Living in Bangkok is always an adventure. Rules and regulations are as amorphous as shape shifters, and it’s often difficult to know where you will end up while trying to follow them. As ‘farang’ (colloquial for ‘foreigners of white European appearance’), we are required to renew our visas annually. Ahead of time you can never be sure whether this will be a painless fifteen-minute process or a whole day adventure. We were due for renewal, so last Monday we headed to the “OneStop Office” armed with a visa broker to assist and a pile of paper to prove our claim: originals and multiple photocopies of passports, visas, permits, letters of employment and our marriage certificate. After eight years, our file is getting rather thick, as every year requires new copies of the same documents! Anyway, the “OneStop Office” has moved, and the result was that this year the whole process took place in a more convenient location and was relatively painless and quick, leaving me and my camera with time to explore the Wat (Buddhist temple) across the road.
I’ve taken a lot of pictures of wats and buddhas over the years, and if you are interested you can have a peek in my various Flicker albums by clicking the links: wats, buddhas, monks, Thailand, and/or Bangkok.
This time, my focus was on the workers. Thais have a word which is said to be one of the four pillars of the culture: sanuk:สนุก, which basically means ‘fun’. If an activity is not fun, people don’t want to do it. This sometimes gives visitors to Thailand the impression that people don’t work very hard, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people have difficult or dangerous physical jobs which they might be expected to perform for twelve hours a day, six days a week for very little pay. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they want to have fun while working! As I was wandering around the wat (Wat Hua Lampong), I came across two striking examples of this.
The wat was suffering from drainage problems. The first group of workers I spoke to (albeit haltingly!) told me that they had to find out how to get the water ‘out’. As you can see from the attached photos, this involves using shovels made from bamboo to dig the glop out of a ditch while you are standing in it, and then bagging the glop and removing it. Certainly NOT a job I envy! But, inspite of the uncomfortable nature of the work, the workers were cheerful and good natured: they chatted with each other and one broke into song regularly. They were accepting of my pesence with my camera, joking about whose picture I should or shouldn’t take.
Wats are a hive of activity. While I was there, there were homeless folk sleeping on floors, dogs and cats underfoot everywhere, little novices running around doing errands, painters and builders involved in the ever-ongoing process of maintaining and beautifying the wat and its many salas (free-standing rooms), as well as monks and lay people engaged in the supplications, blessings and prayers that you might expect. The second group of workers that I chatted with briefly were making new chandeliers for one of the halls: painstaking, fiddly work, all done by hand. The women were sitting outside on the marble stoop, where there was a little breeze to take the edge off the 30° sticky afternoon, stringing rows of glass beads together with metal fasteners. Their colleague was inside the hotter pavilion, afixing these lenghts of beads onto a large large frame.
I was sweating, just taking the pictures! Sanuk, yes, but still very hard work.