Monday, 6 October 2008

Building, Building. Which World Where?

What message in a moustache?

Our 'new' wooden house down the garden

Mali helps out amidst the wreckage

Mali, Ben and Mangorn somehow keep smiling

Kong and Ben churning the sea of cement

More and more we’ve been migrating down the ‘garden’ and eating under the grass roofed shelters by the new wooden house.

While I was away in England Cat cut the last tree down and extended its kitchen as everyone finds it easier cooking in a more basic kitchen than in the smart one in the concrete house where there’s more to clean up.

The trouble’s been that as it’s at the lowest point of the land and as it’s rainy season, things have been getting a bit boggy. Cat’s plan therefore has been to finish rendering the kitchen in cement and to extend the roof to make a dry outside eating area with a concrete floor where we can sit and eat in the open air.

And this is exactly what she’s just done.

We collected the cement and corrugated iron in the pickup and had some sand and gravel delivered and she and Ben then got to work. Older brother Mangorn was the powerhouse, his wife Mali and son, Kong joining in to help on the second day.

There were some major hydrological issues though as the kitchen extension and the new concrete floor would effectively block the escape of surface water onto the next door land, though nobody seemed troubled by this at all.

For ages Cat’s been asking to build raised pathways between the two houses but I’ve resisted saying that the key to the problem of soggy ground is proper drainage.

There’s a major cultural conflict on this issue… farang brains tend to think ‘drainage’ while Thais just build up the land to displace the water somewhere else.

Anyway I suggested that a drain through the cement work was going to be needed and they found a two inch pipe. Niagara could as soon be piped because when there’s a downpour the place floods very fast and there’s tons of water to get rid of.

I was working upstairs at my computer when my phone rang. It was Cat. Would I please come down and explain my farang view to the team. It wasn’t for her to tell them that a two inch pipe’s a silly idea. That could seem offensive.

I duly played the fool with them and I don’t think anyone lost too much face, though there was one of those uncomfortable ‘farang talk too much’ silences. Now we’ve got a muddy open drain between kitchen and concrete floor and I hope we can finish it properly come the dry season. More likely it’ll stay as it is.

Wheeling the tons of sand and gravel down the garden, mixing the concrete by hand and laying it was a grueling task in the oppressive heat. I don’t know how they do it but do it they did.

Everything’s now a mess. All is chaos, but that’s just the way it always is. No details of what they’re going to do are ever thought through or discussed and nothing is properly finished, but maybe it’s just too hot to bother. Anyway we now have a sitting place with the bamboo chairs we bought in Ubon and the kitchen is nearly done. Let’s see if it all gets swept away with the first heavy storm.

Such are the ripples on our little pond… small ones indeed.

My Bangkok Post tells me though that out in the wider world big things are still happening. I recline and read sweatily on my upstairs verandah and the first two pages for Friday October 3rd present me with three major stories.

On the front page it’s reported that Chuwit Kamolvisit, the maveric candidate for governor of Bangkok ‘brutally assaulted’ Visarn, the Channel 3 anchorman immediately after a televised interview as he’d asked him too many awkward questions. Visarn says that Chuwit hit him in the face, knocked him down and kicked him as he lay on the ground. Reportedly now staying in hospital, the front page picture shows his facial injuries.

Candidate Chuwit said he felt his actions did not go too far. “I lost my temper because he insulted my manliness… I’m a person who doesn’t take abuse from anyone. However, I actually felt good after doing it,” he added.

The Bangkok Election Committee has dismissed the incident. “It is a private affair,” said the panel chair, Ping Rungsamai and Mr Chuwit is still qualified to run in the election.

Maybe his directness qualifies him well for so a tough job.

Chuwit is well known for having a colorful past. He first made his fortune as a soapy massage mogul, developing a chain of multi-storeyed sex palaces in Bangkok, but he first came to public prominence when things went wrong in his relationship with the police.

He went and told the media that the police in his area were totally dishonest and corrupt. Even though he was paying them well to look the other way, they were continuing to bust his ‘sex for sale’ night clubs. This of course was an abomination and an affront to all right thinking people.

