Modernising an unplanned city of this size is a big task. Services are constructed, modified and bastardised to suit each person’s needs without any proper forethought or record keeping. Electricity is a nightmare of dangling cables, spliced and respliced a thousand times to disappear into the rabbit warren of twisting alleys and make-shift buildings they call a suburb. Water can be a low pressure lottery of uncertain purity. You sure as hell didn't drink it. Telephones lines are a rarity in the slums but it seems even beggars had a mobile phone.
We were bound to hit power and water every now and then. There’s no dial-before-you-dig number in Bangkok. The BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Authority) was supposed to tell us where their services ran but hard information was hard to pin down. After the services went in, freelance cowboys would reroute cables and pipes to suit anyone who paid them. We relied on guess work and luck not to hit anything.
Any services that were near us were sure to be found by the bloke operating the pile driver. Sheet pile cuts through just about anything if he pounds long enough. We got used to blacking out huge areas of the city.
In the nineties a large section of Bangkok didn't have sewerage at all. They eject all their waste into a system of klongs, (canals), which riddle the city like Venetian streets. As the tide ebbs and flows the waste is supposed to be flushed out to sea and fresh water takes its place. A workable affair for perhaps a third of the 15 million people who generate bodily and commercial waste every day.
Even without the overcrowding problem, the klongs were in trouble. They had silted up, been build over and around and not maintained. An impenetrable forest of shanties and skinny streets blocked equipment that needed to get in and clear them out. King tides would overrun the banks and flood large parts of the city, returning everything they had dumped into the canals previously. The city festered in its own shit.
Like it? See (PART 5) Coming Soon.