Saturday, October 22, 2011

Deep Waters

The waters of the Chao Phraya river continued to rise all week, threatening Bangkok and inundating the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, some forty miles upstream.  This image of villagers canoeing past a reclining Buddha suggests some of what's at stake in this city of temples, most of which are four hundred years old or older.
Don't let the blue skies fool you.  The rain continues to fall, creating water levels not seen in decades.  Ayutthaya is not a museum city; it has a vibrant life, and enormous damage has been done already.  
But to the rest of the world (and, of course, to Bangkok), the big story is Bangkok.  Some areas of the capital city are already underwater, and depending on whom you believe -- or when whoever it is steps up to the microphone -- this is either as bad as it's going to get or the prelude to the Deluge.
This is the Don Muang station, not far from the old international airport, now used primarily for domestic, military, and cargo flights.  This isn't the center of much of anything (unless you live there) but this . . .
. . . gentleman lives just beside the river, and he's definitely in Bangkok proper -- the temple in the background is Wat Arun, the "Temple of the Dawn" in the Bangkok Yai district, on the west bank.  Venerable-looking as it is, this Khmer-style spire is a youngster compared to many of the shrines of Ayutthaya; construction was begun in the first decade of the 19th century.  

Unfortunately, a gaseous flood of political posturing accompanies the wetter flood from upcountry.  Bangkok is the center of the old power elite, virtually the only part of the Kingdom that didn't vote for the new administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, and most members of the Bangkok Municipal Authority owe their sinecures to the politicians who overthrew and exiled Ynigluck's brother, Thaksin, in 2006.  Yingluck has only been in power for two months and she's already being blamed for a lack of flood preparedness that goes back for decades.

Yingluck--faced with a natural tragedy that would daunt the most experienced leader-- may have vacillated,  but she's had no help from the Bangkok Municipal Authority, whose ceremony to propitiate the river goddess, Ka Kang, would seem to have been a failure.  As water levels in the river and the canals that wind through the city continue to rise, a full-scale turf battle has erupted. 

In the meantime, here's hoping these images from Ayutthaya will bring the political gasbags of Bangkok to their senses.
They need to act before the water is as high as -- well, as an elephant's eye.

The waters aren't supposed to abate for anywhere from three to five weeks.  God only knows where things will be next Sunday.

Tim -- Sunday


  1. I've been thinking of you all week as the news brought this to us. I would think you knew the different areas, and my heart aches for a people that seem so dependent on a government that is too busy fighting for power to be responsive to the peoples' needs-sound familiar? Your pictures are heart rending, and I am so sad that there is so much pain in the world. Sorry, if I sound kitschy, but they are talking about the earthquake in Turkey. There are enough natural disasters for us to deal with; we don't need jerks in office who make it worse.

  2. I was raised in a place where floods were a rite of melting winter snows. But nothing like this. What struck me most was the impression of order amid all the obvious tragedy. Is that simply a function of the photographs or something else?

  3. The photos of Ayutthaya (especially of the flooded Reclining Buddha, which I visited in October of 2003)really caught me by surprise and convey the extent of the flooding. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by the flooding.