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What the River Knows: Chao Phraya River

In this series, “What the River Knows,”  artist and water activist Basia Irland writes from the perspective of each river, using the first person. Installments are published in Water Currents every other week on Mondays. The first post is about the Ping River in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Other posts include the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok; Kamo-gawa River, Kyoto; Siem Reap River, Cambodia; Yaqui River, Mexico, where the eight Yaqui tribal villages do not have water due to agricultural corporations; the superfund site on the Eagle River in Colorado, polluted with heavy metal runoff from a mine; and the Virgin River as it flows through Zion National Park.

Please feel free to add your comments at the end of each post.

Thai: แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา

Bangkok, Thailand–Here in the heart of busy, bustling, Bangkok, I am an urban working river with constant traffic of long heavily laden cargo barges pulled by tug-boats chugging slowly upriver. Speedy water taxies (known as longtails) zip across my spine from dock to dock. Wooden sampans speak of days gone by. Every day jam-packed ferries transport thousands of passengers including school children, commuters, monks, visitors, and families.

 

Barge pulling backhoe. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)
Barge pulling backhoe. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)

 

Along my banks I witness ritzy hotels with tourists getting foot massages by the swimming pool. New high-rise buildings stand next to rickety old wooden warehouses. Saffron-robed monks sit in prayer at enormous temples glittering with gold leaf. I have a close-up view of the multi-colored tile-covered spire (prang) of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) located on my west bank.

I feed a system of canals (khlongs), which reflect a more traditional Siam, a less-hurried way of life. Coconuts, rice, noodles, and bananas are sold from floating kitchens. Laundry drying in the sun hangs out from wooden shacks over the water, children bathing below. Frail men and women haul in catfish. And my canals fan out to irrigate numerous rice paddies.

 

Produce sold from floating market. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)
Produce sold from floating market. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)  

4. Floating market with catfish in foreground

Catfish up close and personal. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)
Catfish up close and personal. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)

 

My tidal flow is evident by the islands of hyacinth either floating upstream or down depending on the tide. On many rivers around the world water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a problematic invasive weed that can impact flow and degrade my quality. This plant consumes oxygen, thereby killing aquatic life, and stops sunlight from getting to native water plants. The rapid-growing hyacinth also provides a breeding ground for mosquitos and a snail that is host to parasites, which can cause the water-borne disease, schistosomiasis, in both animals and humans. In an attempt to be pro-active, efforts are being made in Bangkok to use the hyacinth as a natural form of wastewater treatment, which is a way to begin to clean up the parts of me that get polluted through human and industrial waste. Also, this plant is now being recycled into the form of baskets, furniture and flip-flops.

 

Floating hyacinth and plastic. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)
Floating hyacinth and plastic. (Photograph by Basia Irland and Derek Irland.)

 

A quieter atmosphere settles in as nighttime arrives. There is less traffic and slower boats ply tourists along under canopies of lanterns. Lights are also reflected on my surface from bridges and buildings as I move toward the Gulf of Thailand to join the sea, my journey of 231 miles (372 km) ending.

Basia Irland is a sculptor, poet, and installation artist who has focused her creativity on rivers for 30 years. Her aim is to connect people to their local waters and watersheds in ways that will motivate concern, caring, appreciation, and stewardship. You may read more about her and her work on her website.

Comments

  1. Danielle Patton
    Nijmegen, the Netherlands
    April 24, 2015, 6:29 am

    It is beautiful how one river can connect all of its surroundings and be the focal point for human life. Basia Irland tells us a story from the river’s point of view, which is beautiful to imagine. Water taxes transport children, commuters, monks, visitors, and families down the river. Also down the canal, “floating kitchens” transport many goods to feed the people traveling in water taxes. The ritzy hotels and rickety warehouses look out on the river (and vis versa). These homes are the backyard of the river just as the river is the backyard of the homes. It is human nature to feel an individual responsibility to take care of what’s close to us, as we should. Basia’s lyrical post about the Chao Phraya River reminds me of our connection to the river and strengthens my responsibility to show stewardship to our rivers. So thank you, Basia.

