Monday, October 31, 2011


Bangkok held its breath as the Chao Phraya River continued to swell.

Then Saturday passed.

And Soi Rambuttri and Khao San Road were still dry.

For a tourist ghetto that was sparsely populated due to the exodus of both Thais and tourists to higher ground, Banglamphu sure made a large, triumphant amount of noise on Saturday and Sunday nights. And then tonight, Thai teenagers roamed the blocks, appearing to thoroughly enjoy themselves—even though the only people wearing Halloween costumes were the vendors and little kids out with their parents.

There had been panic-buying, evacuations, and a lot of quick-studies in water control. The low-lying neighborhoods alongside the river had gotten walloped. Even Chatuchak Market had closed this weekend. (No new zebra shirts for me. Boo-hoo!)

But we were unscathed over in backpacker central.

This doesn't mean it's over—something could break. Something unexpected could happen. No one has dismantled their retaining walls yet, or thrown away their sandbags. But there is more confidence now that barring an unexpected catastrophe, those who are dry now will continue to be dry.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Morning in Banglamphu

Episode 4 in the YouTube animated series by Roosuflood is up on what to do to protect your home and family from the Bangkok floods. Where can I get a broom to defend small children from sea monsters, or is it too late, like getting bottled water from 7-11?

I've just dropped off my last load of laundry and I'm starting to get sentimental. I'm flying out from Thailand to Australia on Tuesday. I won't be back this way for some time. I never would have thought it would have been from 2003-2011 in between my last visits to Bangkok. I'd hate for it to be another eight years.

Here are links to my other photos of the flooding/non-flooding:

Sunday and Monday
Friday night

We still don't have flood waters in my part of the city, though I've heard across the khlong, they're taking on water (they're by the river). Here's evidence that Rambuttri is dry, as the red coconut seller of Khao San Road gets ready for the day this morning.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Khao San Road, Flood 2011

We're still dry here. Have a look at this photo I snapped a few minutes ago on Khao San Road, at 1:30 p.m. Bangkok time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Evening Flood Review

This fort doesn't usually have a moat.
It's just gotten dark here on Friday night in Bangkok. We're still under a severe flood warning so I went over to the river at sunset to see how high the Chao Phraya River had risen since I shot video on Wednesday night.

The difference in Banglamphu is not too bad. The water has risen, for sure, but given the state of disaster everyone was prepared for, we're going pretty well. I could still walk out to the river taxi pier, but this time, it was good I was wearing my Tevas as the water came midway up my shins. A Buddhist nun was there too, and we both marveled at the submerged walkway.

And then I saw a snake. Not on the pier. Coming out of a hole in the sidewalk just up from the river taxi entrance. A Thai man scared it away by banging a loud container. I didn't go too was a scary-looking snake.

Here are a few photos I snapped a few minutes ago.

And in case you are worried that I am in a flood, I'm not. I have to actively go over to the river to seek out the river overcoming its banks. We have a little rain tonight, but no flooding.

The last photo is of my street. No water in sight.

Gauging the Morning

Morning on Soi Rambuttri. The sun was already high over Banglamphu, as the Khao San tourist area slowly came to life.

As I have been in the mornings for the past few days, I edged over to the window to look down at the ground.

Dry. Dry as a...well, road without water on it. A monk in his orange robe was asking for alms. A woman was sweeping away the leaves in the gutter, as she had every morning this week. The middle-aged pudgy coconut seller with a mohawk was there, completely dressed in red as he is every day. He prepared his coconut cart with a bored look, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Then I heard shrieking. Squealing. Could that be the sound of the first bits of flood waters lapping at the western end of the block?

No. It was a bar girl, downstairs in the sidewalk cafe. Five British guys, two Thai bar girls, a lot of empty beer bottles. They'd been there a while, from the looks of it.

The skies were blue, the sun was out, and the streets of Banglamphu were dry. No change from last night. I mean, aside from the spa worker who had been bored from lack of customers no longer knitting from a bench, the busker who sings American Pie no longer going on about levees being dry.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Dry Ground in Khao San Road

Here's some advice I gave on the Wanderlust site on the reality of tourism on the ground in Bangkok.

