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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Klongs - Thai waterways and reflections of her people

As a book reviewer, I read at least one book every week. There are not many that I find totally fascinating, but “Klongs - Thai waterways and reflections of her people (ISBN 978-974-452-756-1, Bangkok Book House, 2008) was so interesting, I changed my schedule so I could continue reading.
There have been other books looking at the klongs of Bangkok (once called the Venice of the East), but none executed the way author Pamela Hamburger has done. This book is not just photographs of the region, but recounts the lives of the people who live there, in their own words.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, relating to the klongs the author has researched. All the way through each chapter there are maps to show the reader just where they are.
The different klongs are microcosms of the rest of Thailand, with the klong communities being either Muslim, Thai Buddhist, Christian or based on a particular industry, such as making ceremonial bowls. Some of the families have been involved in this for 200 years. Mirroring what has happened in the upcountry Thailand, the younger people no longer want to put in the hard yards in the family business, and have drifted away, making for an aging population in the klongs, many of whom were interviewed being over 80 years of age. Being of that age, they also remember the war, and the bombing which used to occur. Most of the klong residents are also very superstitious and getting the monks in to rid a house of unwanted spirits is commonplace.
I found it interesting that although most families owned their own house, they had to pay rent for the land under the house - even though it is water. The landlord is generally the Department of Religious Affairs and rent under B. 1,000 per year.
Klong houses are also high maintenance dwellings, with the poles requiring replacing every few years, and with the rising water levels in the klongs, most houses have to be raised as well. One of the reasons for the rise in the water level has been the wholesale filling in of many of the old klongs. The water volume has to go somewhere! The water quality has also suffered. Most of the long term residents describing crystal clear water in which they used to catch fish and prawns at night, and were able to do their laundry in the klong as well. Pollution has changed all that.
At B. 995 for this glossy cover book, it is a bargain. You will learn more about traditional Thai values from the first-hand accounts in this book than you ever will from the plethora of publications purporting to teach the foreigner all about Thai customs and culture. It was, as I stated at the beginning of this review, a totally fascinating book. If you have any real interest in understanding the people who have made us welcome as aliens in a foreign land, then you too will find “Klongs - Thai waterways and reflections of her people” as fascinating as I have done.