Archive for 26 October 2011

My Name is Farang

26 October 2011

The hospital where I go to work every day is sandbagged in. Big vinyl rice bags decorated with dancing elephants, filled with sand, tied off with twine, and piled two feet high against the fence around the hospital. They don’t look serious enough to hold back much, and, fortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ll have to. Prime Minister Yingluck has declared a five-day emergency holiday, and certain of the doctors– those with elderly parents in the suburbs Bangkok, mostly– walk around all day looking nervous, but the River Ping has fallen fifteen feet from its peak three weeks ago, revealing the islets that disappeared a few months ago, and the water’s surface has resumed its glassy meander by the town, after a few long months of swift, choppy water lapping at the banks.

Still, the highways to Bangkok are underwater; I only made it up the river on a marathon 13 hour bus journey, tiptoeing along narrow, rice paddy roads, trying to stay dry (with mixed results: at one point the driver was ankle-deep in sloshing brown floodwater). So I, like most people in town, consider myself more or less stuck: here I’ve been for two whole weeks, and here I’ll be for two more, uninterrupted.

Kamphaeng Phet is a pleasant town. A city, it should be properly called, as capital of its eponymous province. Think of Kamphaeng Phet as a cousin of Des Moines: the small provincial capital in the heartland, politically moderate, off the tourist circuit, where bulky women roast nuts in honey and dance to country music at the annual festival. A bit more history, here, perhaps: Kamphaeng Phet means “diamond wall” and the crumbling city walls faintly remind visitors that centuries ago, this was the northwestern-most outpost of the Sukhothai empire charged with the solemn task of fending off Burmese invaders. When I tell a fellow prisoner of the Bangkok-to-Chiang Mai bus where I’m headed, he responds with what I gladly interpret as a look of steely significance. “Ah, Kamphaeng.” The wall. (more…)