They took out the part about the international airport being unlikely to close unless there is an imminent zombie invasion. Not sure why.

The Whales Are Coming from Inside the House

A friend of mine stumbled over this brilliant animation about the Bangkok floods today.

It's wonderful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Chao Phraya River Seeps into Banglamphu

I went over to the river tonight, to see just how bad the flooding was in my part of town.

And I was amazed at what I saw. In a good way. When life gives the people of Banglamphu lemons, they make swimming pools.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pretending En Masse

After the flurry of news and if-it-bleed-it-leads sensational flood coverage, I had tried to make some sort of flood preparations. But how do you prepare for a possible flood of water when you live on the fourth story of a hotel? The supermarkets were bare of bottled water, so I hoarded the water the hotel left me every day. I have a mini-fridge in my room, but if we were inundated with water, wouldn't the electricity be out? I bought some Oreos and peanuts, but they looked good so I ate them. I put credit on my iPhone, but I then used it up SMS messaging with Stephanie from Singapore when she was in the Bangkok airport en route home from Bhutan.

I did keep my laptop, phone, and camera charged.

"Why didn't you leave," asked Toby up in Chiang Mai, once the buses were full and it was too late to evacuate. He'd been following the news, and the stories of people who lost everything didn't jive with my personal accounts that the only water we had on the streets in Bangkok's center was from a leaky food cart.

Why indeed?

It didn't seem like I'd gain much by leaving. My flight to Sydney, which would connect me on a Virgin Blue flight to Perth, is on November 1. And the big airport isn't going underwater, barring something catastrophic like an unexpected zombie invasion or the moon crashing into the earth. What if I evacuated and then in the madness of people returning to Bangkok, I couldn't get back in time for my plane?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Worldwide Shortage of Zebra Shirts (Crisis Mode)

One thing I really needed to get while I was in Bangkok was more zebra T-shirts.

I'd had no idea that zebras were a good-luck animal until I'd started stumbling over them at spirit houses in June. I'd gamely bought some zebra shirts and I adored them, but like any $5 T-shirt, they had a short shelf life.

I headed out to Chatuchak Market on the #3 bus. This was an interesting ride today as I got on the first #3 bus that came, and the conductor told me to get off. "No, no, you want #3 bus!"

Er. Okay. 

The next #3 bus took ages to show up, but at least I didn't get thrown off again. I need to remember to walk over a block to catch the #524 heading north for next time...except that will probably be in a year or more, by which time I'll have completely forgotten that I desperately need the good luck of the Thai zebra.

The bus got out to Chatuchak quickly, and we only passed one instance of flooding. I hightailed it over to Kamphaeng Phet metro which is next to (and weirdly, in) the more interesting indie clothing shops of Chatuchak and...


The zebra T-shirt store was shut.

Maybe the shop owner is out building a retaining wall and waterproofing his home, I thought as I glumly walked through the puppy and monitor lizard section of Chatuchak, before catching the #524 back to Banglamphu.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Three Feet High and Rising

I caught the Chao Phraya river taxi down to Tha Thien—that's the pier by Wat Po—to meet my friend Lynne. The few of you who have been reading since 2001 may recall Lynne from when she dropped by to visit in Berlin in May, 2001, or from when we met up a few months earlier in Cambodia and Vietnam during 2001.

Lynne was in town en route from Myanmar to the UK (the Myanmar boycott has recently been lifted, did you know? Mindful tourism is now being encouraged). I headed down to Tha Thien to meet her and her traveling companion for a drink and dinner.

And when I got off the river taxi, I jumped off the boat and onto the pier as usual, along with six others. Two Dutch tourists walked ahead of me. Two tourists behind me were good sports and followed the Dutch guy off the boat, but two more saw what lie ahead and got right back on.