Not only that, he did what you never do in Thailand and that was to name names. He told the press which cops were taking money from him but not calling off their men. And the media had a field day.

There was a big furore and as I remember he disappeared for a few days and was eventually found half dead in a ditch, alleging that he had been kidnapped by irate policemen and beaten up.

He later showed up in the press again when there were lurid reports of a violent early morning raid on a large site on Sukhumvit road occupied by a warren of small girlie bars and eating places. Apparently assisted by uniformed men, a gang of mobsters came and smashed up all the premises to the surprise and shock of their owners and had the site fenced off and secured behind a massive stockade.

Who had done this outrageous thing and why and whether with police assistance was the subject of much rumour and intrigue. With a tangled web of leases and sub-leases on the land it was speculated that a head landlord was wanting possession of the site in order to redevelop it and that this was the most practical way to do it.

Strangely there has since been no redevelopment and no big building now stands there. The site has instead been dedicated to the people of Bangkok and landscaped as a public park.

And the generous benefactor? None other than Chuwit himself.

All of these experiences apparently persuaded Chuwit that he had the qualities necessary for a political career and that there was a great future ahead of him. His angry mustachioed face could often be seen staring down from many an election poster and of course he got into parliament as the voters loved his extravagant showmanship.

He is now standing for election as Bangkok’s governor. As I write he is in second place to the incumbent and no doubt many Bangkokians will feel he should have their vote.

Certainly the new Bangkok governor will be kept busy and the story on page two of my Bangkok Post is about a vicious shoot-out between two rival ‘private rescue agencies’ over of a territorial dispute.

Bangkok has no public ambulance service and these agencies rove the streets waiting for an accident to happen and picking up the pieces. They then deliver the injured to private hospitals who pay under the table fees for the supply of patients.

The agencies have staked out their respective territories and when an infringement occurs the violence gets nasty, this particular one happening only a week after the previous shoot out. ‘Police found pools of blood and many cars peppered with bullet holes,’ says The Post. The boss of one outfit was heard shouting ‘get rid of them all’ before fleeing the scene in two pickups and a van.

More peaceably, on the same page there’s a headline, ‘Foreign husbands lift economy’. This is the story of some research into the benefit to rural areas of local girls marrying a farang husband. In Buriram province just down the road from us, there are, says the article, 960 women married to farang of whom 67% live abroad and send money home. These remittances contribute about 230 million baht to the economy annually.

On top of which, I now observe, there are other farang married and living here who in fact contribute much, much more. To get our visas we have to prove an inward flow of money which amounts to many times the inward remittances from Thai wives abroad. The rural areas do benefit in a big way, even if this is not an idea model for development.

Sometimes I think I spend quite a lot round here. It’s summer time and the living is easy, but we always have to support the extended family. You can’t be kee nieow (‘mean as sticky shit’) as that’s just not the way you do it.

In fact I’ve built a nice concrete house. Then when I was away last year Cat built a wooden house at the bottom of the garden. Then when I was away this year she built the shop for Ben and Yut across the road and made a bigger kitchen for the wooden house. And now she’s just built the new sitting area down the garden.

When the farang’s away the cat will play?!

No, it’s not quite like that, but yes the village does benefit from its resident farang. This is a very small pond and any input is important and trickles down.

It often seems that the economy locally is on the brink of collapse though with everyone struggling with a mountain of debt.

I’d love to be able to bail them all out and 700 billion dollars would be more than enough to put things right for them.

Such figures are unfathomable, but that’s another world which nobody round here even seems to be aware of, let alone concerned about.

Copyright Andrew Hicks The Thai Girl Blog October 2008


The TEFL Don said...

Hi Andrew, although on a somewhat smaller scale I have "enjoyed" my fair share of building issues. My local builders when completing the house didn't seem to understand that the septic tank needs a drain field. Unfortunately unless I want to dig up the rear patio and half my garden I will have to continue sending for the "s**t man" 2 or 3 times a month! Still I figure I am doing my bit for the local economy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew, good luck with the new kitchen area. At least your croc will have a nice marsh to live in when the drainage doesn't work.