Things just ain’t the same / any time the hunter gets captured by the game

In the 24 months I’ve lived Bangkok I’ve had to deal with two nation­al — I guess this is the most appro­pri­ate word — cat­a­stro­phes, although in both, to date, I’ve not suf­fered physically.

The first, in the ear­li­er half of 2010, was the ini­tial­ly most­ly peace­ful occu­pa­tion of sev­er­al cen­tral parts of the city by 50,000+ Red Shirt sup­port­ers, fol­lowed by a descent into the armed con­fronta­tion, fires and hor­ri­ble blood­shed that shook us all at the time. It was geo­graph­i­cal­ly near to us, although not that close in such a huge city, and despite the garbage in the for­eign media at no time did we feel at all unsafe — how­ev­er it was still hap­pen­ing in my city, in places I know well and regard as home, places I vis­it and pass through all the time. And, yes it was emo­tion­al­ly har­row­ing and exhausting.

I, like many who were lucky enough not to have been in the direct line of fire, per­haps did­n’t realise quite how much so until a few weeks after­wards — hav­ing told our fam­i­lies and friends all was fine all the way through.

I blogged about it here and here.

And now, begin­ning some 14 months after the fires, we have these floods — var­i­ous­ly tout­ed here as the worst in 50 years, and the worst ever.

Whichev­er it is, and with­out mak­ing any wider claims about cli­mate change, there is no doubt these are annu­al­ly get­ting fiercer and more regular.

It’s an odd stale­mate at the moment. The waters seem stalled at the fast flow­ing and capac­i­ty filled Klong Bang Sue (pro­nounced Baang Seu for the ben­e­fit of the wag­gish) with only a few drib­bles — in rel­a­tive terms — find­ing their way a few metres south towards the expans­es and tow­ers of cen­tral Din Daeng, and heav­i­ly built up north of Vic­to­ry Mon­u­ment zones that most­ly sig­ni­fy the start of the inner Bangkok ‘burbs.

As with almost every nat­ur­al cat­a­stroph­ic event (or, real­ly, any event) of the last 36 months or more, social media has dri­ven the report­ing and news flow. In both instances here the tra­di­tion­al news reportage and the out­lets for that — TV, news­pa­per, radio — have been left behind scur­ry­ing around to add quick­ly dat­ed past data to their increas­ing­ly irrel­e­vant online, paper, and — with one excep­tion in Thai­land this time — broad­cast outlets.

What has real­ly hit me this time is the way the social con­ver­sa­tions have mutat­ed too, in just over a year. Pro­found­ly — both struc­tural­ly and in content.

Twit­ter has increas­ing usurped Face­book, despite the fact that in Bangkok alone some 8 mil­lion plus peo­ple have FB accounts and this time around lit­tle of impor­tance — at least in the Eng­lish lan­guage which of course is a major pro­vi­so in Thai­land, but it can be per­haps judged by how much activ­i­ty is on Twit­ter in Thai and by the fact that any site of any note in the Thai lan­guage sec­tor is being either dual-lan­guaged, or linked to in the Eng­lish dis­course — seems to be on Zucker­berg’s mon­ster aside from pri­vate chat and the usu­al bar­rage of phone images.

So, yes Twit­ter is it, and Twit­ter is being con­tin­u­al­ly linked to at least a dozen semi-live Google maps includ­ing the very use­ful one on the Bangkok Metro Admin­is­tra­tion flood site (in Thai, but with Google trans­la­tor that’s no bar­ri­er) which also links to a range of oth­er data such includ­ing the huge­ly impor­tant live klong (canal) lev­els feed, and the defin­i­tive one from a retired French army topog­ra­ph­er, @thaikamala, and updat­ed every hour or so.

They all show an almost stag­nant front­line (and stag­nant it will be as the water recedes — yeekk) over the past few days despite the end­less naysay­ers preach­ing and pray­ing for obliv­ion and ‘equal pain’ for the city south.

And that is where, too, Twit­ter has changed.

In 2010 it made sense to fol­low sev­er­al key peo­ple, most espe­cial­ly a few key reporters and adven­tur­ous, brave (read: often insane) free­lancers. They fired a con­stant string of instant news reports in less than 140 char­ac­ters which pro­vid­ed a con­tin­u­ous news and infor­ma­tion stream often 24 hours ahead of the print­ed medi­ums, which seemed to remain large­ly obliv­i­ous of the par­a­digm shift.

The print­ed medi­um is still as irrel­e­vant as it was in 2010 this time around but the infor­ma­tion flow dri­ving Twit­ter no longer comes from the peo­ple who may work for, or have some con­nec­tion to a tra­di­tion­al MSM base.

