were given just one hour’s notice to evacuate their homes. After he got his family to safety, he returned to help protect the community’s homes and possessions from burglars and looters. His story is at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/264954/an-island-of-defiance-rises-from-the-waters
The Post also reports that beer supplies in Bangkok are dwindling. Singha’s brewery in Pathun Thani is flooded; the company, however, claims that its plant in Khon Kaen has sufficient capacity to meet demand. The real question, I suppose, is whether enough roads are open to get Singha’s liquid gold from Northeastern Thailand to thirsty Bangkok.
Heineken claims that while its local production has not been affected by the flood, in a worst-case scenario it could import beer from its breweries in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia or China. Tourism, of course, is also down because of the flood, so perhaps lower demand will help stretch the limited local supply of the cold elixir.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.