Stickman Readers' Submissions January 28th, 2012

A Tale Of Two Appliances

As I’ve mentioned a number of times, when it comes to service here in the Land of Smiles, you spin the wheel of fortune, and sit back to see how lucky you are on that particular day.

In Thailand…if the gods are in a good mood, they may just decide to shower you with a carefree day devoid of the least hint of a problem. You are waited on by a smiling and knowledgeable salesperson, whose sole desire in life is to provide you with a pleasurable shopping experience. What you are looking for is in stock, and probably on sale. The person waiting on you quickly gets whatever it is you are looking for. Your bank card goes through without a hitch, and soon you are on your way. From the moment you get home and unpack your purchase, everything works exactly as you might hope for, and you never have even the slightest problem. The years go by and it still works as splendidly as it did on that first day.

He Clinic Bangkok

On the other hand, if the deities are feeling peevish, and all the gods I’ve ever heard about are often in a baaad mood, you will be lucky if Somchai condescends to notice you at all, let alone take time from gossiping with his friends and slink over to wait on you. Despite your best attempts to communicate, he will profess that he has no idea at all what you are looking for. After a lengthy consultation with half a dozen other sales clerks, he may grudgingly admit that he may just possibly have something similar to what you wanted. The price of course will undoubtedly be double that of the item you wanted. If you decide to buy whatever he is trying to pawn off on you, it will probably take forever and a day for him to locate it in the backroom. The box may very well have been opened before, and resealed in a haphazard way. At this point you should have come to the conclusion that this is not your lucky day. You should have simply turned and bolted from the counter as quick as your legs would carry you. But no, instead, for some inexplicable reason you take your bank card out of your wallet and hand it over to Somchai, who seems to have forgotten how to ring up your purchase. Eventually he manages to process your sale. It’s a good thing you weren’t expecting a smile and a warm thank you, because you never receive either. Exhausted you get home, open the box, and immediately find that the instruction manual is missing. That is probably because the damned thing never worked anyway, so what the hell do you need a manual for? You head back to return your inoperative purchase, only to discover that you have suddenly become invisible. I suppose this is because Somchai’s sixth sense is fully operational. Your psychic emanations have already warned him that you are not a happy camper. Why else would you be back clutching your shopping bag so soon? This being Thailand, no amount of pleading will make him take back your defective item and give you a replacement. In the end you give up in defeat and take your inoperative device back home. After endless hours online you garner enough information to make the damned thing work (just barely), but it never works well. You are stuck with this lemon for many years, until it finally “gives up the ghost”, and you throw the cursed piece of junk into the trash bin.

I’ve been here long enough to have both kinds of experiences. Sometimes I’ve been treated with courtesy. Other times I’ve been treated like refuse that even a hyena would turn its nose up at.

My initial experience 6 years ago when I purchased a clothes dryer at Home Pro in Chiang Mai was positive. The sales staff seemed knowledgeable. They certainly had good reason to be friendly enough. We were purchasing all kinds of stuff that day for our new home, including a top of the line oven, a cook-top, a refrigerator, a bathtub, six ceiling fans, many boxes of floor tiles, lighting fixtures, ceiling insulation and lot of other items. The dryer I decided to go with was your basic GE model. One of the reasons I liked it was that it was an old fashioned variety, without fancy electronic controls. You simply turned a mechanical dial to set the timer, and pushed a button to start it.

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Over the course of the next 5½ years it worked without a problem. In went cold wet clothes, and out came fluffy warm clothes. Then one day it suddenly stopped working. Oh, the tumbler still went around and around, but it no longer heated up to dry anything. The skimpy manual that came with it wasn’t any help. The only advice it had for a failure to dry was to check and make sure that the unit was properly plugged in. Well obviously it was plugged in since it was tumbling! The next step was to call Home Pro and see if they had any advice. They were clueless, and it in any case there wasn’t anything they could do about a problem with something purchased so long ago. I was going to have to deal with this locally here in Lampang, which filled me with dread. If any of you have read an earlier piece I wrote called Spin Cycle,
you may have some idea of why I was filled with trepidation at the prospect of trying to have an appliance repaired. If not, take a few minutes to read this little yarn.

My last experience with an appliance repair was an unmitigated disaster. In the end my Hitachi washing machine wound up in the scrap heap. To add insult to injury, not only did Somchai and his buddies fail to fix the stupid thing, after claiming that they had, but had the unmitigated chutzpah to charge me for not doing a blessed thing!