I’m no longer fol­low­ing a list, but, instead, depen­dent on a hash­tag. Tags are noth­ing new, we all use them dai­ly — to search and fol­low or cre­ate trends. And yep, I used tags to nar­row or search last time around, but this was com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that there was no defined sin­gle tag and thus we had a con­fu­sion of #s which seem to mul­ti­ply almost daily.

The sto­ry has changed this: in 2010 the sto­ry was dri­ven by key play­ers and deci­sion mak­ers and localised in a series of key loca­tions, thus reporters and news­folk had access that the rest could not hope to have and the role of the mass Twit­terati was to just fire crowd-sourced tweets of hap­pen­ing events as they tran­spired, along­side the inevitable raft of opin­ions, the­o­ry and asides.

2011 is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent beast. We have a huge mass of almost uncon­trol­lable water, many bil­lions of litres, bear­ing down on one of the most pop­u­lat­ed urban areas on the planet.

The gov­ern­ment, both local and nation­al, have — for a vari­ety of rea­sons — for all their mixed efforts, time and time again been cast aside by the bru­tal force of a sod­den moth­er nature as it moves down towards the sea, fol­low­ing the paths of least resistance.

Repeat­ed­ly, over and over, gov­ern­ment has made promis­es to both Thai­land and to the glob­al indus­tries and stock mar­kets — caus­ing glob­al eco­nom­ic tur­moil that will go deep into 2012 — that it has­n’t been able to keep.

These have come back to bite a young gov­ern­ment — per­haps unfair­ly, but bite bad­ly it does, and the polit­i­cal endgame is going to play out long after the floods have gone.

This means, how­ev­er, that many of the deci­sions and much of the pub­lic momen­tum, aside from evac­u­a­tions and the final semi-suc­cess­ful mas­sive bar­ri­er, cou­pled with pumps, laid across the north of cen­tral and east Bangkok, have been large­ly stripped out of the hands and head­quar­ters of officialdom.

The sto­ry, instead, has come from peo­ple in the front line, both in the floods and await­ing the water. All fif­teen mil­lion or so of us.

And that’s tak­en the essen­tial Twit­ter source away from those lists of insid­ers to the much wider world defined by the tags #thai­flood, in Thai, and #thai­flood­eng, for we Eng­lish speakers.

Both tags also seemed to have estab­lished them­selves in Twit­ter­stan with­out deci­sion or for­mal pro­to­col and then were organ­i­cal­ly adopt­ed. Nobody decid­ed — offi­cial­ly that is — that these tags were to become the con­ver­sa­tion pit and news zone for the floods. They sim­ply did and they’ve become all pervasive.

They’ve become com­mu­ni­ties. Nat­u­ral­ly, #thai­flood is some­where I rarely go for obvi­ous rea­sons, but #thai­flood­eng has been run­ning in my saved tags almost con­tin­u­ous­ly for the last three weeks at least.

I like it, find it invalu­able — and I hate it.

The reg­u­lar sub­scribers and tweet­ers (of which I’m not one — I lurk, absorb and derive infor­ma­tion — expa­tria the world over ter­ri­fies me most­ly) have obvi­ous per­son­al­i­ties — some pos­i­tive, some neg­a­tive and all devel­op­ing as the days and weeks pass.

There are the angry folk — many pissed off that they’re hav­ing to deal with up to two metres of water out­side or down­stairs. You feel their pain but there are a few — more than a few — who are keen to see any­one who has­n’t had to suf­fer, most espe­cial­ly those of us in the parts of Bangkok which remain dry, despite the fair­ly obvi­ous fact that trash­ing the cen­tral infra­struc­ture of the nation and the cap­i­tal not going to reduce their pain, nor is it going to be help­ful as the nation recov­ers from the per­son­al and eco­nom­ic pain that these things cause.

There are the stir crazy, stuck in an increas­ing­ly skanky watery world that seems to have no near end. Ratio­nal­i­ty seems to have become more and more, as the days become weeks, sub­sumed by anger and irra­tional­i­ty. Some have become pro­gres­sive­ly worse, lash­ing out at oth­ers they see as more for­tu­nate, as time pass­es. It hurts to watch.

There are a few who are just plain nasty — they hate Thai­land, they hate Asia, they hate every­thing. Most­ly they just pol­lute the forums of Thai Visa but this seems to have offered anoth­er vehi­cle for their odi­ous­ness. Their pro­files are most­ly anonymous.

Then there is the woman who writes a rea­son­ably good food blog, albeit on the con­ser­v­a­tive side. Her ear­li­er tweets were help­ful and pos­i­tive, although the afore­men­tioned nas­ties jumped on her and accused her of try­ing to push traf­fic to her blog, to which the obvi­ous response was, yes, so what…

Sad­ly as the waters sur­round­ed her place, she increas­ing­ly slipped into the mode of the angry folk, clam­our­ing to see the whole uni­verse swamped with a metre of water and to hell with it. They deserve it too.

