Friday, finally! The other day, my taxi forgot to turn into my soi (road) on my way to school. I was early already, so I decided to walk the rest of the way after I got out of the taxi. It's no more than a kilometer from the main road to the school, but there's one side street on the way that is very narrow, and dangerous for pedestrians.
Instead of walking down that road, I decided to go what I hoped was a shortcut. I always see construction workers coming from that small soi. This means they must live down there somewhere. I also see the same uniformed workers walking out of a canal entrance in front of our school. So, i put two and two together hoping that the four I got was a shortcut to work!
I walked down the small soi, no cars, one bicycle and many workers passed me. It wound around several high-priced properties with nice, big houses built on them and hidden from the outside by thick, cement walls. As I got to where I thought the little canal should be, I found where all of the construction workers were coming from.
In Thailand, this is on par with what they call "slum" or the very poor area where people, many who are selling their food in carts on the sides of the road or selling flowers in the streets, etc., live. But this is not a permanent slum, it's placed somewhere near a construction site and pretty much stays there, with hundreds of construction workers living there for as long as the construction site is ongoing.If you see a high rise or new building going up, you can guarantee that there is a construction worker slum somewhere nearby. When I first got to Thailand and worked at our Rangsit campus, there was such a slum next to our school, where our golf range would eventually be built. I saw the workers every day. I hear that many of them are illegal immigrants from Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia and Laos. If their homes (I don't like the term slum really) are farther away from the work site, they are stuffed, and I man STUFFED, into the back of pickup trucks like sardines and driven to site.
It's not uncommon to see a truck, normal size pickup, filled with 25 workers, dark leathery skin hardened by years working under the Bangkok sun, rarely smiling. I'm sure the wage is near nothing. I mean, for example, a 7-11 worker will make about 5,000 baht per month in salary, or around $150 per month. These laborers can't be making even half of that I don't think...I've never asked. Another funny thing is that it seems like immigration and the police (traffic police) seem to just ignore them. There are many laws being broken but seriously, construction would take a HUGE hit if they started cracking down on the illegal workers...also, condo prices would skyrocket as the companies would have to pay Thais more to do the same jobs as the illegals...a couple reasons why I think these workers are allowed to work under tha radar of authorities.
The workers aren't only men either. There are an equal number of men and women working on construction sites and living in these makeshift homes, made of a wooden frame and tin sheets. If they're lucky, they will have a string of lights also. When they were building the badminton facility next to our apartment, the workers would bathe right under our window, using big bins and barrels of water, men and women bathing out in the open, together. I've watched grown men and women together, in shorts (not fully naked) pouring water on themselves, shoving a bar of soap down their pants to get all sudsy, then rinse with another bucket or ladle or water, almost like they are bathing in shifts actually, a constant stream of worker as the sun is going down. Right as I got used to it, the badminton structure took full shape and I couldn't see them anymore.
I do hear that once the building begins to take shape, these workers are sometimes allowed to live in the skeleton of a room until such time perhaps when the decorating and furnishing starts. I've seen this in several buildings on our soi, on the way to the gym.
So, a different side of Thailand, in this case, sometimes hidden, sometimes right there for everyone to see. I found it though, and right past this slum was my canal, inaccessible thanks to a high wooden fence...but luckily, there were two panels busted out of the fence. A hop skip and jump later, I was at school, ready to go!!