Phil America spent weeks living in a typical tiny house in a Klong Toey Slum, learning about a culture that most of us don’t know exists.
The Klong Toey slum neighborhood, made up primarily of rural migrants from Northeastern Thailand, is divided in numerous sections, all of which are vastly different than the other. There is block buildings typically associated with the slums of both North and South America, a railway line that cuts through the slum lined with homes nearly touching the passing trains, single-level homes built on small sois near the port and even shops and houses made under the passing highway. The section under the highway parallels the train tracks and is considered to be the most dangerous area of the neighborhood due to the rampant use of Yaba, a drug concocted of methamphetamine and caffeine, and the strong control of the local Thai mafia.
While the majority of the neighborhood is unable to receive any basic facilities such as a running water supply, waste removal or electricity from the local government, they have a manager to create a society outside the norm of shopping malls and sky-rises typically associated with the country’s capital.
I chose Khlong Toey because I work closely with Dear Burma (www.dearburma.com), a school for Burmese refugees living in Thailand, and my of my students live in the area. I also took my photography class into the slums to shoot photos and from that I began to build relationships with the locals. My home was across from the market, the largest market in Thailand, and I often found myself shopping there and making friends with locals as well.
Dealing every day with the local mafia, having to pay them just to even step foot into many areas, let alone have an abode there, was something that took a lot of energy. I had to first convince them I was not the police/DEA/FBI that are so common in Bangkok and then had to gain their respect as well.
Generally when I approach any project my goal is to find the beauty in that place/person. Here you have some of the most powerful stories of how strong the human will and sense of community can be on every small street(soi). I was touched every day in different ways. These people are by far much ‘richer’ than me in many ways and from my time here I am sure the neighborhood left a stronger impact on me than I did on it.
The house in which I lived was first exhibited at the Bangkok University Art Gallery, together with a six-channel surround sound multi-channel installation, traditionally used in cinemas, played sound recorded in and around the house and gave a 360-degree experience bringing the viewer to a place outside of the university and into the heart of the slums.
At the conclusion of the exhibition, the house was returned to Klong Toey to house a local family.
This video chronicles my experience there, from the building of my house from typical materials by a local builder to what everyday life looks like in one of Thailand’s largest, most forgotten slums.
All photos and video courtesy of Phil America.
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