Warning!!! What follows is a story so filthy that I’m surprised Stick allowed it up here. If you are of a puritanical nature, you might want to return to the main menu and read some salacious tale of which merely concerns itself with gratuitous sex! Got your attention, did I? Well I’m sorry to let you all down, because all I really want to talk about today is dirty laundry.
I don’t know how you were raised, but I learned how to launder my own clothes when I was just old enough to reach the lid on the washing machine. It’s not that my dear departed mother let the laundry hampers overflow until I had nothing clean to wear, but rather that I’ve always enjoyed being as independent as I can. There is also a certain satisfaction in turning a mess into something neat and tidy…..well at least I think so! I must confess though that it’s is no big deal for me to wash, dry, fold and put away heaps of laundry, I draw the line at ironing. This not due to laziness or some stubborn refusal to do “women’s work”, but rather that I simply am inept at it. My mother had a woman come in to do her ironing. My Thai wife used to do the same. Now, she simply has me deliver everything to a laundry down the street where for 80 – 100 baht, the proprietress irons an unbelievable amount of clothing.
Thailand, as you know (except if you only visit it during the “cool season”), is one hot and humid place. You need to change your clothing a minimum of two times a day. Even a single person living alone is going to generate a fair amount of laundry. In addition to dirty clothes, throw in dirty sheets and towels. I am assuming that you do wash your sheets and towels weekly! Personally If I were wealthy, I would have fresh sheets and towels seven days a week. For me, that’s the good life! If you have a girlfriend, wife or children, dirty laundry really starts piling up! Unless you have hired help, at least one of you is going to be cranking up the old washing machine.
The very first major purchase my wife and I made after moving here to Lampang was a washing machine. We had barely settled into the place we were renting when the pile of dirty laundry starting growing to mountainous proportions. We weren’t familiar yet with the local shops, and so we headed off to Big C in search of a washing machine. It was immediately apparent that I “wasn’t in Kansas” anymore. Every familiar brand of appliance was nowhere to be found. No Maytag, Whirlpool, GE or Kenmore. Instead I saw Hitachi, Mitsubishi, LG, Panasonic, Samsung and other brands which were utterly unknown to me. Mitsubishi? I thought they built cars and trucks. Panasonic? Didn’t they make televisions and other home electronics? In Asia many companies produced a whole lot more than I ever knew. Well, that’s all part and parcel of moving to a new country half way around the world. Your horizons as a consumer grow considerably.
I didn’t know one washing machine from another, so I simply looked for one priced somewhere in the middle between ridiculously cheap and hideously expensive, and that seemed, at least to an untrained eye, “well constructed”. My tee-rak had no advice, since before getting married and moving to the U.S. she had never operated, let alone owned a washing machine. The way her family washed clothes was barely one step removed from Neolithic man beating them against a rock down by the river. When we built a home in Massachusetts, it was left up to me to choose appliances.
Now forced to make a decision about which washing machine was “best”, all we could do is go ahead and pick “a nice looking one” and hope for the best. So after shelling out around 8,000 baht, a delivery truck pulled up a few hours later to unload our new Hitachi washing machine. If I knew what was coming next, I would have had them stick around for 30 minutes to take it back. If you are an American, you know what a “lemon” is. For the rest of you I will define a lemon as being something, often a car, that does not work properly from day one. Not only that, no amount of repair ever seems to get it to work right. We all know that a lemon (the fruit) leaves a sour taste in the mouth. This other sort of lemon does exactly the same thing.
In our case, we filled up the washer with a load of clothes, after reading the instruction manual of course, and pushed the start button. The machine came to life, began to whirl around a few times and started to fill with water. One of the “space-age” features of this Hitachi was a “fuzzy logic” chip that spun the clothes around a few times to determine how much water the machine needed as well as how much detergent to add. The water began to pour in, and a little light indicated how much detergent we needed to put in. When the tub was full, the wash cycle started and all was apparently well, which was about how most of us expect things to be with a washing machine. You turn it on and it washes the clothes. Unfortunately after about one minute of agitating, the machine stopped. The lighted display went dark. Something was definitely not working correctly. We started it up again, with similar results. It would run for a minute and then stop. After the obligatory moment of cursing, we looked through the operating manual to see if we had inadvertently done something wrong. We hadn’t. We checked the trouble-shooting pages to find a cause for our problem. There wasn’t one.
