The forgotten people

Perhaps it's too easy to ignore the plight of the city's homeless?

Sometimes at night as I go to bed in the comfort of my Bangkok condo, I glance in curiosity out of the window to a piece of wasteland adjacent to my building. There, amidst the unruly shrubbery, discarded wood, rubbish and stray dogs, appears to live a man.

I have watched the gradual construction of this man's ‘home' over several months. Initially nothing more than a few wooden planks cobbled together, it now has at least the appearance of a proper shelter. He has acquired a waterproof cover, no doubt scavenged from the rubbish dumped in the land around him, and has erected a small wooden barrier around him: a kind of garden fence, if you will. Sometimes I see him, bearded and bare footed, taking pride in this home of his, clearing away the discarded rubbish around him.

Distribution of wealth

Now I know nothing of this man's story, where he's from, how he came to Bangkok and why he has hit such hard times. But he has made me reflect on one truth that most Farangs, including myself, choose not to dwell on too much while we live in this city, and that is the enormous disparities in wealth evident here.

There is no getting away from it, whilst far from rich and having to watch my budget, I live a comfortable existence in this city. I live in a modern condo apartment, with air conditioning, 24-hour security and even have access to a swimming pool and fitness suite, luxuries I couldn't dream of back in England.

Yet walking on the streets of Bangkok - which lets face it many richer Thais rarely have to trouble themselves with anyway - reveals a truth a world away from the huge shopping malls and sealed off condominiums. 

The levels of poverty can be quite shocking to Western eyes, or these ones anyway. And I'm not just talking about those supposed ‘professional' beggars that you see, who are invariably disabled and often located near to BTS stations.

A tough life indeed

Stroll along any sois and it is not uncommon at all to see men, wild hair unwashed, shoeless and half-naked, scavenge in overflowing bins. Drug addicts, unfortunate immigrants or just plain poor, it is hard to tell, but pitiful all the same.

Walking to an MRT station on my return from work once, I saw a homeless man crouched down low, his filthy T-shirt pulled tight over his knees. I was puzzled and instinctively glanced at him, but the man avoided eye contact. It was only when I turned around a few seconds later that I realised what he was doing: defecating on the street, in front of a shop.

My initial thoughts were those of revulsion, then I confess, of using the incident as a piece of toilet humour to regale people with: the story would certainly entertain my friends back home. But I found myself over days later reflecting on it further, and just feeling pity for him. There are no public toilets here, such as we find back in the UK. The shopping malls are presumably off limits for someone like him.

I know little of charity provision for homeless people in Bangkok, but I imagine apart from the Buddhist temples, there is very little. Put simply, maybe this man had no choice but to answer his call of nature where he did.

Unsavoury reality

Bangkok, in short, can be a wonderful place if you have money. For what we would consider a pittance, you can travel from air-conditioned home, via air-conditioned transport to air-conditioned shopping mall, where you can take in a meal, film - pretty much what entertainment you fancy - for a cheap price. 

Rich Thais, and some really are very rich, buy the finest in Western consumer goods, pay for the best schools for their children and live in lavish houses, with servants on hand to look after their every whim. They go everywhere by car, and perhaps have no need to confront themselves with the unsavoury reality at street level.

But reality it is. It strikes me that Bangkok can be a relentlessly hard city for those more unfortunate, especially those who find themselves homeless, stuck in a concrete jungle with the sun beating down and no one seemingly too bothered about what will become of them.

As for that man living near my condo, I sometimes ponder on whether I should seek him out one day, and maybe help him out a little, even if it is just 100 baht for him to buy a meal that evening. I'm yet to do so, perhaps demonstrating I'm just another one of the more fortunate preferring to keep a less savoury truth out of sight and out of mind.

Adam Beardsmore


Comments

Thumbs Up! How true that homelessness in Thailand may be true destitution, but it ain't kind in Western environments either. Plus the cold.

By William, Australia (3 years ago)

Adam,

Your article spurred me to respond and I've referred to your article in my blog:

http://daninasia.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/homelessness-in-thailand/

By Dan, Chiang Mai (3 years ago)

Thank you to those who have made kind comments about the article. Dan, you are very welcome to include a link to this article on your website.

I suppose my piece was not necessarily a 'call to arms', but more designed to provoke thought and debate amongst other people. I too often ponder what, if anything, could be done to help people like this.

Part of me fears the problem is very complex and not as simple as throwing money at in a misguided, though benevolent way. I have spoken to some Thai people about this issue in the past few days, and what many of them insist to me is that often the homeless people are either drug addicts or alcoholics, Giving them money simply isn't he answer, according to them.

They also say there is help out there through homeless charities and the temples, but I simply do not know enough about this. It would be interesting to know if there are any drug/alcohol rehabilitation centres out there that can be accessed. Perhaps inspiration for my next article...





By Adam Beardsmore, Bangkok (3 years ago)

This is truly a great thing in the making. I would like to congratulate Adam Beardsmore for bringing this awareness to me and probably countless of other people of all nationalities and religions. I would also at the same time not challenge Adam but ask him to consider starting a realistic and verifiable and easy charity to help these people as in this article. Once again my hat goes off to you Adam. I believe Jim, Dan and Tom may even be willing to contribute to a worthy cause. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance. I'm not rich but I have a heart to help others when ever possible.

By Donald Patnaude, Thailand (3 years ago)

Adam,

May I include a link to your article in my blog on homelessness in Thailand?

Kind regards,
Dan

By Dan, Chiang Mai (3 years ago)

Being able to step outside yourself and look reality in the face is a sign of maturity and compassion. I suppose it is no different than anywhere else in that people who profess to follow this religion or that are really only paying lip-service to make themselves feel good and other self interested ulterior motives. A true Buddhist simply wouldn't stand for it.

By Tom, Canada (3 years ago)

Great article. Homelessness out here differs so much from that which we have back in the UK. The 'Killing With Kindness' campaign in London highlights giving to an entasked charity for rough sleepers rather than giving them money thus keeping them enslaved by their addictions. Theoretically-speaking, they then access projects whereby their needs can be properly assessed and addressed accordingly.

Out here though, where does someone go for help? In the West, there is so much help available but people here are utterly destitute.

I'd love to get involved with a project helping people just like the guy in the article.

By Dan, Chiang Mai (3 years ago)

Giving a helping hand is the best thing you can/should do. I have been here going on 13 years. I have had my sure of problems over the years (mainly health related) but getting better as each day passes. I had witnessed exactly the same thing about 6-months ago on the Thonburi side of the river. It would be nice if some caring Farangs would try to create a group or charity or something like this and try to make a difference to people like him. I am not wealthy but always willing to lend a hand.

By Donald Patnaude, Thailand (3 years ago)

Brilliant article , I think you should drop him some dough one day , sometimes we don't know what a difference a bit of help can make.

By jim, england (3 years ago)

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