Bangkok, sketching around Wat Payurawongsawas

March 14, 2013

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A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook, graphite pencil and watercolor.

I left my hotel in Si Lom around 6.30am and got on the skyrail at Sala Daeng to arrive at Saphan Taksin/Taksin Bridge by the river via around 7am. This is practically the southern most edge of Modern Bangkok on the main river bank. Saturday morning, the ferry runs less often so got out at Saphan Phut (Stop #6) or Phut Bridge, around 7.40, having left Taksin at 7.25. I was the only person standing on the ferry, it was so empty at this hour! to get to the Wat meant alighting at Saphan Phut then walking over a big bridge/expressway known as Memorial Bridge. The walk was quicker than I thought.

With time to spare before the official opening of the event at 8.30am, I wandered the district around the Wat Prayurawongsawas, since there was only a handful of streets to negotiate. The big white Wat completes dominates the small suburb. I was able to take in the morning market near the bridge over the canal in the vicinity, Klong Wat P., which sold food and clothes, a right regular Asian morning market. Someone had left a big bowl or rice out for the local cats and dogs. I returned to the wat via a back lane leading to the ramp for cars going over Memorial Bridge.

The lane was full of washed clothes drying in the sun. The northern end was a mass of shanty houses made of scrap wood and corrugated iron. I’d seen such destitution only once before – the homeless under the expressways in the area called Riverside -, but at least these locals had a roof over their head. Feeling bad about the possibility of sketching this, I moved down the lane of single-storey concrete cottages and found this tiny group of much older, wooden teak houses with large eaves and traditional shuttered windows.

Above is the second of the two half-hour sketches, showing washing detergent bottle and drying trousers (lower right). In Bangkok you’ve got the constant contrasting smells of drain water and floral detergent, mixed in with the jasmine and other flowers I was used to in Indonesia. Below the majestic wooden eaves and shuttered windows are lean-tos made of corrugated iron. Door-to-door sellers wandered by, housewives came out to see what I was up to, a group of kids babbled approval in Thai (thumbs up indicated they liked what I was doing).  Apart from the vivid dark timber, colour rested with the fire hydrants outside each of the houses.

Uppermost in my mind today was a local newspaper report about Thailand having the deepest social inequality of any country in the world; I suppose I was contrasting today’s destitution with the incredibly elaborate and well-to-do Buddhist expo along the very long length of Th. Na Phra That near the Grand Palace, or the incredibly opulent international hotels on the river at Riverside. I can hardly point the finger when a country town in NSW, only several hundred kilometres from Sydney where I live, has the highest per capita rate of violence in world. Even America, the freest country in the world, arms its citizens with military rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Below is the first half-hour sketch. You can see where I started running out of space with the elaborate roofline. In front of the parked car, I included the morning’s clothes washing and washing utensils. There was no way I was going to be able to capture, in the time available, the elaborate nature of the teak woodwork and cope with the heavy shade under the eaves. I’d seen a few old teak wood buildings like this in the days before, but I was delighted to be able to find the time to draw one.

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