High and dry, but not without some sacrifice
As I sit writing this from the 16th floor of a friend's Bangkok condominium, I don't think I have ever been quite so grateful to be high and blissfully dry.
However, as the vast volume of water from Thailand's central plains threatens to envelope the capital, I find it hard to share the panicked trepidation of the city's residents.
The worst, you see, has already befallen me. I'm homeless, shoeless and feeling pretty hopeless. My new house is under more than two metres of water. I've been living on the kindness of friends. And as the soggy veteran of three evacuations in the space of the week, I might also look into being accorded some sort of recognition from the people at the Guinness World Records.
The first and worst ordeal was the long march out of my house in Nonthaburi's Sai Noi district, a sleepy backwater to the capital's north-west, where villages nestle amid verdant rice fields and somnolent klongs, or canals. When the northern run-off swelled against sluice gates, earthen dykes and hastily erected sandbag walls, those klongs began to run over high and fast.
Don't worry, the locals in my village had said. It has never flooded here before - a big selling point when we bought the place, having made the mistake of once living on a street that flooded every time it even looked like raining. They were still smiling when waters of the closest klong were mere centimetres from spilling over a dyke lining its banks.
But those smiles were gone the next morning, when we awoke to half a metre of water sloshing around our streets.
The night before, I had moved everything I cared about upstairs. And when a major dyke in neighbouring Pathum Thani failed, I was glad I had. Suddenly the waters began to surge. From lapping at my front gate early in the morning, they were ominously reaching for my doorstep by midday. In the time it took to sling my bags over my shoulders and unlock the front gate, the waters had risen five centimetres and covered my floor.
In my front yard - now a roiling brown soup - centipedes, rats, snakes and other refugees frantically clawed and slithered in search of higher ground.
As I slogged more than three kilometres to dry land, the water rose from my knee to my thigh to almost my waist in places. I saw cars ruined, pets stranded and homes submerged to their eaves. But I also witnessed a new sense of community emerge from adversity. One fellow with a boat walked more than a kilometre with me to ferry my bags. At a supermarket, a smiling toothless auntie handed me a free beer.
I escaped to a friend's house in the northern Bangkok suburb of Rangsit. But the waters were on their inexorable way. And within days, I was slogging through filthy floodwaters again. My wife had been holed up on our farm in nearby Nakhon Nayok with our two dogs, but when armed troops ordered farmers to open a sluice gate, the water rose dangerously fast yesterday. And so it was back into the fray once more, an odyssey of buses, army trucks, motorbikes and finally a boat, to help them to dry land.
Now, as I sit in a mostly dry Bangkok, the relief at not being wet is tinged with a growing anger that my house and thousands like it were sacrificed in a bid to keep the capital dry. As the floods drew near, Bangkok slammed down her sluices and piled on the sandbags, meaning the run-off couldn't find its way to sea. Instead, it piled up in districts like mine, like some slow-motion tsunami.
I'm not sure when I will be able to get back to my home to assess the damage. I'm uncertain about what the future holds. My forecast for the immediate future? Fear and floating and lost wages.