Unexpected Encounter

"Whoa, the river!" I couldn't contain my amazement when I walked up to the Banglamphu Pier. The pier itself floats, rising with the level of water in the river. But the walkway leading to the pier was submerged. Bangkok was in a state of moderate emergency. Would we be flooded or not?

The woman selling me the ticket (the river taxi had gone up between July and my last visit in September—a ticket is now 15 baht) nodded and smiled. She'd been looking at this all day and she was still amazed.

I tiptoed over the water, using the sandbags as stepping stones across the flooded walkway—I hadn't expected this, so I was wearing my leather sandals and not my Tevas—and climbed up to the pier.

The pier floats, but the surrounding items do not. The pier was so high that this street light was at head level. One false move, and--WHAM--tourist head meets street light.

A Sense of Urgency

On my first full day back in Bangkok, I sat in Coffee World in the Buddy Lodge complex on Khao San Road, my usual pre-lunch haunt. I'm at my most productive between breakfast and lunch, provided I'm out of the house and have a late-morning coffee in front of me. I needed to get to the supermarket to pick up soap and buy credit for my phone, and I needed to go to Chatuchak Market to replace my worn-out zebra T-shirts, but those could wait until I'd done some email housekeeping and processed some files for one of my freelance jobs.

The morning was bright, the sun brilliant. This wasn't what I'd expected when I'd flown back from Bali yesterday. I'd known there was flooding—major flooding—in Thailand, but Bangkok had mostly been left alone. When I'd left it in mid-September, the monsoon season had brought in reliable, dramatic rains. Same as every year.

But the images of other parts of Thailand were scary. Water up to the roofs of houses, people driving boats through towns.

Anyway, I had to get back to Bangkok. My British friend Lynne was due in on the 22nd of October for one night—she'd been one of the first on the ball when the tourism boycott against Myanmar had been lifted and was on her way home—and I was going to meet her for a meal, plus my onward round-the-world ticket was out of Bangkok on November 1st. Sooner or later, all roads lead through Bangkok in this part of the world. Anyway, floods seemed less scary than Bali's 6.0 earthquake we'd had a few weeks ago. That had left me a little paranoid.

I sat outside in the smoking section of Coffee World. I hate the smell of smoke, but the Arctic-level air conditioning inside isn't tolerable for too long, and I planned on being here until I had to pee or my laptop battery ran down, whichever came first.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Back to Bangkok. Again.

But...but...I just got here.

How could it have already been a month? Okay, 27 days. I'd planned on staying a month but then I'd gotten the news that my pal Lynne would be in transit through Bangkok on Saturday night. And I'd bought my AirAsia ticket to get back to Bangkok the day before she did. I'd leave ten days later, using the next stop on my round-the-world ticket to get to Australia.

My former home. Somewhere I'd be now if things had just gone a tiny bit differently. I wasn't sure I wanted to return.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Month in Ubud

My month in Ubud was charming, relaxing, and involved a lot of monkeys.

Click here to view this video directly on Vimeo. Bigger too. 

A Month of Charm and Rice Paddies

My month in Bali was charming and relaxing—a great rest from my second trip around the world by local transport. It also involved a lot of bugs. Night would bring insects into my room—and they’d find their way through tiny holes in my mosquito net. Evenings in the rice paddies were cool so I didn’t need A/C, but I rapidly learned the value of screens.

No more bungalows without screens, I realized.

And sometimes there were frogs. Not in my mosquito net—maybe not even in my bungalow. Were they just below in the garden? I could never tell—such small frogs make such loud noises.

I also met several dogs over my month. A black dog roaming the grounds of the rice fields near my bungalow was precisely named Blackie, and the house dog at the organic Japanese deli across the road kept giving me his paw to beg for a taste of my lunch. But I was eating brown rice and radish. Is that dog food? I wasn’t sure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mom and Spawn

Here's a fine pair I spotted today down at the Monkey Forest in Ubud.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shake Up

I was sitting inside at my desk, after having given up on the verandah post-breakfast. My coffee table wasn't the best spot to work over a laptop. The view was great but there was no way to sit on the sofa with the laptop on the coffee table for too long without starting to ache.

