Readers' Submissions

Yet Another Lucky Day for Old Sawadee!



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok



While sometimes given to a bit of braggadocio, your humble scribe is also not shy to point out that on more than a few occasions, he is totally lacking in talent. When it comes to mechanical aptitude for example, I will be the first to admit that while I am not a total klutz, at least half of the digits on my two hands are thumbs…all left ones at that! In other words, please don’t even dream of calling me to help assemble a piece of furniture from Ikea. I can almost guarantee that it would take me a day and a half to do the job, and there is a better than even chance that your bookshelves wouldn’t look anything like the model you saw on the showroom floor. Actually I am exaggerating a bit. I probably could assemble the damned thing properly, but it would take me a whole lot longer than it would take most of you.

I am my friends, like the cobbler’s son who is hopeless when it comes to making a simple pair of shoes. While growing up I spent a lot of time working in my family’s business, which was an auto parts store. It was in fact the largest and best stocked auto parts store in the county. Our inventory was enormous. If we didn’t have a part in stock, we could, ninety-nine percent of the time have what you needed overnight. When I wasn’t working on the counter looking up parts for our customers, I was unloading a seemingly endless number of tractor trailer trucks stuffed with everything from a front manifold pipe for your BMW to a starter for your Chevy pickup. Back in my youth, I would think nothing of unloading a few hundred cases of antifreeze or motor oil and stack them up way over my head. (Now into my 60s, my back hurts just thinking about loading a bicycle into the back of my pickup!) After checking off inventory and putting away everything I would be back on the counter answering the phone and waiting on customers, most of whom were professional mechanics from local garages and car dealerships.

As far as looking up the required parts from the myriad of catalogs was concerned, I rarely made mistakes. As long as the customer’s information was accurate, I could produce the correct carburetor repair kit, distributor cap, fuel pump, brakes shoes, etc. You would be surprised though how often the vehicle owners didn’t know the year or model of the vehicle they were driving, let alone the size of its engine. Even more surprising is how often the mechanics calling in for parts didn’t know what the hell they were working on. Many was the time young Sawadee got his butt reamed out for giving a garage the “wrong part”, when in the end the reality was that the information supplied was completely bogus. If nothing else though I learned at a tender age a number of most imaginative curses, and the necessity of writing down the information as given by the irate customer, so that if needed I could throw the damned paper in his face.

You can’t grow up surrounded with all things automotive without absorbing, if only by mental osmosis, at least a little about the workings of a motor vehicle. I did in fact get a pretty through education about “what went where and did what”. After hearing thousands of times about various problems and their solutions, I had a fair idea of how to fix all sorts of things. Unfortunately this was all theoretical knowledge. The grim reality was that I was piss poor when it came to actually doing anything with my hands. I could stand over you and tell you what to do, but would be useless at making my many thumbed hands do the task at hand. Hence everyone who worked at my store would never even dream of sending me out to install a set of wiper blade refills for an old lady, because they knew it would take me fifteen minutes to do a job that should only take any one who was half-way coordinated to do in less than a minute. What a complete Smurf I was! It was a wonder that my father didn’t die of embarrassment. Luckily I was a “good boy” who worked like a donkey, never complained (well rarely), never got into trouble and did well in school. In the end my dismal mechanical aptitude was forgiven.

I know somebody must be wondering how Old Sawadee managed to make it through culinary school without causing the chefs there a major case of apoplexy. These guys could curse like a drill sergeant if things weren’t done perfectly. If any CIA grads, are reading this, I’m sure they still shudder when thinking about the tirades Chef “Corky” Clark was capable of in his seafood class! How did I avoid his wrath if I was such a klutz? The answer is that I constantly focused every fiber of my being on not f****ing up. There’s nothing like the fear of humiliating yourself to make your trembling fingers do your bidding.

Anyway, getting back to the subject of automobiles, I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I have never done a lick of repair or maintenance if I could possibly avoid it. Yeah, I checked the air pressure on my tires since even I could screw that up too badly, but change my own oil? No way! I have been forced on several occasions to change a spare tire, but let me tell you I did not enjoy it. I preferred to shell out a few bucks annually on an AAA membership and let professionals handle any emergencies. If necessary I could jump start a car whose battery was low in the dead of winter, but only if I had to.

Okay after this long and windy preamble we can finally get around to talking about the battery in my Toyota Vigo. A few days ago I was getting ready to head off to school. I got in, fastened the seat belt and turned the key. The truck started, but not immediately. It took a few seconds for the engine to turn over. Hmmm. My Toyota was six years old and had over 90,000 kilometers on it. It would not be surprising if I needed a new battery. This was something I would have to check out…eventually. Unfortunately the truck was a bit harder to start after school. Obviously this was a situation which could not be put off indefinitely. The last thing I needed was to get stranded somewhere. No auto club here in good old Thailand. A dead battery would not be fun at all. If a tow truck exists in Lampang, I sure as hell have never seen it.

The next day I would have to go battery shopping. In the morning the truck started, but just barely. The big question was, did the battery have just enough juice to start one more time, so that I could look for a new one during my lunch break? Luckily it managed to squeak out just enough voltage to get the truck going. There was no way that I was going to turn the engine off until I found a new battery.

Well, the next question was where to go to find one. The one place I wasn’t going to go was the local Toyota dealer. Oh, they certainly would have had one in stock, and they certainly were competent enough to install it…but I would have paid dearly. Buying a battery that has the word Toyota on side would probably cost me much more than one which simply bore the name of the battery manufacturer on it. I would also wind up sitting around a waiting room for hours. <You'd be surprised but the franchise dealers here often sell batteries at the same price as corner garagesStick>

Luckily there are plenty of shops selling car batteries around town. In fact there is one not more than a few feet from the front gate of my school. I was there in a flash, and with motor running, I popped the hood and went in see if they had a battery in stock that would fit. I think the people working there were more than a little surprised a Farang walked through their door, but were smiling and polite as I inquired in Thai about what I needed. Just in case you’re wondering, the phrase in Thai for a car battery is baaet-dtuuhr-ree roht-yohn…yet another case of incorporating an English word, but pronouncing it with a rising tone. For some reason this always makes me smile.

Just to make sure we were indeed talking about the same thing, I had someone come out to my truck and pointed to the battery in question. Did they have that one in stock? Yes they assured me. How much was it? 2,300 baht. That sounded reasonable. I said I was going to the ATM across the street to withdraw the money. I then proceeded to turn off the engine, since with a new battery I wasn’t worried about getting started.

Five minutes later, with cash in hand I returned to see Somchai with his head under the hood, tape measure in hand. Now it turns out that they did not have the correct battery in stock, and were measuring to see if there is room to put in a larger battery. There is plenty of room…after they take out the original battery plate, and install a larger one. This will only cost me an extra 50 baht, so I am not in the least bit perturbed. Hey, this is Thailand, and so I’m used to going with the flow. The installation itself doesn’t cost anything, and includes giving the battery cables a good wire brushing, and a pair of anti-corrosion washers. It wasn’t long before the new battery was in place. The sound of the truck starting with a purr was like music to my ears. I gave everyone a thumbs up and soon everyone was smiling. I thanked everyone for their excellent service and promised that I would try to steer future business their way.

I know this story isn’t very exciting, but I thought it was worth telling. I am often critical of the shoddy service we often receive in Thailand, so I am always happy to relate positive experiences. I started out the day with a problem, and ended the day with a problem solved. Everyone was courteous and the price was fair. It was yet another lucky day for Old Sawadee.


Stickman's thoughts:

Funnily enough, I too found excellent services when getting the car looked at – such a shame that service in restaurants is so variable!