A Matter Of Perception
They’re digging up the road again. Only this time, it’s my soi. Damn.
My wife and I bought this property fourteen years ago, when rules and regulations governing building a housing ‘village’ were quite lax. We thought we had a good deal; it was a ten minute walk from a major road, and that the air-conditioned buses actually passed that route. (If you lived here fourteen years ago, you’ll understand). We didn’t notice how narrow the sub-soi was as we depended on public transport back then. Street lighting consisted of residents considerate enough to buy (Yes, buy) their own, mount it on the fence, and pay for it out of their own pocket. Our neighbour had his mounted practically next to my gate, so I didn’t need to buy one. He refused to take anything from us when we offered to compensate, either. When it rained for more than two hours, the front of the soi would flood, so you either had to wait for ages for a motosai taxi or get your feet wet. That wasn’t good if you were wearing shoes.
Well, we’ve got proper street lighting now. The electricity department just takes months to clean those insects out, but I won’t complain. And the digging is going on because they want to alleviate the flooding problem. ‘Fat chance’, I was telling the retired navy auntie who has opened a small shop in front of her house. She goes out of her way to stock Tiger beer for me, I’m her only customer for this particular brand. She agrees, as the water can’t get any lower than the level of the small klong (canal) that cuts through the village. In the meantime, we all have to live with the dust.
The workers have set up their living quarters on a vacant lot halfway down the sub-soi. They start with a long wooden platform, then put up zinc sheets for the walls and the roof. The cement mixer is off to the side, and they have a small bulldozer and backhoe parked in front. If they’re lucky, someone will provide running water. If not, they’ll have to cart in water to fill those fifty-five gallon drums to store it in. Looks like they’ll be here for a while.
Well, the carnage started. At least it’s only going to be from the main soi to the klong and will affect four interconnected sub-sois. The land on the other side is higher, and fortunately my house is on that side, so I’m not affected. They started by piling those concrete rings along the side of the road, then started digging up the other half. What a nuisance! Sometimes I’d come back and have to wait ten minutes for them to get out of the way, loading those concrete rings, or unloading something else. There weren’t many options for detours. Why, sometimes you’d see them working till after dark.
Ah, well. Live with it. We’ve got other problems. The wooden flooring has partially collapsed in my sister-in-laws place next door. They tried calling the contractor who stays further down the soi, but he has yet to call back. The main water pipe in the townhouse has developed a major leak under the concrete, the main supply has to be turned off all the time unless you want a large bill. My wife has been trying to get someone in to do it for the last two weeks with little success. The people who did our tiling the last time can’t be contacted either.
To hell with it. I grab some tools and decide to do it myself. I can hear the leak, so I try to pry off the marble slab. Nope. So I borrow those suction cups with a handle they use to carry glass sheets and finally succeed in getting it off without breaking it. I spend the rest of the afternoon with a sledgehammer, hammer and chisel and succeed in getting some bruised knuckles and very hot and bothered in the process. Breaking the pipe didn’t help matters. Now that meant the only water supply was now a gushing fountain on my front doorstep. In retrospect, it actually looked quite pretty.
I got the repair elbows, glue and additional pipe for the repair, but decided to stop for the day. My last check was to block off the supply and test the system to make sure I got the correct elbow. Hah! No such luck. I could still hear the gushing under three inches of solid concrete driveway. Just when people complain about shoddy workmanship, someone seemed to get this one right. Time for a beer, lads. I deserved it, no matter how much the wife complains that I drink too much.
While I’ve been busy, my sister-in-law has finally gotten someone to help with her floorboards, they’d be coming the next day. She had been out buying wooden beams and parquet to replace the termite damage. Wood is pretty expensive these days, she says. I agree. She did say that the labour cost was reasonable, though.
The next day, four workers show up at her place, three guys and a woman. She comes over an hour later, asking for my car jack. What do you need it for??! To jack up the floor. Not with my car jack you don’t. I go over to see what they’re up to. And get a whiff of the anti-termite stuff they’re painting on the beams. Whoa.
They’ve pulled off the damaged section, and have put the beams in place, they just need the jack to get the props in. Okay, but I want it back in one piece. There’s one guy already under the floor in the crawl space, he’s been painting the anti-termite stuff on. He sticks his head out and says ‘Mao.’ (Drunk). I’d be too if I was doing that. Hell, you’d need to point a double-barrelled shotgun at me to make me even consider going in that crawl space! I told him to get out before he got REALLY mao, and we’d have to remove the rest of the floor just to get him out. They all laughed.
It took them just a day to finish the job. Well, I had an unfinished job for them too…
The workers came from that zinc-walled structure halfway down the sub-soi. The drainage work had been finished, so they were waiting for the next subcontractor to pour the concrete before they could commence on the next phase. While they were not working, they were not paid. So they were happy to get whatever they could on their own. No problem with plumbing, they said.
I pick two of them up the next day, and buy the materials needed. The only tools they had could be carried in a supermarket plastic bag. One guy chisels around the PVC pipe with surgical precision (remember, I busted quite a few knuckles on this one) while the other is digging around in the flower bed to find the other end. I’ve decided to replace the whole length of pipe rather than dig up the driveway. Oops, forgot a T-joint. No problem, I walk to the hardware shop. I come back with some drinking water, and that ‘energy’ drink they all seem to like. It was appreciated. We chatted while they worked; they were quite surprised to see a farang fluent in the language, and who actually walks from place to place. The pipe is finally in and it works. I ask if they can also re-do the marble slabs that had to be removed. No problem. Some bags of tiling cement later, the job is done. Much, much better than I could have ever done it in. Probably in less than a quarter of the time. And with just a small sledgehammer, a chisel, a rusty hacksaw blade and a trowel. I gave them a little more than what they had asked for. Still, for what I gave them, it’d only buy you four beers in Nana Plaza.
So, do spare them a thought and a little more respect. These people have skills that are becoming very rare in the capital. They work hard, often under difficult conditions, and poor returns. They do an honest day’s work that many of us would find quite difficult to make it through, let alone feel properly compensated for it. These are also the same people who have built all those five-star hotels and such that many of us take for granted. While we now take the elevator to the Grand Ballroom on the 20th floor, they probably had to climb the scaffolding before. With just a small hammer and chisel, rusty hacksaw blade and a trowel.
The next time I’m at auntie’s shop, I might even buy them a baen (half bottle of local whisky). After all, if I can afford a beer, a little thought can go a long way. And I know just who to call when I need to get that satellite dish off my roof….
Yep, tradesmen charge very little in Thailand indeed. Sadly, they are looked down on by much of the local population.