Being a Farang I didn’t hesitate to get right back into the car and head back to Big C. and explain our situation. I didn’t bother having my wife call. I know that wouldn’t do the trick. So, instead we marched up to the guy who sold us out new washed and explained that the thing simply would not operate. A couple of guys followed us back to our place to see for themselves. Now you probably have already come to the same conclusion I made, which is that something was malfunctioning in the electronics. Some chip or another was NFG. I think most westerners could figure this out in about 30 seconds. Not so for Somchai and Somsak. They must have spent almost an hour pushing the start button, again and again, with naturally the same results each and every time. Albert Einstein once defined mental illness as performing the same action repeatedly, but expecting different results.
Whatever the problem was, it was beyond whatever level of expertise they possessed. Also beyond their apparent comprehension was my demand that they take the defective machine back to Big C and bring me back a new one. Sounded reasonable to me. The damned thing hadn’t been out of the box more than a few hours, and clearly did not work. Note that I didn’t get angry and demand my money back. I simply wanted a fully functioning washing machine. You would not believe what it took for these guys to get their boss to agree to this. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, they did in fact bring us a replacement washer, which blessedly seem to work. The wash was clean and ready to be strung up on the clothesline. Will miracles never cease!
When we finally built our new home, we included a laundry alcove. Next to the washing machine we installed an electric clothes dryer. To some of you this might sound like a luxury. Why spend money to dry your clothes? Has the sun stopped shining in Thailand? If you hang your clothes out on a line they certainly will get dry. Unfortunately they will also be as stiff as a board. It doesn’t matter how much fabric softener I add. For me at least my clothes have the comfort and softness of well starched cardboard. Am I just a wimp? Call me what you will. I do so enjoy life’s little comforts.
Fast forward to the present day. Our new washer may have worked without a hitch the first time around, but has been plagued with a few nagging problems. It leaks. No big deal. My wife found a place that advertised itself as an appliance repair shop. These alleged repair men took the washer away in the back of their truck, supposedly to “get fixed”. Ten days later…..after more than a few calls, they finally returned it. Cost 500 + baht. Not surprisingly, it still leaked just as badly. Not surprisingly, I was pissed. WTF had they done to it? They obviously never tested the machine. For all I know they never even looked at the damned thing. I had my wife call them back to repair their repair. Another week passed. The machine was returned…….still leaking! I suppose I should be grateful that they didn’t have the nerve to charge me again, but they also never offered to refund anything either.
The matter of getting a refund in Thailand provides enough material for a separate submission, but I’m sure many of you know through personal experience how difficult it can be to obtain one. This past April, I was in Bangkok for a few days, and decided to buy a new camera. I didn’t want anything expensive. Just a basic point and shoot model suitable for the kind of snapshots I take. I ventured down to Panthip Plaza where there were certainly plenty of cameras for sale. I wound up buying a little Olympus that seemed to be what I wanted. When I got back to my hotel room, a search of the camera box showed that there was no instruction manual included, which I thought was a little odd. How can anyone figure out all the features, let alone how to operate of a modern electronic devise without some instructions? Well, I suppose I should say someone as technologically non-savvy as myself! Sigh, I slogged back to the shop where I had just purchased this camera and pointed out the lack of a manual. “Oh, there isn’t one. It comes from Japan and they didn’t include one.”
I asked sweetly, “How am I supposed to figure out how to use the camera without a manual?”
“I not know” she said with an unconcerned look on her face.
After counting slowly to ten to myself, I calmly said that in that case I would like to exchange this camera for one for a different brand, for example a Sony. From the hostile look I received, you would have thought that I had just asked this saleswoman to commit an unnatural act with a donkey. That was completely impossible! Folks, I had bought the damned thing not more than an hour before. Nothing had been unwrapped. The contents had been carefully removed only to check for the manual. I wasn’t asking for a refund. I just wanted an exchange. The saleswoman simply said no and walked away. My friends, if nothing else during my years in Thailand I have developed jai yen, or a “cool heart”. Becoming angry and argumentative rarely solves anything. That said, I am nobody’s fucking doormat! When backed into a corner, I will when necessary become soooooo cool that liquid nitrogen will seem toasty warm enough to take a Jacuzzi in! In a very loud voice I demanded to speak with the manager. Somchai reluctantly crawled out of wherever he was hiding to talk with “the crazy farang”. I coolly explained my problem and said I wasn’t leaving without one of three things: a) an instruction manual, b) a different camera, or c) a full refund. After retreating to the storeroom, he returned with a manual for an Olympus. It wasn’t for my exact model, but was for one similar enough to use. Satisfied with that I left with a big smile and sawadee khap. Welcome once again to the Land of Smiles!
