A few hours out of Bangkok and along a Satnav route that seemed to take us away from our destination (we seemed to loop back around), we beheld the stunning sight of the Golden Buddha in Khok Samrong nestled in the Wong Phrachan Mountain. We parked the car at the foot of the mountain and got ready for the ascent. It was not the Buddha we planned to see, albeit impressive, but the temple (Khao Wong Phrachan Temple) at the top of the mountain. I knew the task at hand and felt slightly confident, almost overconfident, to scale the 3790 steps. However, I was absent in knowing what it was really going to feel like. It was hot but the day was fading. How fit did I think I was?
The summit has a spiritual meaning and the challenging task of ascending the steps was lessened when thinking about its divine context. It was to be like a pilgrimage. There is Buddha’s footprint at the temple at the top of the mountain. Believing I was a fit person, I first went under what seemed Chinese-influenced arch and made a hop and skip over the first steps and gently got into my stride as I was able to cover two steps with my long legs. However, it did appear to be steeper than I thought. I also started to notice water/drink pit stops with seating appropriately staggered as I walked up the steps. It was hot I will not lie but being Thailand it could have been hotter. I was not sweating the first part of the climb, and there was some shade from the trees and foliage. I actually passed a few people. Maybe, I did not realise they were pacing themselves. As I got up further the person I was with told me they believed they had ‘long COVID’. If ever I needed a sign to say this was going to be a longer climb than I thought it was coming from someone who had done this climb before and they were giving in.
You can just about see the Temple at the top in this photograph.
Anyway, I had not come all this way to stop, and it felt like a spiritual journey. The view of the Golden Buddha gave me a chance to see the sights and maybe give me inspiration. There was no way of seeing the top of the summit at this stage. Whether that was good or bad I did not know. The trees and vegetation were stopping that. It was now what was becoming an arduous but worthy task of making it to the top. I actually went past a lady who I would guess was 65-70 years old. If she could make it, who was I to start complaining? However, around 2000 steps I started to feel it the most if I had not felt it already. The spring in my step had certainly gone. The pit stops were becoming obvious to me and I plainly knew why each one was there. The problem was in my excitement I had left the person I was with and they had the money. I could not buy any drink. As I ascended more, I became a person to look at as much as I looked at others. The sweat was showing on my shirt, and I must have looked shattered. The conversations between climbers were about feeling tired and how are you feeling. I was a foreigner so maybe I stuck out more and people wanted to speak to me. I was certainly not alone in having the realisation that this was going to be a slog. Despite this, to make it to the top and the temple showed a person’s perseverance and how much they wanted to make it.
The sweat was starting to show on my shirt. I was doing one step by one step. There was no more jumping up two steps at a time. My back was now arched down, not lifting my legs as high and I was looking for the next pit stop. I summoned all my energy into making it to the next chance to sit down. I was met by other fellow climbers. There seemed to be a communal spirit to make it. I was hoping that it would soon say 3000 steps but I was in luck there was a sign that said 3200. I was nearly there. It was apparent that others were slowly making their way as I ventured on to the top and was on my own for a bit. I was soon turning the corner to see the temple at the top of the mountain. My personal pilgrimage to the summit was complete. I clocked in at about 90 minutes. 90 minutes of what was hard work I must say. I had to give myself another five minutes to compose myself and I needed some water. Anyway, It was all worth it.
Looking down to where I had started and the amazing scenery was something to behold. Thailand is a beautiful country. The sun was starting to set so the camera was out. The Golden Buddha looked resplendent in its position looking over the verdant land far and wide. There was a feeling of contentment that I had done this climb. It was a test. I expect it has more meaning to the Thai people when they arrive in all its spiritual meanings. However, I went over to the Buddha footprint and performed the 3 Wais. I believe it is called the Benchangkhapradit krap, not Wai. Nevertheless, an older Thai lady followed me, and I watched her perform it extremely appropriately with some chants to follow. It was funny when she then answered a call on her mobile phone next to the footprint and chatted away. Above all, this is a definite for anyone who travels to this area of Thailand. Get ready for a challenge but when you are at the top it is something else, spiritually and visually!
By the way the person I was with did make it. They also had some money to buy a drink. However, I met them as I walked down but agreed to go back up to the top.
Bangkok is polluted, the smoke filled air from the early morning commuters with their cars, coming from their brand new condos, making their way to work serve to highlight the dramatic contamination levels this city has reached. Recent news from the Pollution Control Department that Bangkok’s air has reached critical levels can only confound worry. Bangkok people have learnt to put up with the pollution and ignore the three main worries associated with it; new high rise buildings, abundance of cars and filthy air. These factors will be classified in this essay.
