Blue Snake and the Green Fish Tank: My Mom’s Narrative of Bangkok and Dream of a High School Girl
“Fffwwwwwwhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeueeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuueeeee!” There goes the sound of heaven when someone steps on the yellow line. Just a step and the traffic cop blows his whistle. Oh god, who steps on the yellow line again? Oh? It’s me. A girl from Nakhon Phanom who just got into a university in Bangkok. What a developed city, I tell myself. The cars are speeding and gliding day and night. If this were Nakhon Phanom, we would have dinner at six and go to sleep at eight already. My campus is in a Bangkok suburb but mom told me to come visit central Bangkok. “Go widen your horizon,” she said.
Mom once told me (in Isan accent), “There is the Blue Snake in Bangkok.” And I imagined something like those creatures in the Fantastic Beasts movie I saw on the internet. But no, no, no. It’s actually a skytrain. My mom used to be a factory worker around Nawa Nakhon, and once in a while she would go shopping at Pratunam. She said the Blue Snake was slithering terrifyingly in the sky, she could have told me it was the skytrain and I would get it, you know? Of course I would, I saw it on television so many times before. When I called to ask whether she had ever got on the skytrain, she told me it was very expensive and she could instead spend much less money on the public bus. And I found that just one stop costs 15 baht. Back at home getting someone to go grab things for you in the central district is more expensive.
Besides Bangkok Metropolitan Region, other provinces in Thailand do not have subway or skytrain. In other words, around 66.18 million do not have this mode of transportation as an option. This accounts to 77.90% of the population who spend more on public transportation than people in Bangkok. These people do not have the means to conveniently go to see a doctor and they are still waiting for quality public transportation. What can we do to make public transportation accessible to everyone?
Bangkok! What a charming city! I wasted my 15 baht for the skytrain which was fast like a roller coaster. It usually takes me two hours getting stuck in this hellish traffic to reach my apartment, and I miss home badly because of this. My mom called her room in Bangkok a green fish tank. It was so little that if she turned around a bit, she would bump into the refrigerator, if she turned the other way, she would hit the closet. Mom said missed home badly when she had to live in the fish tank so she endured the conditions for only a year before going back to rice farming at home. I asked her, “why would you come here in the first place then?” She said it was predetermined that a rice farmer could never make ends meet, and what would you do if you have no money to invest? Meanwhile I have to live in this fish tank room for another four years.
A metropolis is a source of income for diverse groups of people. However, under the facade of development are the urban poor hidden in its nooks and crannies. Land inequality and housing issues arise out of unequal land distribution. Inadequate housing drives the urban poor out of options and forces them to live in suburbs or run-down neighborhoods. Adequate, affordable, and quality housing is a right to the city everyone deserves. What can we do to enable equal access to safe and affordable housing, including land use?
It’s great in Bangkok if you have money because everything costs something. Just the fresh vegetables in the market in front of my street are indeed costly. 20 baht for a bunch of mushrooms? Who would imagine? Back at home Auntie Maew grows mushrooms with her own sustainable agriculture innovation. She builds the mushroom farm up from the ground, within her small space. The mushrooms grow abundantly and are used for cooking, selling, and they’re sold out fast. If only she knew how to use the internet to sell her products, she would be a billionaire. Once I finish studying, I might get back home and help her expand the business all over the country. And I will get to be with my mom and do rice farming, with the innovation ideas borrowed from Auntie Maew. I’m not sure if I could do it, but other people can, so why can’t I?
Social innovation is finding new solutions to the problems you face on a daily basis, to replace the same old quick fix that might no longer work. The more limited our resources are (natural resources, labor, time), the more we need to use them in the most efficient manners and for the people. In this way, we can walk towards sustainable development. How can we adapt local wisdom with innovations, and add value to community products?
I’m getting lonely here. I’ve got some friends but still, I’m alone. I usually talk to the security guard at the apartment and the apartment staff, they’re from Isan just like me. For someone who is from Isan, I don’t know if other people think I stink of pickled fish. Some people, just seeing my low nose bridge, look down on me. I want to tell them that I have a 10-rai rice farm back home, which is bigger than your mall (but ask again if we have the money to invest, the answer is no.) Mom says it’s better now because they’re more people from Isan getting good jobs in Bangkok. Still, there are those living hand to mouth with only the 315 baht minimum wage. I think this takes time, but if everyone has access to education and opportunities, change will come. We need to do something like Auntie Maew who creates her own innovation. And I believe that we all have ideas, we just lack opportunities and money to invest.
Every worker is entitled to the minimum wage of 313 baht a day according to the Minimum Wage Board Announcement (No.10) as of 6 December 2019. But even now, a lot of people still get less than the minimum wage. They are left behind because of their socio-economic status and the economic structure that dehumanizes them with undervalued wages. Poverty has a price, and sometimes it is more costly than wealth. How can we create jobs that are valued and accessible?
Mom works until her spine hurts because she wants to support my higher education. Back at home, finishing high school is a rarity. Parents all pray to the ghosts that their kids don’t get pregnant or get into a motorcycle accident before finishing school. Not that it’s wrong or anything. Mom actually had me when she was fifteen and things here are different from the city. My friend Pooky got pregnant one year after getting her first period. If only she had seen herself in the next 4-5 years, if she had seen what she could be. Pooky is actually really smart and there’s so much she could do. She’s just left behind and forgotten in so many ways. I believe that Pooky and every person is part and parcel of the society we live in, we all contribute in different ways.
In the past ten years, 23,615 children were born to girls aged 10-40. The highest was in 2012 when 3,710 girls became mothers, or around 10 girls a day. The lowest was in 2020 when 2,180 girls became mothers, or around 5 girls a day. What can we do to make sex education accessible to everyone?
Four years seems like a long time. But we have lived with COVID for over a year now. Some people are unemployed and have to go back home. If there were universities close to home, I wouldn’t have to come here at all. I miss mom, always. I think of the sound of her laughter when she’s exhausted from work but still joyous. I fear that she would catch COVID and disappear from this world before we could meet again. People back at home take good care of themselves, they wear masks, they check their temperature even though there doesn’t seem to be a screening system to help them. I still have hope despite all this, I think everyone now wants to see their own village, their own neighborhood get better, with access to infrastructure.
The COVID pandemic has unveiled every aspect of inequality. People with financial security seem to be the ones who get away from the crisis. Meanwhile the ones living in poverty such as children in low-income families, are living with higher risks. Having no access to online education, falling out of the education system, getting out of school to work instead, these are the issues we are facing, to name but a few. And this affects people in the long-run. What can we do to protect fundamental rights and enable everyone’s access to welfare?
“Don’t be afraid of the scorching sun. Don’t be afraid of the rain. Blow your hot rice before eating,” mom always recites. This is meant to teach me to calm down and take things step by step. There are things that are out of our control. But there are also things that we can solve if we take them one step at a time. Mom might grow up and have to endure a lot. But within our generation, it’ll certainly be better, if we can change things for good. For now I just don’t want to live so far from home.