A shame.

There are end­less key­board pun­dits.  Opin­ions, con­spir­a­cies, counter opin­ions, some of inter­est, some less so, some cau­tious­ly expressed, some less so. Unin­formed — most­ly — arm­chair pun­dits espouse the­o­ries on water flows/physics/religion/politics/grand plans/climatology/water barriers/chemistry and just about any­thing else.

Fil­ter­ing the dis­in­for­ma­tion and noise from any­thing more worth­while has, or at least is until you quick­ly work out who’s who, become a time-con­sum­ing skill.

Yuro­Fukurou’s user-friend­ly block­ing fil­ters are work­ing overtime.

This group has a large noisy sub-group: those who end­less­ly mock the cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter and her gov­ern­ment — because we know that they would’ve done so very much better.…

Blam­ing a gov­ern­ment who were only just being sworn in as the waters forced their way south seems to be de rigour for many, echo­ing the litany of vit­ri­olic columns in the strong­ly anti-incum­bent dai­ly rag The Nation.

*to clar­i­fy — and cov­er my butt here: I’m not tak­ing a pro or anti any­one stance  — I view Thai pol­i­tics as an inter­est­ed but con­fused non-par­ti­san observer*

And there are, by a mar­gin, the plain help­ful (lest I be accused of broad­sid­ing all the, lit­er­al­ly, thou­sands who have post­ed to the tag) includ­ing a small group of ded­i­cat­ed ama­teurs (or not quite so ama­teur — think­ing of the tire­less work of Richard Bar­row, a trav­el blog­ger, who has lit­er­al­ly cycled his way around the city tweet­ing reports dai­ly as he goes) who have post­ed and report­ed news in a fair­ly ded­i­cat­ed way and giv­en us the dai­ly sto­ries — cru­cial as the water seemed unstop­pable — that much of the city was depend­ing on.

An extra­or­di­nar­i­ly mov­ing series of tweets today told the sto­ry of a Mus­lim fam­i­ly whose two-year-old had just drowned. They were unable to bury the tod­dler with­in 24 hours as required as the ceme­tery was underwater.

Giv­en the flow, dom­i­nance, pre­cise­ness and imme­di­a­cy of news online from non-tra­di­tion­al sources it’s less than sur­pris­ing that — Eng­lish lan­guage at least, the two dai­ly papers have, after a brief attempt ear­ly on, set­tled in an almost numbed min­i­mal­ist report­ing phase, offer­ing lit­tle more than reit­er­a­tions of press releas­es and recount­ing the opin­ions cast else­where by informed oth­ers. The Nation has moved its pri­ma­ry focus back to its ongo­ing semi-obses­sive agen­da of crit­i­cis­ing the new gov­ern­ment what­ev­er it does, includ­ing this week relent­less attacks on Yingluck for plan­ning atten­dance at the long sched­uled APEC Con­fer­ence, and then — a day lat­er — for can­celling the trip (Hillary is com­ing to her instead), whilst The Bangkok Post seems to have more or less giv­en up full stop, revert­ing to the stock mar­ket and the odd trav­el sto­ry and restau­rant review.

The evening on-line flur­ry of news updates (writ­ten I assume as they pre­pare the next day’s print edi­tion) attempt­ing to catch up on a day which they’ve most­ly missed seen some­how sad and only under­line how much they’ve abdi­cat­ed — unwill­ing­ly or even unknow­ing­ly as is the way with most dai­ly press world­wide — their news role to the amateurs.

Instead, the night­ly PBS broad­casts (in both Thai and Eng­lish) fea­tur­ing Dr. Seri Suparathit of Rangsit Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­tre on Cli­mate Change and Dis­as­ter, an easy, well spo­ken well-regard­ed Asian expert on nat­ur­al dis­as­ters (the Japan­ese involved him post-Tsuna­mi) have become a nation­al must watch and the pro­fes­sor has become the first super­star of the floods — his words are eager­ly and instant­ly dis­sect­ed by twit­ter & talk radio.

He is the ONLY one I trust” wrote one tweet­er on #thai­flood­eng — undoubt­ed­ly helped by the fact that he seems to have more of a pre­dic­tive under­stand­ing of the day to day progress of the waters than any­one the gov­ern­ment agen­cies seem able to produce.

There’ll soon be Seri T‑shirts in the mar­kets if they’re not there already.

The pic­tures on this page were tak­en yes­ter­day at Lad Prao Junc­tion, Chatuchak Park, Bang Sue Klong at both Ratcha­da and just south of Chatuchak.

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