Three texts, three authors, three different contexts – all describing the amphibious but perilous life style of the inhabitants of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand:
In her essay from 2018 on contemporary flood protection in several metropolises across Asia, researcher Lizzie Yarina writes:
In decades past (and still today in some rural parts of the country) Thai people lived in “amphibious communities”; for example, in “raft houses” which float upwards on stilts during floods, or in villages built on two levels where upper walkways and living quarters can be used during the rainy season. But those adaptive patterns are disappearing, even as climate risk grows.
In a more visual, literary tone is the following passage. In the 2023 novel “Bangkok wakes to rain” by Thai author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, a British missionary in 19. Century Bangkok writes in a letter home:
The Siamese as a race thrive in the aquatic realm. They live as if they have been born sea nymphs that only recently joined the race of man. He goes on to describe the capital Bangkok: An hour beyond lies the capital, its riverside lined with rickety stilt houses that look incapable of withstanding even the most delicate wake of a modern steamer yet somehow maintain a mysterious integrity. Their occupants drink, , swim, wash away their filth, and fill pots to make soupy meals of their catches, everyone joined in the confluence of fluids.
And in the debut novel by US-American sci-fi author Paolo Bacigalupi “The Windup Girl” from 2009, the scene is set in a future Bangkok:
Just beyond, the dike and lock system of the King Rama XII’s seawall looms, holding back the weight of the blue ocean.
It’s difficult not to always be aware of those high walls and the pressure of the water beyond. Difficult to think of the City of Divine Beings as anything other than a disaster waiting to happen. But the Thais are stubborn and have fought to keep their revered city of Krung Thep from drowning. With coal-burning pumps and leveed labor and a deep faith in the visionary leadership of their Chakri Dynasty, they have so far kept at bay that thing which has swallowed New York and Rangoon, Mumbai and New Orleans.
For further reading on Thailand and living with water see the interview with architect Sumet Jumsai.