Much of Bangkok is under water. Vast swathes of the countryside have been flooded. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. There’s a severe shortage of food, drinking water and (more importantly) beer. Virtually every industrial estates in Thailand’s economic heartland has been inundated. So what is the government’s top priority?

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting it appears an unscheduled item was raised; officials were ordered to leave the room whilst it was discussed. It was a resolution concerning amnesty for prisoners. Prime Minister Yingluck was conveniently absent*. She was probably visiting some flooded site looking as if she was about to break into tears – it’s seems it’s about all she does these days. Still, it lets her claim the decision was nothing to do with her. (And to be honest, it probably wasn’t. After all, we know who really runs the government – “Thaksin thinks; Pheu Thai acts” and all that.)

There’s a tradition of a royal amnesty on the King’s birthday, 5th December, every twelve years as well as on other special occasions. However, this time is going to be a bit of a break with tradition. In the past the amnesty has been for those convicted who have served part of their prison terms and who have expressed remorse for their crimes. This time these conditions have been dropped – you just need to be over 60 and have been sentenced to imprisonment for less than 3 years. So Thaksin will be allowed to return to Thailand without ever having spent even a minute incarcerated for his criminal abuse of power. He’s probably be Thailand’s first prisoner to be released from behind bars without ever actually having been behind them.

And the timing is oh-so-convenient, with his eldest daughter getting married on the 12th next month.

There are some things in Thailand that stink worse than the flood waters.

* The Prime Minister was in Singburi. She claimed that she couldn’t get back for the cabinet meeting because neither her helicopter nor the backup helicopter could fly in the dark. The army has flatly contradicted her on this. And anyway, she still could have returned to Bangkok by road in time for the meeting. Furthermore she claims to have no knowledge of what was discussed at the cabinet meeting. Perhaps the battery in her mobile ‘phone was flat. Who knows?


Things didn’t exactly run smoothly this morning.

I had an early start. A friend, whose car, like tens or hundreds of thousands of others, is parked on high ground to avoid the flooding, asked for a lift to the nearest bus stop. I agreed, and bleary eyed picked him up and took him the kilometre or so to the main road.

I knew then that I couldn’t turn left to get back home because the road is flooded. I needed to do a U-turn, then turn north onto the ring road. However, habit kicked in (since my brain was not yet fully functional), and after the U-turn I turned south as if to go shopping. Realising the error of my (high)ways I got off at the next junction, intending to do a U-turn under the main road. The underpass was flooded and impassable. I drove on for miles passed flooded U-turn after flooded U-turn. Eventually there was a U-turn which was only flooded to 20 cm, or so the sign said. Cars were passing through in both directions, so it seemed (and was) safe.

The road ended in a T-junction. Left or right? I vaguely recalled the layout of the junction, and plumped for right, thinking that I could do a U-turn in the middle of the road if I’d got it wrong. Inevitably I had got it wrong, and furthermore couldn’t get into the U-turn lane. I was forced to turn right … which put me back on the road with all the flooded U-turns. Many miles later, dodging wandering cows and dogs, I eventually made it home; a 15 minutes trip had taken well over an hour. Not that I had been particularly looking forward to getting home. Just as I was leaving I noticed that Whisky’s coat was heavily matted with merde (or coated in caca if you prefer) – pardon my French. He must have been rolling on his back in the garden. And I’d only bathed him a couple of days before!

Morning was well and truly broken.


Sometimes I feel a tiny sliver of hope that the waters might pass leaving my home untouched. Of course, I try to push those feelings aside. It helps when I look at the satellite map showing the extent of the flooding and the enormous volume of water which has to pass through Bangkok to reach the sea.

Satellite image of Thailand flooding, 5 November 2011
Click here for larger version.

(The area covered by the image is roughly 250 x 175 km.)

It also helps when I remember how people from flooded communities keep tearing down the embankments that keep them flooded, so flooding those in other communities.


The good news is that there’s some bottled water available in supermarkets again – though strictly rationed. The bad news is that supermarkets are getting harder to get to: Tesco-Lotus is inaccessible because of flooding; Big C at Fashion Island is closed because of the flooding. Villa and TOPS are (as far as I know) still open, but the associated multistorey car parks are full of cars parked to avoid the floods, so are unusable because there’s nowhere to park. MaxValue is still accessible via a long detour, but is on very low lying ground, so could be flooded very soon. That just leaves a further away branch of TOPS, which is very expensive.


When one gets to the supermarket, there’s very little to buy; the shelves are almost bare. It’s like being in a Soviet-era theme park.

Last night I opened a brand new, sealed bag of Jasmine rice to find it full of weevils. It’ll be some time before I’ll be able to have Thai rice again, I suspect. The only consolation is I still have some brown rice (which I’m really not keen on) and some Japanese rice (which somehow just doesn’t seem right with Thai food).

TOPS still has Basmati rice, but at eight quid for a half kilo, it’ll stay off the menu.