Suddenly, the dishes in my Bali villa rattled, like my kitchen did when I used to live on Avenue B and a bus would roar by every twenty minutes. Or at home in Jersey City when the group of young men on sports motorbikes would roar by, helmetless, on a hot August night.

But I was in the middle of a the idyllic rice paddies of Ubud, Bali. There wasn't a road within 100 meters. Everything that comes in to this compound arrives on someone's back or head. Not even scooters can zip back here.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Unexpected Trip through the Rice Paddies

Back I hurried out of my Bali bungalow at seven in the morning to get downtown to Casa Luna, the meeting place for my first day of volunteering at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

I’d put on my white official volunteer T-shirt in the morning, but it was drizzling rain out, so I threw an unofficial T-shirt into my bag to change into later. Today wasn’t a “dress nicely” day, but yesterday I’d finally figured out what to do about having nothing decent to wear in my round-the-world rucksack. I’d bought a nice top in town and then taken in my cotton travel skirts for pressing at the local laundry.

I’d tried to pay, but the laundry woman didn’t have change for my 20,000 rupiah note ($2.25). "No problem," she’d said as she handed me my ironed clothing late in the afternoon. "Pay me tomorrow."

Simple long cotton skirts are nothing special, but they’d have to do. I’d tried going all the way to Kuta for some shopping but hadn’t found anything but a $30 coffee press that was beyond my frugal means.

I’d also gone in for some hair color and to get my nails done. The nails had worked out all right, but the salon had lost running water for some reason, right about the time the hairdresser had to wash the color out of my hair.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Volunteer Orientation

Back in Bangkok, when I was frantically searching for information on how to find a reasonably priced bungalow, flat, or villa in Ubud for a month, I stumbled over this:

There is an annual writers festival in Ubud, and it was happening during my second week in Bali.

Well, howaboutthat.

I went to the website and nosed around.

Huh. They have some money.

They were flying in Alexander McCall Smith, Junot Diaz, and Paul Kelly (Australian folk-rocker famous in Oz—he just published a memoir).

But there were also a lot of people I had never heard of, and workshops along the lines of "turn your blog into a book contract" (Ha!). So I dashed off an email saying I'd be in town then and would be happy to be on some of the festivals panels if they needed people who can talk about comic books/graphic novels, blogging, travel writing, or parts of Africa and the Gulf.

Or New Jersey. Though seldom does my expertise in tent camping in New Jersey come in handy outside of my adopted home state.

I didn't hear back for a few days, so I went back to the festival website, did some searching, then dug up the director of programming's work email (okay, her personal one wasn't hard to find but that seems obnoxious), and sent the email directly to her.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Learning Vacation

I woke up early, a bit dazed from my previous night out in Ubud, Bali. I’d gone to a bar to see a literary event—a reading by a writer I’d never heard of. I’d been surprised to learn he’d lived in Cairo around the same time I had (I’d been there making comic books), and we had a mutual friend who still lived there. I enjoyed seeing his slideshow and hearing the host interview his guest.

The expat crowd here had turned out to be fierce, though. One of them took the speaker to task for saying there is a difference between the people of a country and their government (“because the people elect the government”), and another had made a speech about how the topic “What the Egyptian Revolution means to the West” wasn’t relevant to the primarily Australian audience.

Tough crowd, I thought, ducking out early to hire Nyoman—my regular motor scooter taxi driver—to take me back up to my perch above the rice fields.

This morning, I headed down the steep stone Campuhan Steps to the sidewalk into Ubud’s center again—on foot this time—to take a silver-jewelry-making course at a shop called Studio Perak.

I’d signed up for the jewelry course after I’d hadn’t been able to get into a course on Balinese cooking. I’ll take pretty much any class—I find the learning process engages my mind in nearly the same way that travelling does. I am more engaged by novelty and challenge than by destinations and cultural events. So for me, arguing with Congolese customs officials or trying to work out how to get around an illegal roadblock is more fun than going to the beach or on a cruise.