On the 1st of September 2016 we interviewed Prasoet Sa-Show at Baan-Flearn Homeschool to hear his memories of what Bang Rak was like when he was young and his views on plans for change there. Prasoet is a third generation Chinese immigrant who was born in 1971 to a poor Siamese-Teochew Catholic family living in Bang Rak. He grew up alongside seven siblings in a two story 4×12 square meter tenement surrounded by hundreds of buildings just like it. He was originally interested in forestry but later studied architecture and became a construction contractor. He now resides happily with his wife and two daughters using the surname: Wattananukunpong.
Here are some of Prasoet’s memories and thoughts on Bang Rak:
“Before the area around Yannawa Temple used to be congested with tenements … 300 or 400 rooms … I used to live there … It was rather … scary … because there were slums as well … The markets up front had their own personal character. Sometimes they sold fruit – during one period it was rather expensive – sometimes they sold flowers. Meanwhile on the other side of the road they sold food like roast duck … It was packed with people … There was a vehicle interchange … The line [for the bus] was about ten tenement buildings long … there were two long lines on both sides of the road … Chinese people have a lot of kids … my house had 8 … the people living next to us had 12 … on average one family would have 7-8 kids … My brothers and sisters slept like books on a bookshelf … all lined up on the upper floor…
“There wasn’t much empty space because more people means more stuff. That’s why public areas and open space are so important for people living there … it is just so crowded … The price of the land there is so high that anyone who buys land there has to start some sort of business…”
“I guess that before my time the Prince’s Cinema prospered. When I lived there however … it was a sucky cinema … no one went in … they had to show the same shows over and over … and still no one came because people were starting to go to the Lido at Siam Square. Somehow the place ended up showing porn. (Laughs). After that high school kids would dare each other to go in … it was shockingly dirty … so many rats and insects … sometimes they would hit you in the leg and at others times cockroaches would fly up … I mistook them for butterflies…”
“I liked to go to the foot of Sathorn Bridge … there is a pier there where you can take a boat across the river … I would go there to look at the river … If you live in a packed tenement building, seeing the skyline makes you happy … When I was stressed about anything I used to go there and sit.”
“From an architectural standpoint, I would like to preserve all of the old buildings … because they show the history of the city and were built by people with great talent. To build structures like that now would be impossible … we lack the talent … If we preserve them future generations can learn from them … This is an old part of the city … it was prosperous … seeing the art and architecture you know this instantly … Old buildings give you both history and art … we should keep them.”
“I wish that people who live there can continue to do so … outsiders are always coming to buy them out, always coming to ask if they want to sell their land … As soon as these guys come in they destroy things.”