The View From Bangkok

My wife and I live in a building with 24 floors in downtown Bangkok, a dwarf compared to most of the ones around us.

When we moved in, in 2001, our apartment unit had a view of a golf driving range, which has since been replaced by a set of four futuristic-looking 60-something-story condominiums. We don’t mind the buildings so much; they’re not too close and they are actually quite aesthetic in a space-age sort of way. From this distance, we are able to imagine them as massive sculptures that exist just so we can either admire or critique them, depending on the kind of day we’ve had.

Besides, between us and them are some trees and a chicken farm belonging to a stubborn farmer who refuses to sell out. The crowing of his roosters at all hours, the piercing screeches from a neighbor’s pet macaw and the mini-jungle of plants on our little balcony give us the semblance of being in nature.

We spend a lot of time at our little balcony table. At this time of the year there are dark monsoon clouds on most mornings, and seeing the sun is a rarity; but for at least half the year the mornings are the most beautiful time of day. We watch the sun rise, and for half an hour or so it shines directly into our home, painting wild shadows on the walls.

It is a peaceful time for my wife and me, a moment we savor before we have to descend in one of the elevators and out into the chaos that is Bangkok.

It was on one such day that I felt something, dust maybe, blowing in with the breeze. I ignored it for a while, but then I noticed specks on the newspaper I was reading, followed by some unspecific debris in my tea. We walked toward the edge of our balcony and looked out and were rewarded with some more indeterminate particles falling into our eyes.

When I leaned out further to get a good look, I saw a hand from the balcony right above ours tipping a bucket of water down the outside of the building, some of which splashed into our home.

Using the intercom, I dialed the upstairs apartment, but there was no answer. I tried a few more times without success, and then let the matter go, hoping that it was a one-off occurrence.

When a similar incident took place the next day, I decided to take this case to the building manager, who would surely be sympathetic, if not as indignant as we were. Maybe she would send the people upstairs an official letter, or even better, march up there and ask them to immediately put a stop to their ill-mannered behavior. They would then call us and apologize profusely. We would, of course, forgive them. We are neighbors after all.

I took the service elevator down to the dark basement parking lot, walked past an important looking, loudly whirring machine and into the manager’s brightly lighted office. I told her my story and she asked me to write everything down in the “complaint book.” Then she left the room. To this day, I don’t know if she went to the rest room, or if she wanted to give me privacy while I wrote, or whether she went to deal with my errant neighbors, but she never came back. I wrote out the complaint as well as I could and went home.

Over the next few days, we learned from some friends in the building that there had been various complaints about people living above throwing things like plastic bags, rubber bands and clothespins out their windows. The outdoor swimming pool was becoming a hazardous zone because of various objects dropping uncomfortably close to people relaxing in the water. All this had suddenly started in the last few weeks. We were in the midst of an epidemic.

The situation came to a head a week later, when a full garbage bag was thrown and landed on the roof of an expensive bungalow next to our building.

The management called an emergency meeting and it was decided that cameras would be installed to catch people in the act. This made for a lot of intense elevator and car park discussions, and the building was suddenly divided between victims and suspected perpetrators.

I’m not certain if any cameras were ever installed, but about two weeks later, objects stopped falling. It seemed as if the outbreak ceased just as suddenly as it started.

The monsoons are in full swing these days. Right at this moment, there is a thick gray cloud covering most of the tall buildings around us. It feels as if our home in the sky is the only thing that exists. The wind is picking up and blows rain onto our balcony.

Suthep Srikureja is an editor and the author of The Traveler.

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