Sunday, October 30, 2011

50 Million Blue Whales

The flooding in Bangkok will probably reach a peak this weekend, due to cresting waters in the Chao Phraya River, and a high tide which will slow drainage to the sea. Western Bangkok is largely flooded, as are several districts of Northern Bangkok. But Central and Eastern Bangkok have largely been spared.

Meanwhile the flood of information, misinformation, and disinformation from various sources, both governmental and private continuous unabated. This certainly has not been the Thai Government's finest hour. (Although one would have to search very hard to an hour which would qualify as the government's finest.) The fighting between the Prime Minister's office and the office of the Governor of Bangkok has been comical at times, or would be if the situation were not so serious.

On a lighter note a local film producer and Thai PBS TV Station have teamed up to create a video to explain the causes and solutions to the current flooding. It calculates that the weight of the water trying to pass through Bangkok is equal to that of 50 million blue whales. It uses great graphics to show the whales' attempts to reach the sea. It is on YouTube, and I recommend it. It is quite amusing, as well as informative. (I think it downplays the role of the current government in creating the flood, but that is a topic for another post, perhaps after the flooding is over.)

I have four days off now and am headed out to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen for a holiday. I might post some pictures when I get back. I have to be back by Friday for an annual in service training day. Although there is no absolute certainty it will come off, as the trainers are in Bangkok, and may not come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flooding Update

The government has largely given up the fight to save outer (Northern and Eastern) Bangkok from flooding. This is because the amount of water backing up outside the cities has reached an unmanageable level. The government has opened sluice gates into the cities canals to try and drain the water to the sea. This will cause flooding in many districts. The sandbag dykes that have been built are in danger of collapsing under the weight of the water. It is preferable to allow the water in in a controlled fashion, rather than have the barriers collapse, leading to a mini-tsunami as the flood waters rush in. Tens of thousands of people have had to leave their homes. Already the roads around the old city airport are flooded (Don Muang International Airport). The Rangsit campus of Thammasat University is also under water. Reportedly a prison with 2000 inmates is being evacuated as it is threatened by flood waters. Currently central Bangkok is still dry, but no one is saying that it will stay dry for long.

One affect of the flooding is that goods are disappearing from store shelves. Partially this is due to hoarding, but primarily it is because of supply chain disruptions because most of the main North South highways are underwater. I was shopping in in Tesco Lotus today and bare shelves were quite noticeable. Laundry detergent was almost entirely gone, the popular soft drinks shelves were empty, canned food was in short supply, and there was a shortage of bread. I am not sure if that is because of a shortage of bread, or a shortage of flour. A blogger in Bangkok has stated that all of the 7-11's look like they are going out of business because their shelves are totally bare. It isn't that bad here, but it may be in a few weeks.

I tried to include a Google map showing the extent of the flooding but it seems that Google's servers are being overwhelmed by the number of people trying to access the maps.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The weather has taken a definite change of course this week. We had a cold front come through two days ago and it has been chilly ever since. The rain has stopped (mostly) so I think we can say that the monsoon is over for this year. With the change in weather has come my annual bout with allergies. I don't know what I am allergic to, but it strikes every year in the cool season and hot season. My Eustachian tubes swell shut, rendering me half deaf, my sinus plug, and I spend half the day clearing my throat of the drainage. The sound of me continually clearing my throat drives at least one of my coworkers half insane (he is a quarter insane to begin with). Fortunately, last year I discovered an antidote. A friend, who has much worse allergies than me, recommended Rhinocort (that is the brand name here in Thailand, I don't know how it is marketed in America). I snort it up each nostril once every morning and after a few days my symptoms mostly disappear. It is a great relief.

My sister asked me about the flooding situation here in Chiang Mai. Thailand is currently experiencing its worst flooding in fifty years. Chiang Mai did flood about 3 weeks ago, but only near the Ping River. It did not affect me, I am away from the river, although one teacher was trapped in her river front condo for about 4 days. The flood waters passed through Chiang Mai fairly rapidly. The problems now are in central Thailand and Bangkok. Huge areas of the central plains are inundated. Throughout the country over the last two months 315 people have died as a result of the floods. Thousands of farmers have lost their rice crops, and over a million chickens have drowned, as well as thousands of pigs and cows. Several hundred thousand homes have been flooded, with people forced to take shelter at schools, universities, and government facilities. About 4000 factories have flooded, which will lead to the loss of about 600,000 jobs, at least temporarily. Western Digital and Seagate Technologies (the two largest hard drive makers in the world) have suspended production. Honda and Toyota expect worldwide parts shortages, due to the shutdown of its plants in Thailand. So the situation is quite bad in those areas.

So far Bangkok has been spared major flooding. However, this has been accomplished by diverting water into already flooded provinces north and east of the capital. The government says it cannot afford to allow the capital to flood, but that fact is very convenient to the power elite of the country who live and own property in the capital. Northern Bangkok is not out of the woods yet. The army, and thousands of local volunteers are scrambling to reinforce sandbag dykes in the Rangsit and Sai Mai areas of the city. Fortunately, the bulk of the water will have passed out into the Gulf of Thailand by the end of the month, so recovery and rebuilding can begin.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Battle of the Bananas

Living in the tropics, I wage a never ending war against vegetation. My house is surrounded by plants and they grow at an absolutely astounding rate. I must constantly cut things back or I risk disappearing into what appears to be primordial jungle, with no evidence of human habitation.

One particular battle I am waging is against banana plants. I personally would never have planted bananas in the back yard anyway. They are not particularly attractive, they don't provide good shade, and they are always dropping fronds. But the owner planted them, so I am stuck with them. The problem is that bananas send up shoots. If you don't watch, one banana plant will soon turn into twenty, one hundred. Again, I foresee the entire house disappearing into a sea of fetid green vegetation.

So I have been waging The Battle of the Bananas. I constantly cut down new shoots, and they constantly spring back, like Medusa, with new shoots. They also grow very fast.

This shoot is only two days old. You can see the shoot I cut down before laying to the left.

This plant is only a week old. It is already 14 inches tall.

So I must remain ever vigilant in my lonely fight. And while the Battle of the Bananas, unlike the War of the Roses, will not devastate the nobility of a nation, nor weaken the feudal system and give impetus to towards a Renaissance, it is a crucial battle which must be fought. Must be fought, and must be won. It will be won, I pledge it, on my honor.