Bangkok is virtually inaccessible from the north and east, with all the roads cut by flooding. Now the last major road to the south has started to flood, and the powers that be have decided not to try to protect it. They reckon that another road, to the west, which is currently under about 80 cm of water, can be drained in a day or two, and that will provide an alternative way in and out of the city. If that doesn’t work (and given the track record of the government and its so-called water management, I don’t expect it to), Bangkok will be completely cut off, and the Stalinist stocking of the supermarkets will seem positively abundant.


To the risk of being snapped by a crocodile we can now add the risk of being bitten by a green mamba – one of Africa’s most lethal snakes. 15 of them escaped a few days ago. To add to the fun, they closely resemble rather less dangerous Thai snakes.


Emotionally, for those of us still on dry land, the uncertainty is the toughest thing to bear. First we were told that there was a risk for a couple of days, and then everything would be OK. Once those two days had passed we were told there’s a danger from high tides this weekend and a lesser risk the following weekend. Well, both those weekends have passed, and the risk has neither gone away or even diminished.

Now there’s flooding to the north of me at Fashion Island and along Ram Intra. There’s also flooding to the east (Suan Siam) and west (Nawamin). An industrial estate (Bang Chan) a couple of km to the south east is beginning to flood and, like all the industrial estates before it, is unlikely to be saved. At the moment it would still be possible for me to flee the area. But to where? Or should I stick things out? Decamp to upstairs and fish for crocodiles whilst keeping and eye out for a green mamba’s strike.

Perhaps I should haul my television upstairs. Then I can watch footage of people flooded out of their homes, living in refugee centres, people who lived in single storey buildings who’ve lost everything, people whose ordinary lives of poverty’s quiet desperation have been made just that bit more desperate. And then I can thank the fates for sparing me from that.


Adversity can bring people together and bring out the best of their natures. We think of the noble and dignified behaviour of the Japanese following the hurricane and tsunami earlier this year. We think of the spirit of the blitz (a spirit so strong that it convinced many that the Queen Mother – gawd rest ‘er soul – was something other than a snobbish, cold-hearted, calculating monster). And here in Thailand we have switched on the TV or opened the newspaper to see images of people selflessly filling sandbags, carrying elderly people through flood water and sharing what food and water they have with others. Sadly there is another side to human nature.

Politicians, already licking their chops at the prospect of all the money to be syphoned off from the infrastucture projects which will doubtless be initiated when the waters recede have been taking aid given by others and slapping their names on it. One particularly notable truckload of aid bore the message “With Love From Pol Lt Col Dr Thaksin Shinawatra.”

Flood Cartoon
Cartoon from The Bangkok Post

The Flood Relief Organisation Committee [FROC] (an organisation headed by red shirt leaders) has been shamelessly partisan in its distribution of aid; red shirt politicians have had no problems getting aid to their supporters whilst others struggle without food or water. FROC also appears to be hoarding donations, rather than distributing them to those in need for less-than-clear motives.

The two main parties squabble incessantly. The Democrats want a state of emergency declared so that the army can have greater powers to act; Pheu Thai fears the army might use the opportunity to stage another coup, so uses the police force, which is neither trained or equipped for this type of work. Result: people suffer.

Not only politicians are seeking to profit from the floods: the price of food and water in markets has sky-rocketted. For example, eggs are now 8 Baht each, whereas until recently they were 3 Baht. The cost of renting an apartment in areas close to Bangkok but unaffected by flooding has also shot up, and owners are still insisting on minimum 6 month or 12 month contracts.

Angry mobs have been tearing down flood defences and destroying sluice gates to protect their property (or hasten the flow of water out from flooded properly) at the expense of their neighbours.

And there has been widespread looting of houses vacated by their owners when the waters rose. A friend of mine whose Ayutthaya house is still 2 metres under water has been relieved of his TV, welding equipment and much, much more. The thieves, taking their loot by boat, must have made several trips.

So, adversity can bring out both the best and the worst in people. But at a time of such hardship and sorry, perhaps it’s best to put the telescope to one’s blind eye.


do you like my new portraitWhisky Portrait
handsome yes
like the queen of england
i only change my official image occasionally

i ve discovered there s something
more dangerous than frogs
it s polycarbonate sheeting
master brought home
a couple of large sheets
as he was releasing the tape
holding them in a large roll
there was an enormous bang
as they broke free and attacked him
well i wasn t going to hang around
and be killed by psychopathic
polycarbonate sheets
i ran down the road
as fast as i could
i know they call me whisky the fearless
but i know when something s
out of my league

that was about a week ago
i still view the sheets with suspicion
though now they re taped down
over windows and doors
so can't escape

my master is really rather forgetful
yesterday he cooked two chicken breasts
and give me a piece to eat
silly master then forgot
to give me the rest of the meat
never mind
i later jumped up at the kitchen counter
and helped myself
i didn t want to bother master
master looked very upset
when he saw me eating the chicken
and realised he d forgotten to give it to me

that s all for now
i just need to go and
check on the polycarbonate
to make sure it hasn t escaped