The existential agony of a Bangkok urbanite

opinion July 31, 2014 00:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak

4,987 Viewed

Exactly at 8 o'clock in the morning, every single day, seven days a week, she wakes up to the insufferably throbbing sound of pile-driving equipment drilling the concrete shafts into the ground. These days, she even considers the daily 8 o'clock commencem

Her house, once airy, breezy, and filled with light, is now dark and unventilated as it is boxed in along one long side by six-foot steel plate retaining walls that the contractor erected about inches away from her fence. The heat generated from the steel plates drives the temperature in her house up to unbearable levels on hot days, which means every day. 
From morning till night on weekdays as well as weekends, her house is filled with the fuel fumes coming out of the construction site electric generators for the two large cranes. She often painfully marvels at the knack of the contractors to direct the exhaust fumes away from the site and into the house of the neighbour. 
The enormous amount of fine dirt that seeps into her house gives a heightened definition of dusting, even after she seals off all her windows and doors with industrial-grade duct tapes.
The shuddering of her home as a result of the construction piling makes her ponder how long her 50-year-old dwelling could withstand the onslaught, before its foundation and structures start to crumble. The piling of her home are about seven feet below the ground, while those of the new condominium block under construction next to her house are 21 feet. She has heard of horror stories from her friends who lived in the Sukhumvit area that there were times the wood poles and frames of their houses split into pieces right in front of their very eyes during the construction of nearby condominiums.
Twice already, she has gone to the police station to report fires and the disorderly conduct of workers at the construction site. Fire trucks were called in. A burning smell comes from the site in the middle of the night, and many nights.
She thinks about the two years of torture she will have to endure during the construction period, and more woes that will follow after people start moving into the building. She is starting to miss life as a normal human being in any society.
Her source of torture comes from the construction of an eight-storyed, 150-room condominium building that is being raised on a one-rai (1,600 sqm or 0.395 acre) plot right next to her home. 
When it’s all over, she would have about 300 new neighbours with their air-conditioner units spewing heat into her house. She dreads the army of cockroaches parading out of the drainpipes and trash disposal of the high-rise building into their extended playground – her home. 
She thinks about the hundreds of cars that would go in and out of the new building, and park along the soi in front of her house, as Thai law only requires that a condominium provide a measly 60 per cent parking space for the number of dwellers. She has thought about moving away. But to where? She has lived there all her life. She has tried to gather the people in the community to look into all the violations of their rights under the law caused by the construction of the condominium. Together, they went to the Environment Impact Assessment Office (EIA) that had mysteriously approved the construction without scrutinising the impact issues of the construction. Under the EIA rules and regulations, a developer is required to involve the community in the EIA assessment. However, in this case, the developer had conveniently and preposterously used a nearby hospital in its community opinion sampling. The hospital is not even in the earshot of the new construction. None of the bona fide neighbours were contacted, and their responses were missing during the consideration by the EIA officials.
The community went to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority to seek a temporary halt of the construction until they were informed of the measures that the developer had planned to redress the problems, such as drainage, traffic, water and electricity supplies, fire hazard protection, etc, that will be caused by the development. They went to the City Planning Office, the District offices, etc. They asked the EIA Office to reconsider its approval and all the relevant government agencies to withhold the construction permit until further discussions between the developer and the affected community be conducted to mutual satisfaction.
Months have gone by; there has been no action or intervention by the relevant government agencies in response to the complaints and requests of the community. The people are reaching their wits’ end. They are thinking about filing a case with the Central Administrative Court. But by the time the case comes up for hearing, the construction would have proceeded enough to make it a fait accompli. The losers are the people who have lived in the neighbourhood peacefully for several decades. The developer, on the other hand, will soon be gone, laughing all the way to the bank, with not an iota of worry of what will happen to the people, both of the old neighbourhood and the newcomers, who have to suffer the subsequent direct and indirect consequences of its handy undertaking. It was never its business to care about them anyway.
The people in the community are made to realise that their livelihood, their opinion, and their grievances do not count. They want to ask about justice and the meaning of their rights under the law. They want their peace and existential harmony to be returned to them. But they know it’s not going to happen.
Meanwhile, the cranes continue their pounding, the dust and the fume continue to spread about. The nearby houses continue to shake. The traffic in the surrounding sois come to a standstill when the concrete trucks and large vehicles carrying construction workers go in and out of the site, seven days a week.
And it’s only just begun.