Our apartment lies a good few hundred metres from a main road, so to the casual observer, it seems remarkably peaceful for Bangkok. It’s not.
Sure, most of it’s typical neighbourly noise, but working from home, I get it all. There’s the driver who regularly pulls up into our dead end soi, turns up his car radio (which is just off the station) and settles in for a few hours’ snooze. We’ve gotten fairly used to the neighbour’s maids, who sit under our windows and chat, scream and giggle while washing both clothes and yapping dogs. We’ve learned our fruit vocabulary from the phonlamai vendor who uses a very expensive amplifying system to let the masses know they can buy "Sapparot! Malakor! Ngo! Mamuang!"- or whatever, depending on the season. I truly do like the shouts from the Ratchaburi potseller (how many repeat sales can he have?) because he rolls his R really well. And of course, there’s the Walls motorcyclist whom every Bangkokian knows and fondly loves. Isn’t multinationals making music what this global village thing is all about?
But things have gotten worse. I’ve started muttering "air-conditioning" like a mantra these past few days. It was TE Lawrence who once wrote that "A man hates to be moved to folly by a noise", and it’s true, I hate to think that this daily cacophany might lead me to do something as silly as purchase an air conditioner. Air-conditioners lead to sniffles and sore throats, unnecessary clothing and unnatural coughs.
But they let you close your windows.
Consider, for a start, the televisions of the people downstairs. During the day, they like to watch, I believe, horror movies set in waterparks filled with thousands of screaming teenagers, a kind of NJ Saturday gone horribly wrong. In the evenings – I’m sorry, the late evening – they prefer to watch English football, a basic variation of the former. It’s relentless.
Then take the dogs. Out the back lurk at least two gangs of ferocious and muscular canines the size of small horses, with fangs bigger than elephant tusks that drip copious amounts of saliva, speckled with the blood of whatever neighbourhood animal they’ve just captured and heartlessly mauled. Can’t see them at all, but pretty sure that’s what they look like.
Out the front live the Motley Mob, a bedraggled bunch of around two dozen strays who don’t need any reason at all to start barking other than a dirty look from another dog. Soi Barking Dog friends like to call our street, as whenever they telephone they can’t hear us over the racket in the background. These friends used to actually come around to visit, but they got tired of having to be escorted safely down the street on their way home.
The dogs are fleabitten and sorry-looking, and they don’t look like they have the energy to rifle through a garbage bin, let alone actually attack someone – but they have, rather gruesomely, bitten through the skin of our next door neighbour. She has since developed an aversion to the mutts that extends to no more than a pulled face and a rush up/downstairs and in/out the gate. That’s a very mild aversion, considering.
Unlike someone who once lived in our apartment and had his sanity tested so severely by the Motley Mob that he procured poison, syringes and meat, ready to purchase back some peace with a touch of murder. He never garnered the courage to actually do it, but I bet it felt good carrying home goods that would have led to a few hours tranquility. Instead he used those slingshots that cost about 20 baht, and took aim at them from the safety of his balcony whenever they started up a ruckus.
Of course, he lived here before the construction of the twin towers a block away began, so a few hours tranquility was a realistic possibility. Currently the noise – around the clock – from that site is basically "BANG" followed by an echoed "bang" about every 1.2 seconds, but there have been numerous variations to that pattern over the past two years. The essential sound is something like a hammer hitting a piece of corrugated iron, a useless, unproductive sort of noise that, given the pace of actual construction over the past two years, it may well actually be.
A crane fell off one of the towers some time ago, killing the poor driver, provoking several investigations (right!) and giving us all some sleep. Newspapers reported that locals had been complaining for some time about the late night noise, but when the construction started again, it was back on, twenty-four hours a day.
So it can’t be true that Thais don’t really notice noise (except for karaoke), nor that they are reluctant to complain about it. They complain. But bugger all gets done.
I wonder then, about the most recent neighbourhood development. Every evening for the past fortnight or so at 9pm a convoy of dump trucks arrives, engines roaring and axels squeaking, at the vacant block next to ours but one. Then they dump. Then they take their shovels and spread the dirt out. Think of somebody taking a sharp metal shovel and running its edge down a big rock, again and again, continuously, for around six or seven hours while you’re trying to sleep.
Last night I reached breaking point, and at 1.30am got out of bed after My Man refused to (well, he did offer to go down to Seven to buy some ear plugs). I prepared to storm down the road and demand that they shut up. Then I thought, wildly, that it would be preferable to just shout anonymously out the window instead. What I actually did was root around in the bathroom to find a crusty old pair of ear plugs before going right back to bed.
Now we live in a high-density neighbourhood, and it can’t be possible that I’m the only one being bugged by these midnight dumpers. Why isn’t anyone else complaining?
Hey, why aren’t I complaining? I’ve now called the tourist police because I knew they’d probably speak English. And I sounded silly.
"Um, they bring these trucks full of dirt, and they dump them, and then they spread the dirt out. But it’s loud. And, like, I can’t sleep." They said that they’ll take a look, bless ’em.
But if those trucks come back tonight, I think I’ll take my chances with an air conditioner.