37 storeys above Sukhumvit Road, Soi 13, in Bangkok, I gathered with some women friends to eat dinner and watch the last two episodes of a television show on DVD. The view from the apartment was staggering. In the foreground, I spotted our school and took this photograph.
37 storeys high.
If you discount the cloud-busting tourist attractions of Toronto’s CN Tower, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York City, 37 storeys is the highest I have ever been shuttled up into the skies without buying a seat on an airplane. This is the highest point from which I have sat on a couch. Or used a washroom. Or ordered food for home delivery. On my first elevator trip up to the 37th floor, my ears actually popped. And, let’s tell the truth here… it freaked me out a little bit.
“What will we do if there’s a fire?” I asked naively.
“Don’t worry. The building is made of concrete.”
Everyone nodded calmly. I imagined myself attempting to run down 37 flights of stairs, my heart exploding in my chest. Then I imagined DP having to explain my untimely demise. Poor DP… he always gets the crap jobs.
Bangkok is the 22nd most densely populated city in the world and, in the centre of the city, we are stacked up like leggo pieces, whole families living our lives perched on top of the lives of other families. You can live months like this and never even meet your closest neighbours.
My dad would say that living on the 37th floor is not how God intended us to live. He might be right. We would not choose it; DP and I live on the 7th floor of our apartment building and that is plenty high enough for me. We still have a lovely view of the six o’clock sunset from our apartment. We sit in our living room and watch as the blue sky is pierced by deep pinks and purples, like some exotic Thai bird. If there were a fire alarm, I feel quite certain that I could evacuate the building without requiring emergency medical services. And from our bedroom, I can see the men who live at the labourers’ camp next door to us. At 6:00 a.m., we are all beginning our day… the workers, DP and me.
Being able to see the shantytown squalor in which our neighbours live is, from my perspective, the strongest argument against inhabiting the 37th floor. DP and I are, quite literally, not in a position to forget how lucky we are. It’s impossible to miss how little space there is between the 7th floor and the shacks next door; losing our jobs or encountering a simple string of bad luck could change everything for us.