Looking Off My Balcony
This FR is based on a late-night excursion in January, 2006.
Since moving to an upper floor several hundred feet above the ground in a unit with balconies on three sides of the building I’ve started enjoying more of the city. I’ll admit my first instinct was to walk naked onto the balcony and feel the warm breezes (great wind up here) wash over my body and take in the sights of the city. From my bedroom balcony I can see much of Bangkok all the way to the downtown area, the expressway, several major thanons, a Muslim mosque that calls the locals to prayer five times a day, and all different classes of neighborhoods, businesses, railroad tracks complete with scheduled train runs, skytrain support pillars going in for the long trek to the new airport, new construction, the taxi stand that sometimes has 20-30 taxis hanging about to service our complex complete with their own food stall, tents, car wash, and more.. much more. With the aid of my 10x Steiners I can see much further than I have any right, including inside people's homes, showers, “private” roof tops where if they stopped their procreation activities and looked up I’d wave at them… <Wave? Attach the telephoto to your 1DS and be a voyeur – Stick> I could probably write several books about what I observe during the brief periods I stand on this balcony.
The living and dining room balconies look into the middle of the complex down to a very large pool.. which is probably 5 – 6 pools connected in interesting ways by way of swim tunnels, bridges and low connection walls you can swim over. In the center of the pool is a restaurant which will serve you burgers and drinks and the such, and to the sides a very decent international restaurant that will deliver to the poolside, your unit, or you can walk all the way downstairs and eat. The views into the other balconies of the complex can be quite interesting, from knock down drag our fights, all forms of sexual activities (especially in the garden units), and even little toddlers who manage to work their heads through the bars and then their shoulders while you hold your breath waiting for their mom to run out and get them. So far I haven’t seen one fall but it’s just a matter of time. From the office / guest room balcony’s more of Bangkok in the other direction.
What I want to talk about are two unique construction sites which house small communities “on the go.” Try to imagine an ultra expensive resort complex (this is where I live) and on the complex road there’s a set of baht 50m homes, across from them an ongoing project of “European Style Dream Homes” which to me look like cheap 3 storey apartments with a car park on the bottom and fancy cement designs of questionable European design molded in. These “dream homes” have yet to be completed despite the first section / stage having already been built but not finished when we moved here 10 months ago. I’m guessing they’ve run out of money and I’m watching for some decent deals when they finally start taking outside money to finish the place just to get their investment back. So stage one is at a standstill, and behind it in the “stage two to be area” used to be a small city of tin sheds, cooking fires, clothes lines, kids playing with construction materials, dogs, and all sorts of people doing their best to live without the benefit of a working sewer, electricity captured from existing lines by them climbing up the power poles with big jumper cables and “tapping in” to the grid (seriously), and water trucked in by trucks with big tubs of water in the back. For months about 50-60 people lived in these conditions during the worst heat of the year, the worst rains, etc.. and worked the construction site for whatever meager pay they were given.
These are the equivalent of “shanty towns” of old, refugee outposts I’ve seen among many borders, and are much worse than even UN tents I’ve seen the Afghanis living in after the earthquake. I’ve even witnessed some stray dogs get lured into the “back area” and butchered to provide fresh meat for the cooking pots. I must admit it's nice living on one of the only sois in Bangkok without the usual pack of soi dogs to chase you down. Not a dog in sight. This is Bangkok, I’m sure even the soi dogs have cell phones and 1-2-GO card accounts to warn the other soi dogs to steer clear of the dream homes..
Something about this “temporary city” didn’t seem right to me.. until today when I saw the same thing on a much larger scale going up from dirt fields to a full fledged city with hundreds of ‘workers’ living in it, all within the week I’ve been traveling up north. Arriving home it was nice to see the neighborhood improving. This new shanty town borders the railroad tracks and supports the new skytrain route as they build and pour the pillars and other support structures necessary for the new skytrain route to the new airport.
Starting with this resort complex in the center, the housing gets poorer as you head out in all directions, and we’re talking from baht 50m homes to shanty down within a few hundred meters of this main complex. You have the complex, the baht 50m homes, off in one direction, a line of probably baht 20m homes along a nice street with street lamps (nice ones), and further outwards a line of 5m baht homes, and then the railroad tracks. In another direction replace the baht 20m homes with apartment buildings starting with nice ones and the further out you go to crappy ones. Repeat for the other two directions.
