My hometown is an "industrial city" located in the East. However, my childhood was far from the city life. Kids in the market called me "rice paddy boys" while those like myself called them "market boys".
When I was young, apart from playing outside, I would sit and watch the stream from the small canal in front of my house. Gazing at the endless stream, sometimes I would throw a leaf into the stream and watch it drift away. I would imagine where those leaves ended up, wondering how far they would travel.
The tide rose in the evening and fell in the morning. During the rainy season, the water level in the canal rose drastically. Sometimes, long and heavy rainfall caused my house to flood before it completely ran dry without a trace in the summer time. When the water in the canal ran dry, I would walk down to its bed, collecting clay to build a toy robot.
When the canal was filled with water, I could take a shower whenever I wanted and jump into the canal whenever I felt like. But when the water was scarce, I had to use water sparingly. Sometimes, I was forced to finish bathing within three water bowls. Back then, it was quite challenging and fun, figuring out a technique that allowed me to finish bathing within three water bowls.
"Along unfamiliar canals"
When I grew up, I moved to Bangkok. I didn't know much about its canals. Spray painters like myself would spend most of our time searching for the best walls along the busy streets. But oftentimes, these quests brought me to discover small allies by the canals.
Along these unfamiliar canals, I spray-painted on walls of abandoned houses. A group of kids played together on a walkway along the canal, not far from where I was spray-painting. I asked them if they ever swam in the canal. They said they couldn't, for if they did, the underwater ghosts would drown them. I looked at the canal and saw floating garbage, water hyacinths and tree stumps with golden apple snail eggs clinging on to them. Looking a bit further, I saw two kids rowing a boat in the canal. I waved to them. With a wide smile on their face, the kids rowed towards me, past water hyacinths and piles of garbage.
My childhood experiences of growing up in a house along the canal seems drastically different from these inner-city kids, living along this unfamiliar canal. But we do have some things in common. Seeing the kids rowing in the grey-color water took me back to my youth when I would row a boat as a means of transportation. I would row the boat to send my mom to work, to go to school as well as to the temple. While rowing the boat upstream, it required more strength. The funny thing is, sometimes while rowing downstream, I would use the same strength as if I was rowing upstream. I did that only because I wanted the boat to go faster. I did that only because I was young and had lots of energy, enjoying rowing the boat in the canal.
Nowadays, the canal in front of my house is not like it was. The stream is shrinking, shallow and dried out. Over there… nobody rows boats anymore. But in this grey and unfamiliar canal, among waves of garbage and water hyacinths. I still see children, paddling boats drifting upstream.
© Alex Face, Courtesy of the Artist, BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY and RAVAGNAN GALLERY