  2. Danielle Patton
    Nijmegen, the Netherlands
    April 24, 2015, 6:27 am

    3. It is beautiful how one river can connect all of its surroundings and be the focal point for human life. Basia Irland tells us a story from the river’s point of view, which is beautiful to imagine. Water taxes transport children, commuters, monks, visitors, and families down the river. Also down the canal, “floating kitchens” transport many goods to feed the people traveling in water taxes. The ritzy hotels and rickety warehouses look out on the river (and vis versa). These homes are the backyard of the river just as the river is the backyard of the homes. It is human nature to feel an individual responsibility to take care of what’s close to us, as we should. Basia’s lyrical post about the Chao Phraya River reminds me of our connection to the river and strengthens my responsibility to show stewardship to our rivers.

  3. Alvin Boyd Newman-Caro
    Dayton, Ohio
    April 9, 2015, 9:24 pm

    Isn’t it crazy how animals, plants, and people gather around a river. It amazes me how powerful and influential a river can be. Your writing is inspiring. The way you described life around the Chao Phraya River blew me away. It was relieving to hear Bangkok is doing their best to preserve the river and use hyacinth to their advantage. Thank you.

  4. Samantha Palko
    Dayton, OH
    April 8, 2015, 6:00 pm

    It is fascinating to view the world from a river’s perspective. Viewing our impact on our rivers from this perspective promotes an attitude of stewardship and appreciation. Whether we live in “ritzy hotels” or “rickety old wharehouses,” we are all dependent on our rivers for drinking water, transportation, and irrigation. Therefore, we all have an important role in promoting and protecting our water resources.

  5. Erin Fox
    Dayton, OH
    April 8, 2015, 10:36 am

    It is good to hear that Bangkok is being pro-active and trying to use the hyacinth as a natural form of wastewater treatment. Hopefully these recycling practices will be continued to be used in other places too.

  6. Charlotte Shade
    Dayton, OH
    April 7, 2015, 4:23 pm

    It’s amazing how many different forms of life can gather around one river! This is a truly great piece demonstrating how our waterways are the main focus in which we all revolve around. It makes you stop and think about how your life (no matter where you are), is affecting the world around you.

  7. Betty Hahn
    Western USA
    March 20, 2015, 7:54 pm

    So glad to know NatGeo is letting the rivers speak for themselves. I have become more and more aware of how fragile the world’s rivers are. They look so tough when you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls but
    follow them for their entire length and we see how many obstacles and dangers they encounter.

  8. Stanly Steinberg
    Albuquerque NM
    March 12, 2015, 1:08 am

    I find the river’s view of itself very interesting.

  9. Bruce Milne
    New Mexico
    March 4, 2015, 6:01 pm

    I am a bird flying along the Rio Grande. I am traveling to my summer grounds further north, like a nomad. My breakfast of minnows at San Acacia took me to Belen where a lunch of snails and crayfish along the bank reminded me of my childhood when my mother taught me where to find the fresh, live food in the river. I’m sure my bird-cousins along your banks share much with those of us here. Be well and be grateful for the abundance around you.

  10. Monica Rempen
    New Mexico
    March 3, 2015, 6:18 pm

    I know this river, though she wouldn’t remember me. One of the many tourists passing through Bangkok one summer a life time ago. I remember the floating markets, the laundry, the flowers, and the mosquitos. She allowed me a glimps of a life that touched my heart from “longtail” to “longtail”
    and, I never thought about her – just what she provided.
    Chao Phraya – I am glad to now know your name.
    Thank you, Basia!

  11. Michele Minnis
    United States
    March 3, 2015, 12:22 pm

    How enlightening to hear and see the river’s perspective! We people, children and grownups everywhere, can learn and experience so much through this blog. What a grace to have it. Thank you, Basia Irland.

  12. Bobbe Besold
    United States
    March 2, 2015, 11:08 pm

    Hello dear Chao Phraya River, it sounds as though your humans are trying to keep you clean and flowing, which is good news! Thank you for being. I send you love and blessings from New Mexico, where we are fighting to keep our last free flowing river free from dams. The Gila.