Sorry to have gotten off on a tangent. Where were we? Oh yeah, my ailing washing machine. Two days ago I placed a load of laundry in the machine, pressed the start button, and walked away to do something else. Walking by our laundry alcove, I was surprised not to hear the sounds of my clothes agitating merrily along. I had a bad feeling about this. There might have been a power outage. They happen all the time it seems. If there had been one, there would be a red LED error message blinking on the control panel. It would then just be a matter of resetting the machine, which would continue the wash cycle where it had been interrupted. Unfortunately the display screen was black. I unplugged the machine, plugged it in again, hit the power button, selected the correct wash cycle and pressed start. After running for a few seconds, everything ground to a halt. I immediately knew that it would be worse than useless to attempt to get the washer fixed. Hell, I couldn’t get a simple leak fixed! I suppose…..theoretically, that some wizard employed by Hitachi might be able to diagnose the fault, and possibly even be able to replace a faulty electronic component. Yeah, and if wishes were horses, beggars would be riding white stallions!
Nope. It was clear that we needed to go out and buy another washing machine. I wasn’t full of optimism when I broke the bad news to my wife. Instead of giving in to the inevitable, she might simply look around for a nearby rock to pound the laundry against. Surprisingly she immediately agreed that we really did need a new washer. Part of this might be due to the fact that she runs her massage business out of our house, and goes through a lot of sheets and towels everyday. I don’t think the idea of schlepping them to the nearest coin operated machine appealed to her very much!
Being long time residents of Lampang, we had a good idea of where to begin our search. Now if we were still living in the U.S. I would have picked up a copy of Consumer Reports and found a detailed listing on the most reliable machine. Not having that option, we headed down to large store that carried all kinds of home appliances and electronics. Undoubtedly they would carry a selection of the major brands.
For those of you who do not live in Thailand, let me describe what happens when a Farang sets foot in a store in this country. Every salesperson is on commission, so immediately there is a silent “turf battle” brewing depending on where in the store you walk. There were hopes dashed by those selling expensive video equipment and computers as I strode on by them without so much as a glance at some pretty pricey stuff. Whatever the state of the Thai economy is, there are still many Thais out there who earn much more money than I do, and can afford all kinds of toys. Unfortunately “The Farang” wasn’t in the market for anything frivolous today. He and his wife were heading over to where the lowly washing machines were.
Well, at least one guy’s eyes were sparkling. Washing machines are generally the type of item that people “browse”, with a husband whispering to his beloved, “Darling, maybe some day we can afford one of these.” Actually I take that back. Thailand is full of poor people who might actually say that to one another. I of course am fortunate to even think about buying a washing machine. Somchai could sense that we would not be walking out of the store without having purchased one. The only question in his mind is how big his commission would be. I in turn was thinking to myself, “not as big as you hope, my friend!”
I didn’t even dignify this fellow with a response when he steered us over to a Hitachi. It is possible that I had had the only two defective Hitachi washing machines in existence, but be that as it may, I wasn’t tempting fate a third time. It wasn’t anything Japanese I was looking for this time around, but something Korean. Things made in Korea, especially electronics, have come a long way. I remember when Made in Korea meant cheap, and probably not the best quality. That is hardly the case now. Korea now produces excellent quality merchandise. It was for that reason that I looked with some interest at some washers made by Samsung. There was a real beauty that boasted “nano technology”. Apparently that helped kill bacteria. It also handled up to 12 kilos of laundry, which is enough to wash a blanket easily. It had a price tag of 19,000 baht, which made my wife, who is frugal to put it kindly, blanch. No worries my dear, I agree we don’t need every “bell and whistle”. All I care about is that it washes our clothes reliably, and hopefully won’t have an electronic hissy-fit. Next to that model was another machine that had an 11 kilo capacity. Our old Hitachi only had an 8 kilo capacity. At 10,000 baht it seemed reasonable enough, provided that it actually worked, and would continue to busily work for many years to come. It was a deal.
In 60 years on the planet, I’ve never once had a washer break down. Of course the machines I owned were “stone age” models…..that is to say they were had no electronics whatsoever……just a timer that took everything through wash, rinse and spin cycles.
The next day our shining new Samsung was installed and the useless Hitachi carted away. Now for the million baht question… Did it work? Oh yes indeed, and very well I might add. It has been busy chugging away quietly. Because of its large capacity, I not only washed load after load of clothes, but all of our blankets as well.
I know that by know many of you are ready to start snoozing away. I admit that a story like this is not likely to get anyone’s blood pounding, but it is another slice of real life from the Land of Smiles.
Oh, for more stories like this one, please! You have a magical ability to make what many my consider the monotonous drudgery of every day life to be interesting!