And with good reason.
As the rains fall upcountry and the ground becomes saturated, the Chao Phraya river, the "River of Kings," swells toward floodtide proportions. And, of course, the Chao Phraya bisects Bangkok, which is built on the river's ancient flood plain. As you can see from the picture above, there's not much vertical space between the surface of the river and the surface of Bangkok.
This aerial view might give you a better idea of how the river coils through the city.
And now the Chao Phraya is rising dangerously. A major flood would cause an unimaginable amount of damage and might endanger lives, although the city's longterm rhythms are in some ways keyed to the river's fluctuations, and the loss of life would probably be minimal. But the cost of the cleanup will run into billions of baht.
So the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority has taken action.
This is an internal memo calling on all the Authority's ranking directors and department heads to attend a ceremony that was held October 7 at the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine "to beg Ka Kang, the River Goddess, to lower the flood in Bangkok rapidly." The invitation also requests "Thai dress or polite dress."
Even beyond the fact that Thailand still has a concept of "polite dress," this memo points up one of the big differences between the Kingdom and America. We don't have enough gods to whom we can assign pinpoint blame when things go wrong. Our plane is late, we blame the president for all the airport security nonsense. The price of bread goes up, we blame the president for bad farm and financial policies. We get sick and can't afford treatment, we blame the president for not muscling his medical overhaul in place more effectively; or we don't get sick and we blame the president for taxing us to provide insurance for others.
When the fact is that the president is just some schmuck who lives in the White House and has no idea what to do about the price of bread and no idea what to do about the planes not taking off on time, and no one has ever mastered health care. But Americans don't have a goddess of flight schedules or a patron saint of dietary staples, so we vote out the president and his affiliated gang of robbers and vote in some other schmuck and a bigger gang of robbers, and two years later we're all demanding to know why everything hasn't been fixed.
When there's a problem, we can't go to the source because (except during a few extraordinary periods of our history) there really isn't a source. Government is, in the bluntest terms, the machine rich people use to get richer. We keep hoping, with every election cycle, that this time we'll get the exception to that rule, but -- taking a look at the world as a whole right now -- I find that to be a very, very long bet.
But, even from here in Santa Monica, I'm with the Thais as they seek to placate the River Goddess.