Here’s what I failed to comprehend with the first shanty town but for some reason I saw it right away with the new one. These shanty towns, and their residents who can’t be the finest neighbors in the world.. are butted up against the actual fences of the baht 20m homes! In other words, they can climb the fence and in a few seconds be in the backyard of these very nice homes and walk along the sides of the homes to this very nice street with its street lights where everyone feels safe and sound. The people in the baht 20m homes can look off their two storey balconies and observe these people squatting over open latrines, showing naked under the water truck, culling the local soi dog population, procreating (in all sorts of ways) through the open sides of the shacks, on blankets on the ground, up against a certain palm tree (the only one and it’s a very popular spot), wherever.. and I’m fairly certain there are some working girls making a fairly decent living with these guys, even the guys whose families live with them. I was watching one family play, cook, and eating outside and I’m thinking “gee this is nice, even with these hardships they’re still here together” when the guys cellphone rings and he talks on it, gives some excuse to the wife, and heads towards the construction site.. but then slips around the sides, behind the buildings, and to the palm tree where he meets Ms. Working Girl for fun and games. No kidding, this sort of stuff can be seen on almost any day. I’ve thought about bringing out the 600mm and getting some interesting pics for a submission but it just feels so… low class.. <DO IT!!! – Stick> even using my binocs I feel like a creep, but I justify my observing by telling myself the local cable channels suck and it helps stave off the occasional boredom.
In this larger town there are several food carts manned by men and women, and one particular young lady never seems to sell her bananas. Yet, her cell phone is going off all the time and she slips away to earn her living either in one of the empty rooms of the dream homes (once she bonked some guy senseless on the roof patio area thinking no-one could see her up there, but if she looked up and saw four big hi-rises with maybe a few thousand possible spectators…), palm tree area, the hood of a 2wd Toyota Hilux, and once at night right on the tresses of the railroad tracks with a blanket thrown over them right between the rails. I could see the train about 2km away and they must have felt it coming because their pace increased to a frantic rate and they rolled off the tracks right as the engines lights hit the spot. I figure she’s the richest banana sales lady in town. I’m not even sure why they try to hide their activities, everything is happening on the most basic instinctual level. Only once did I catch one of the wives go boff a neighbor while at the same time I could watch her husband bonk the banana lady, but I’ve seen plenty of wives hand off their kids to a neighbor and follow another guy into a cubby of the shacks.
You must be thinking I stand up there with my binocs all day long? Nope. Maybe 5-10 minutes a day at the most is all that you need to see this stuff. There are five electric radio controlled car tracks within site of my balcony and the noise of the motors carry well. It took me a few weeks to find them all despite the noise I knew were electric motors, but now that I know where they are I can watch the races from the banked Indy style track, flat tracks, to the off-road track complete with several big jumps and whoop-d-doos.. The people who come to the tracks are pretty well off as the cars can be as pricey as real second hand cars. The RC helos are interesting and I’ve seen a few crash and burn. One track borders the new shanty town and there’s a stretch of chain link fence where the poor kids line up every time they run the cars to watch the rich kids play with their rich toys. They also line up to watch their weekend BBQs where they stuff their faces with steaks and burgers while their own parents are coaxing in yet another soi dog who forgot to charge his / her cell phone the night before. The disparity smacks you right across the face.
It’s hard to know where to stop with this, just a few degrees shift of the binocs and I’ve another paragraph I could write about. I can even tell you where all the resort complex security guards pee when they’re on duty and don’t get relieved to use the john. I’m pretty sure I know who the loan shark is that holds the notes on several of the taxis that frequent the taxi area. Which are Muslim homes and apartments and which are Buddhist, which girls get to walk the sois alone and which girls get escorted. One more paragraph and I’ll stop.. promise.. enough of this torture…
What really surprises me about the shanty towns is that the people in the towns, and the people in the pricey homes, can live side by side in such conditions and respect their neighbors to the degree where they can live side by side without much complaint at all. Can you imagine a shanty town going up on the other side of your backyard fence? And that the residents wouldn’t be stealing you blind the first time you left your home to go to work? Or that the locals wouldn’t get robbed or raped? I’ve never seen police show up despite some pretty good fist fights, drug dealers, prostitution, loan sharking, bookies, and who knows what else. Like most other large Asian cities the people have learned to co-exist out of necessity and they do it very well. Ok, I lied.. one more paragraph..
Any of you who have spent time in Asia will understand this one. In the small town in Oregon where I lived between my last two stays in Thailand I get nervous and annoyed just going in Costco. It’s crowded and the pushing and shoving and bad vibes are coming from all directions. A big city like LA or Portland is even worse. Living within 500 feet of your neighbors is pure hell and they irritate the hell out of you. However, drop me on the street in any big Asian city, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta, Taipei, and despite the huge crowds and shoulder to shoulder walls of people I feel perfectly fine. Living in a building with 1,000 other residents doesn’t even register on the irritation scale. Asian people, out of necessity, have learned to “get along” in such a way that their energy in such situations is more calm, more at peace, more respectful of their neighbors. Somehow, even when living in such tight confines, the harmony is alive and well and you can relax and what would be a very undesirable situation in the states becomes almost quiet and calm in Asia. It's why I can be in a very noisy mall and sit down with my paperback and lunch and read and not notice the noise any more than I do the clock on my empty bedroom wall as it ticks on every second. Is this just me?
Until next time..
A very enjoyable read. Wow, I don't get those sights from my balcony.
Please do pull out the 600 mm! Man, that is *just* the sort of thing it was built for! Og what a submission that could be.
And that was SUBMISSION #3,000! Another milestone is reached.