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.
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.