The first factor is the brand new condos and apartments line every street in Bangkok these days. These new building have sprouted out of the ground to collect more people into a smaller areas of Bangkok. The sad fact is, there are little or no zoning laws. These seductively built premises neatly situated within eyeshot of major thoroughfares maybe appealing for the commuter belt brigade of workers but on already congested toll ways, roads and little sois, there really is no room for 50 or more families in their sparkling new condos. There are definitely signs of an oversupply of condos in Bangkok. The Government has noticed this too and has dropped the bank lending of 100% to only 90% of apartments less than 10 million baht which had made it too enticing for speculators but this will not stop the builders as they change tack and move into other avenues to entice more people into Bangkok.
Another factor is that there is no day off for traffic. Cars and buses clog the city twenty four seven. Benzene levels over Bangkok are well over the general limit. Medical studies have proved that long exposure to benzene exposure brings on cancer but this information must be kept quiet. Euro 4, one of the benzene petrol distributors have said they will try to reduce the levels of benzene emissions from 3.5% to 1%. This in itself is a great idea but what about the past and Bangkok’s contact with the smog that envelopes the city everyday. To compound the problem, these Bangkok people keep buying new cars. The roads are littered with red number plates, even with all the expense car ownership incurs; as long traffic jams every morning still grow larger. Bangkokians still continue to see their motors as prestige items.
One last aspect of pollution is the air which may seem clean to Bangkokians, some of them actually think their level of pollution is normal, but the air is not clean, dust particles lay in the atmosphere. These dust particles which can only be measured in microns of measurement that float around exceed the normal rate of air quality. Ozone levels were also found to be 0.2 percent higher than normal and volatile organic compounds were double the normal rate. Most of the 6.7 million residents are taking this air in. Plants and vegetation should help this but with not that many green areas the plants can’t give off air to cleanse and cool the area while the temperature keep rising. This heat is added to by the concrete building which retain their heat so Bangkok is still hot at night.
To conclude, there are many examples of the ways Bangkok is becoming more polluted. The truth is the Government should wake up to the dangers of air pollution but with the sheer vast amount of traffic on the streets of Bangkok it is going to a hard task. They have started the underground and BTS which unluckily invites construction but expansion of this transportation seems a distant dream and the sad aspect, Bangkok people must have given up on that vision too.
On the topic of the recent flooding in 2011 in Thailand, I was able to access the thoughts of ten Bangkok university students to gather enough data to enlighten me as to how best to proceed with putting together my essay. I first questioned what they already knew about the subject and what their attitudes toward the flooding were. I left some guesswork up to such questions as to their general age and cultural status was.
One of the first questions I asked the ten people was whether the flood directly affected them. I wanted to know whether the water got into their houses. Of all the ten answers received, not one was in the affirmative. A unanimous “no” to such a question both surprised and pleased me since it meant my job was that much more straightforward. I knew now I had to bring the flood to them. My essay now had a clearer purpose, namely to make this ongoing crisis more of an urgent reality to be collectively acknowledged as opposed to a distant one as it currently seems to be for the ten people I spoke with.
I elaborated the first question further with another that asked if any of them had seen the floods personally. All but three said ‘no’, and even the first and second of those two had to get out via the train because of where they lived to avoid the water that may or may have not come. The third said there was water surrounding her neighborhood, but not enough to keep her from coming and going as she pleased. We also asked if any of them had trouble finding food. They all said food was easy to get, it was the clean water that people had a hard time getting.
I then conducted three polls, first I gave three choices to the question; Do you think the flood was natural, man-made, or both? Two said it was man-made, three said it was naturally caused, leaving a majority of the remaining five who chose both. Citing the tourism industry, poor management, and global warming as just some of the causes for why the flooding has been worse than it has in the past. The second poll, which asked whether the flooding will happen again, yielded yet another unanimous vote saying ‘yes’. This indicated that the group was well aware that the flooding is going to get worse and more frequent if something does not change very soon. When asked how soon the next major flood will occur, seven said “in the next few years,” with one each saying “within a decade,” “in the next three to four years,” and 5th final one saying, “possibly sooner, next year if the drains are not fixed.”
Additionally, going by observations and some guesswork, the general age varied between the early twenties and thirties; the cultural status, albeit somewhat irrelevant in today’s globalized world, ranges from Chinese to Thai to German; the educational level is college-level; their economic status is likely middle-class on average; their occupations vary; and their attitudes toward me as an interviewer were in all likelihood positive, considering I gave them little reason to feel otherwise.
Looking over the results, I was much more confident than ever about my essay because I was no longer preparing for it blindly. It was all too evident that the flooding had a far less direct impact on the people I interviewed. Although some were greatly affected by this terrible occurrence, I did my best to bring about how this problem happened, what to do to prepare for it, and were things wrong in the first place. I feel most of the audience while fortunate for now will not be so lucky in the future. It tends to give a false sense of security to the people of Bangkok when no clear organization was shown from the beginning of this tragedy. Bangkok is predicted to be underwater in the next few years, within all of our lifetimes. This is a problem that should be addressed and remedied as quickly as possible, something my essay aims to do.