October 11, 2011
I was pretty tired of reading of all the stuff that was going on during these chaotic flooded days in Thailand and I started to wonder what was wrong with Thailand’s Karma after the city was set ablaze a year before, now it was be to be drowned in the masses of flood water approaching from the north. The media was likewise flooded in articles and commentaries about incompetence, finger pointing, corruption and political games. Only small islands of witty and sadly comical conclusions such this one by my favorite Bangkok Post columnist Voranai wrapped up the seriousness with at least some humor which was to be immediately shared via my Facebook update on Oct. 16, 2011
Artists became highly productive in sharing their sentiments of the situation and newspapers became the perfect outlet.
Throughout the whole time news remained unclear and contradictory leading from simple frowns to people being evacuated for now reasons. However satellite images spoke more than a million words and people got nervous, the flood was to come, but where? When? To what extend? Nobody knew but people knew that it was to be the biggest flood ever in the history of Thailand. It was a new type of Tsunami, the slowmotion version and it was there to stay for months. It threatened to turn Bangkok into an island, black putrid masses had already started to devour the outskirts of the megacity and threatened to cut it off from its neighbors. The mass exodus started, leaving us with the question to stay or leave? Leaving and coming back after a week would mean you’re back at square one since it was said the flood was to stay for months. Newspaper articles from Germany to Thailand like these ones “we do not what we are doing“, ‘why we loose’ “Kampf um Bangkok” (Fight/struggle for Bangkok) did everything but to reassure us that the situation was under control. With Doomsday as the proclaimed destiny for Bangkok were we to lean back and watch it happen or buzz off to a tropical beach and watch from afar?? Reliable information was as hard to find as mineral water at Seven Eleven and we decided that the answer whether to leave was NO! The first step for us was to get our own picture of the situation.
After seeing what people were up against and witnessing the commitment of countless volunteers we were ready to join in. http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2011/10/23/hancocks-thailand-flooding.cnn?hpt=hp_c1 After reading articles like “why we loose” it promts you even more to stay and help. None of us wanted to loose and watching things drifting into chaos was about loosing. My FB status update: October 23, 2011, 11:24a.m.
We wanted to set a different example, we wanted to make a difference in our own way, a small one of course, helping a few, somehow, somewhere, we didn’t know much except for the fact that we can help filling sandbags, donate to the relief centers or go out to the front lines and build sandbag walls. Phonecalls were made, information gathered, the usual suspects offered relief work opportunities: City Hall, Don Muang Airport, Red Cross, Thammasat Rangsit, Dusit Thani Hotel, BAAC, and others. We saw countless people giving and volunteers working their butts off but we wanted to help by doing something different thus we shifted our focus to fundraising. Donation boxes were all over the place and already lots of young people were on the streets asking for donations but for us sidelining the streets and preaching wasn’t enough anymore, we needed to be more creative and proactive in our approach. We didn’t have the means for a charity concert and we neither had the popular profile of a celebrity so we need something else. We discussed the possibility to take on jobs of Thai people working in public. If those jobs are done by foreigners like us it may draw more attention which could affect our fundraising in a good way. Then one morning, the phone rang and sometimes there are these phonecalls that alter the course of your life.
My life was already in a sort of high-speed level with teaching, university but first and foremost with bangkokvanguards which is Daniel’s, Christin’s and my passion. With bangkokvanguards, we were intensively working on supporting projects through community based walking tours which involved a friend’s social business and projects in Chinatown that aim to show visitors a different side of Bangkok whilst helping to preserve old traditional communities but all this was literally washed aside by events that would follow.
The phone buzzed, my friend Michael Stroemer was calling and the first words coming out from the phone were: Dude, how about going into the traffic and wiping windshields of cars to raise money? I’ve got 2-3 friends but is it actually legal? How about permissions?” The moment my brain connected -wiping windshields + fundraising- I immediately knew that was the idea and said: “Give a monkey about permissions, did the flood ask for permission?”
It felt as if I hung up and pressed the dial button at the same time, ringing up my team, Daniel, Josh and Aimi who were immediately sold.A day later, 10.30 a.m. Asoke intersection, one of Bangkok’s main traffic arteries cutting through the Sukhumvit corridor north-south. Its 6-lane width (one way) and 180 seconds red-light phase, made this intersection perfect for our first wipe. Our first wipe platoon: Claudia, Hendrik and Marco (coming with Stroemer bringing shirts, buckets and squeegees), my crew Aimi, Vincent, Joshua and Daniel (donation boxes and cameras to film)
At first we were unsure on how to start the action so we simply nose-dived into Bangkok’s notorious traffic and started dispersing into teams of wipers, donation boxes and people with cameras and we were stunned by how quickly people pulled down their windows to donate. The whole operation which was a bit shaky for the first few seconds turned into a flow of positive energy, smiles, thumb ups and “wais” (Thai greeting and thank you gestures).
The positive feedback, the genuine smiles, the encouragement, the good spirit that was delivered across and in between all these cars and their owners would often make us run from one car to the next to catch up with our donation boxes.
After an hour or so, we didn’t dare to think of how much money we raised. People of all colors, cultures and religions were in tune in their response to good action. It was the family, the kids, the grandma, the taxi-,tuktuk and truck driver, the plumber, office clerk, young and old, the students and the seniors we posed, chatted and laughed with. They shook hands, took pictures with their phones and i-pads or even tweeted us right away. It was in this festive microcosm between car-doors on a hot, sunny day in front of a stop-light in downtown Bangkok where cross-cultural obstacles and linguistic barriers were blasted away in support for a common cause.
The only group that appeared in not mood to celebrate this human connection were those who remained quiet behind the tinted windows of their BMW’s and Benz limousines with a few exceptions of course but it reaffirmed my suspicion that way too many of the rich remain outsiders to the real world. I wonder why that is?
.Standing by the street side, briefly reflecting and watching my team storming into the traffic jam reminded me of a flashmob style military operation thus the codename “Wipe the Tide” came into being and it ignited something that from that day onwards it would roll on and carry everyone along. The final count of that day was 27,748 Baht with 9 people in less than 2 hours.
Even for me, grown up between Germany and Thailand it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. For those new to Thailand it is the best welcome to Thai culture, a one and only experience, an insight to the awesomeness of Thai people.
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The first wipe was the igniter, igniting something that to this day of writing steamrolls ahead carrying along everyone who gets in touch with it.