Stickman Readers' Submissions May 5th, 2006

Delightful Bangkok – A Broken IBM Laptop

By Hans Meier

The impaired laptop is deeply tucked into the bag, and I press the bag intensely to my body as I enter Panthip Plaza, Bangkok's bustling computer bazar. I walk straight through the stalls and quickly find a small outlet for laptop repairs. Several open laptops are scattered over tables and boards.

He Clinic Bangkok


I unpack the ThinkPad and tell the man that the keyboard does not work: Two keys do not respond properly, I have to press them extra-strong to get a result. While not completely unusable, the keyboard now slows down my writing speed, even my thinking-ahead, as I always have to remember which keys need the extra power. It's not acceptable – I bought the expensive IBM laptop just because it has such a delightful responsive keyboard for fast typers.

I believe the keys are just clogged by Chaweng beach sand. My half-hearted tries at cleaning from outside didn't help anything. I ask if they can open the ThinkPad and clean it.

CBD bangkok

"Cannot open this", says the man angrily! "IBM difficult! Maybe open, then close, maybe pobbemm!"

This surprises me. On their website, IBM has an illustrated instruction how to open this machine, and all looks very easy. But because in fine mechanics I have the talent of a wild elephant, I came to seek professional assistance.

The shop guy looks at me as if i wanted to get him into trouble. He then says I may cross the building and visit another store, where they might take care of my woes. I stow the computer back into the bag and press the bag against my body.


wonderland clinic

Shop 2 has more open laptops lying around, and an interesting array of used laptops for sale. I flash my machine and says it may need cleaning. They nod, no objections to IBM here. But I have to wait: Right now the owner/specalist is busy connecting a mobile phone to a HP notebook; his customer: an ebullient policeman. While I wait, more police men enter through the back door and exchange warmhearted words with the owner/specialist. Where did I land here?

He easily opens my machine in 30 seconds. When he turns it around, half a kilo of sand and dead ants trickle to the ground.

"Oh – Phuket", he asks and giggles hysterically? Two police men join in giggling. It's early January 2005, just weeks after the tsunami. (And before IBM handed its PC section to Lenovo.)

"No, Samui."

He says he has no compressed air for cleaning, but he finds a soft brush and blows with his mouth into keyboard and case. He cannot see that the two impaired keys are especially clogged.

Finally, in another 30 seconds, the machine is put together again and rebooted. I press the critical keys – they behave recalcitrant as before. No improvement.

Now he suggests I go the official IBM Service Center. Stupid, I didn't think about that for myself.

"Where is it", I ask?

"On Phahonyotin road", he says, "near Ari skytrain station: You walk out of Panthip Plaza, go left and later walk right!"

"Oh, it is hot at 2 pm now – I think I can take a motorcycle taxi?"

"No need!"

Funny, I never had any Thai suggesting me to walk if motorized transport was available, and that in the mid-day heat. I have no map with me, but my destination is clearly not very close.

"OK", I say, "I go to IBM – so how much for your services?"

He wants no money because he couldn't help me. But he spent some time with me anyway, while other customers waited. I find it very difficult to estimate the price for IT related help in SE Asia; I put 100 baht on his table – "have a beer, and thank you for trying!" I stow the computer back into the bag and press the bag against my body.


Out on Phetburi road, I run into a motorcycle taxi. "Where you go, sir?"

"You know Phahonyotin road", I ask? "Near Ari skytrain station?"

"Yes, I know."

"I want to go the IBM Service Center."

"Oh, no problem, I know that."

What? Are Phantip motorcycle drivers supposed to know IBM Service Center? He demands a whopping 100 baht. 40 is what I am used to pay, but I have no real idea about the distance. I am not sure if he actually knows my destination; I worry I have to look for IBM walking down a drab hot Bangkok arterial road in the roar of dust and diesel. With some effort, I get him down to 80 baht, then I receive my helmet and we take off – literally:

With about 200 mph, the motosai speeds north. This is not the direction I expected. We pass the airport at Don Muang, race into the central Thai plains, and only when Ayutthaya's Wat Phra Si Sanphet appears in the distance, he does a sharp U-turn. Before long we are back in the skyscraper jungle, zigzag around boardwalks and skytrain columns, do about 78 left and right turns, then screech to a halt on the pavement.

"Ok, sir", says my man with a proud voice.

I look up along a very high edifice until my neck cannot bend any further.

"No, here!"

Oh, I have to look at the first floor only. And there it is, a thick sign white on blue: "IBM Service Center". Gosh, now that is convenient.

Instead of the agreed 80 baht I want to pay 90. But I only have a 100 baht note. The driver grins: "Sorry, no change, sir!" We both don't believe in that line, but I let him go with 100 and another grin anyway. I am glad I reached IBM without walking.


I enter something of a dentist's waiting room and draw a ticket with a number. The place is chilled down to zero degrees. On a paper, I write down the problem, the PC's password, my name and mobile number. Funny, I think, I am not even sure if I still have warranty on the machine and how they react in Bangkok to a laptop bought in Europe. But right after the purchase I did register my laptop online with IBM.

After about 15 minutes I can tell my problem to the receptionist lady. She says: "Place wait 20 minutes, sir, until a technician has checked your machine." I say I don't like dentists' waiting rooms, so I would try to find a coffee shop nearby; she can call my mobile number when they have a diagnosis.


Close to the IBM office I discover an air-conditioned fruit juice boutique. The drinks have names like suburbs of Honolulu. Most chairs are fancy, but very uncomfortable. They have only one comfortable group of chairs – that set is occupied by the two waiters and their friends, munching a spicy rice dish that smells throughout the establishment.

I, the only customer, settle on one of the bone-breaking designer stools, manage to distract one waiter from lunch and friends and order a Waikeahuleahule or so shake. When I take the first sip, the stuff is too cold – I feel like sinusitis immediately.

Oh, I think, I have to drink very slowly in small sips. The mobile rings right then: "Sir, here is IBM, our technician wants to talk to you. Could you come over?"

"I'll be there in a minute."


He is a young soft man, fending off the chill with a thick sports jacket. He has a good vocabulary, but awkward pronunciation. He explains that the keyboard cannot be cleaned or repaired – it needs replacement. That would be free for me.

"How long do you need to replace the keyboard", I ask?

"Oh, the keyboard with the layout for your language must be sent from USA. We need one month for that."

"Sorry, I am just a tourist, I will not be here for another month."

He looks worried. He is concerned and really wants to help. "Ok, sir, but then you could take a keyboard with the layout for English users. It is not so different. This keyboard we can bring in four days from Singapore." So they don't even have an English keyboard here in Bangkok. My laptop model is 18 months old and has just recently been replaced.

He tries to get me a new free keyboard, but I don't take it. I bought this laptop exactly to write fast – but even if I write in English, I much prefer the keyboard layout for my native language. And I don't know if I will ever get a new keyboard for my own language if I accept the English keyboard now. He looks sad, as I decline all his offers. But for the rest of my Southeast Asian sojourn, I will try to make up with the two impaired keys on my laptop.


Back in my Farangland home, I fill out IBM's online service form – it takes only two hours. Half a day later they call: "A broken keyboard for your language? We send you a new one, for free. It's easy to change the thing – just see our online instruction."

One day later UPS drops a parcel from IBM. I print the maintenance instructions, raid the house for a screwdriver and open the machine in 30 minutes. In another 30 minutes I retrieve all the loose screws, put machine and new keyboard together again and reboot.

The new keyboard seems to work even a tad smoother than the old one.

Stickman's thoughts:

I really like your style.

nana plaza