Sunday, December 18, 2011

New park near home

Decades ago, the government purchased a lot of land on the island from the villagers, so they could go buy farmland in less flood-prone areas -- or so our neighbors have told us. The government then built a dyke around the island and stopped the flooding. Our island would be kept green and lush and was dubbed the "lungs of Bangkok."

Now, several large swathes of government-owned land are being developed into a nature education center, with fruiting trees for humans and for birds! One area (not pictured here) has already been finished and has a lovely boardwalk through the jungle, with signs about our flora and fauna. Now another area, pictured above, is being turned into a park as well. Our house now has a park on either side of it, and if this park-building trend continues, we will be surrounded on the entire western and southwestern sides of our neighborhood by parks.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Solar water heater

Thermosyphon solar water heater
Landry designed and installed a solar hot water system for our shower, which is perfectly situated on the south side of the house with the blazing afternoon sun exposure. We wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, so designed v1.0 with the pipes hidden between the two layers of the turquoise siding of our shower.

However, it was not hot enough, so came v2.0.

Landry found a lovely frame at the wood recycling shop, painted it with a clear varnish, and put reflective metal sheeting on the back side.

The pipes then went inside the box. We're happy to report warm water by about 11am, hot water all afternoon, and then lukewarm water by 9-10pm.

He also built the storage tank for the solar heated water, but we mistakenly thought that since we're living in the tropics, it would not have to be insulated. Insulation will be part of v3.0 -- we're losing too much of the heat by nightfall.

He painted the tank and pipes black to make it gentler on the eyes.

And after this pic, he pieced the shower back together, so this water storage tank is hidden behind the wooden shower box again.

The whole project was cheap and simple (so says the wife), and Landry says he'll post plans online soon. I fail to understand why so few homes in tropical Thailand use solar hot water systems. Go solar!

Around the island

This is the "talad nut" -- the fresh market where we get most of our fruits and vegetables, and occasionally, seafood.

Open Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Our island is about 5 km in diameter and surrounded on about 75 percent of its perimeter by central Bangkok. The views to the west and northwest of the island are the skyscrapers of Bangkok's central business district and main shopping area.

On the north side of the island is Klong Toei port, where ships -- emblazoned with the names of far-flung places like Panama and scripts from Korea and China -- park and unload their wares. These giraffe cranes move shipping containers around like they're Legos or Lincoln Logs.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Our island shot with an old Russian Horizon camera

Here are pics taken by a camera Landry bought when we were living in Afghanistan.

A view of the back of our house, with the shower on the back balcony.

One of the many sidewalks through the jungle on the island.

Betel nut palms, tall and lithe.

A bamboo grove.


Duckweed in an irrigation ditch.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Surrounded by a swollen river

Landry has been volunteering with our district authorities, who monitor the low-lying points of the island as high tide approaches and then rush to fix any breaches -- literally battling back the swollen Chao Phraya river.

Another truckload of sandbags.

At the Bang Ko Bua temple on the northern tip of our island.

Pumping water from a low-lying point on the left of the above image over the dike protecting the island, into the river on the right.

Lots of fishermen are out and about these days. This guy has a battery pack in the recycled Pennzoil can on his back, and uses his two zapping prongs to knock fish out.

As for our home, we are still dry. We have had occasional problems with our water supply, which was contaminated and rationed for a spell, but it all appears to be back to normal. We have a water filter, but are boiling as well to be on the safe side.

Friday, October 14, 2011

To flood or not to flood

Our island, formed by a large loop in the Chao Phraya, was long ago quite prone to flooding. As the neighbors tell it, the inundations used to come chest high one or two days per year. Perhaps a decade or so ago, they say, a dyke was built around the island, to protect against the rising waters.

That said, this year Thailand is seeing the worst flooding in half a century, and today, the Chao Phraya river reached a record high. Some parts of the country are under 2 meters of water, and while every effort has been made to save Bangkok, areas to the north have been under water for more than a month.

There is supposed to be a high tide tomorrow or sometime over the weekend, and with waters being released from northern Thailand to ease the worst flooding, our village is expected to be plunged under water. Local authorities are not sure whether or not we'll be flooded -- perhaps knee deep, they say, but you never know.

Our neighbors, who have lived here for generations, don't seem too worried, so we're hoping that we will stay dry. Still, we've moved all our art and electronics up to higher ground, and prepared dry foods and drinking water.

I've been writing about children preparing for floods and landslides for a photo-video-text package I put together for British NGO Plan International in time for Oct. 13, Disaster Risk Reduction Day. Needless to say, I've been wishing that Plan disaster management people would come to my neighborhood to give us a few lessons. The girl above was helping only by providing good cheer.

The waters in our neighborhood canals are quite high now, and each day, we are doused in hours-long torrential rains. The thunder last night made our entire house rumble, and I nervously got out of bed much of the night to glance at the water level in our backyard canal (or klong, in Thai).

To ease our minds a bit, over the past few days, Landry and I have visited the disaster management team at our sub-district administrative office, where they are preparing sandbags.

Yes! Children were helping, too -- which, I write in my story for Plan, gives children a sense of control over a situation in which they might otherwise feel helpless. Two boys, 10 years old, and one 12, helping to tie the sandbags shut.

Landry, leaning inside the truck, volunteered with the disaster management team, which passed out sandbags to villagers most at risk, living near the river banks.

We are not among the most at-risk areas when compared with our neighbors, but when compared with Bangkok, which surrounds our island, it looks like we're going to be hit hard. On that map, our island is underneath 355 million cubic meters of "water/daily" [sic]. Actually, it was a peninsula, but one of the royal irrigation projects was the Lad Pho canal, dug across the narrow southern end so water could be rushed out to the Gulf of Thailand.

The team then headed down the road to some houses that were flooded because of heavy rains last night.

We went down a lovely wooden path...

to this house, whose ground floor was under water.

The team was pumping water out from a villager's yard...

up and over the dyke that protects the island.

Baby's got a brief respite from the rain, but still needs an umbrella as a parasol.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The hood

We live in a neighborhood where most people live off the land, gathering their coconuts, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and fish from the orchards and canals on their land, or even on government lands that they keep manicured and rich with fruiting trees in exchange for a few ingredients. The villagers here actually organize their land into irrigation canals with planted mounds of coconut, mango, banana and other trees. Some canals are overgrown with duckweed. The sign above says "no fishing."

Above, a lily in our little pond. It blooms in the evening and closes around the time of the late-morning sun.

I love this deep bluish-green bamboo grove. Our fledgling bamboo (which we transplanted from our last home) is a rich gold, with streaks of green.

We call this the green path because no one sweeps it regularly, so it is always overgreen with moss and covered over with a soft layer of bamboo.

The monitor lizard gets a bad rap because its Thai name, "hia" in Thai, is one of the greatest insults that can be hurled at someone, along the lines of f***er. So the polite name is "thua ngeun thua thong," which means the "silver and gold one," or voranus, which is its scientific name.

It lives on land and in the water. The old auntie who lives by herself next door calls it "ai kay," which can be translated to "that gator." It has apparently nabbed several of her cats.

We see about one monitor lizard a day. It's a shy animal, always dodging into the forest as we approach. It's quite cute when it's taking a leisurely swim (like above), tucking it's arms neatly at its side and gently swaying side to side, like I might do if I were pretending to be an underwater torpedo. When it is scared, it goes pretty deep underwater, and you can only follow it by following it's trail of air bubbles on the surface of the canal.