Needless to say these idiots were not on my list of people to call! Actually I would not be calling anybody. That task was reserved exclusively for my darling wife. Hey, back in the USA it was my job to make these kind calls on my wife’s behalf. Here, on the very rare occasions I asked her to reciprocate, I expected her to stop whining and simply make the damn call! I should mention that having the dryer repaired was not high on her list of priorities. Despite the fact that she constantly used it, did not mean that she ever stopped moaning about how much electricity it sucked up.

I suppose someone out there is thinking that a clothes dryer is an extravagant piece of frippery to begin with. “Hey Sawadee, I don’t need no stinking dryer! Why don’t you suck it in and wear your clothes the way real mean do…stiff and crusty, straight from the laundry line?” Undoubtedly someone else is thinking, “Hey Sawadee, didn’t you ever hear of fabric softener?” All I can say is that Old Sawadee is a sensitive kind of guy…or at least his skin is. I don’t wear polyester or other synthetic fabrics because they don’t “breathe”…and in a country as hot and humid as Thailand, I want my clothes to breathe deeply. As far as fabric softener is concerned, I could dump an entire bottle of the stuff into the washer and my clothes would still come out, after hanging on the line, with the texture of burlap. If I were to iron the living daylights out of my clothes, they will eventually soften up to some degree, but frankly I don’t have either the time or the inclination to slave over an ironing board. Even my normally industrious wife rarely irons. She has a neighborhood woman do all our ironing.

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Anyway, after much haranguing, my wife reluctantly agreed to ask around and see who might be willing to at least take a look at the dryer. Miracle of miracles, someone claimed to know about the inner workings of electric dryers, and before you know it, Somchai and his buddy swing by with their pickup truck to haul our dryer back to their shop. An even greater miracle occurs when Somchai calls 24 hours later to say that he has located the problem…and that the replacement part shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred baht! Time to praise the appliance gods and start singing hosannas, right? Unfortunately my hopes for a quick repair are dashed when he adds that he is unable to locate the part in question.

This being Thailand I had to wonder how much effort Somchai put into his search. We are only an hour away from Chiang Mai. Surely someone there either has this part in stock, or could order it from the GE supply depot. I mean after all, things do go wrong with even the best appliances from time to time. I know that back in the US it would be a relatively simple matter to get on the phone, or this being the 21st century, go online and order just about any part for just about any appliance. Every part, no matter how small has a specific part number. All you need to do is identify the model of this dryer, request the specific part number, and in a very short time UPS or Fed-Ex will have delivered it to your door.

Of course this ain’t the US of A or indeed anywhere in Farangland. This is Thailand, and nothing is easy and straightforward. Stanley tracking down Livingstone on the shores of Lake Tanganyika? Mere child’s play! Amundsen’s quest to reach the South Pole? A mere bagatelle! Both these brave souls might have been reduced to tears trying to locate this stupid little part here in Thailand.

Oh, just in case you are wondering specifically what this part is, Somchai had no idea what it was called in Thai. I do believe though that it is either a thermal fuse or a thermostat switch. Whatever it was though, I obviously needed one. The question was where to start looking?

The obvious first stop was to contact Home Pro once again. Perhaps they might at least point me in the right direction. I felt sure that in a city as large as Chiang Mai, surely there was a place that could help me that could help me. From a friendly staff member at Home Pro I learned that a Chiang Mai branch of Siam TV was the place to head, because it was an authorized GE service center. Well, I thought to myself that seemed a promising start. Surely an “authorized” service center couldn’t possibly be staffed with a bunch of complete dunderheads. Hmmm. Just to be on the safe side I should make certain to bring every conceivable bit of product information with me. How about a photocopy of the front cover of my dryer’s service booklet? This had the model number. Next was the part I needed. Okay pack it up in small zip-lock bag. So with these in hand I set off one morning up to Chiang Mai.

Finding the location of this particular branch of Siam TV was a bit challenging, but eventually I found the place. One day I really should get myself a GPS unit! It was just as much of a challenge to find where within the store the service center was. Three different employees sent me in three different directions. Eventually though I did manage to find it and get in a queue. Finally it was my turn to speak to a young lady. Since my attempts to speak Thai often get me blank stares, I wrote down my problem. I had a GE dryer, model # DDE 7002/7004/7009. (Show photocopy of service booklet) I explain my problem. My dryer would not heat up. “Khreuuang ohp phaa khaawng chan mai khwaam raawn”. I need this part. (Hold up part in zip-lock) Can she help me?

After a few minutes tapping away at her computer I learned that according to her, no such model dryer existed. I hold up my photocopy once again. What the hell is this then? Actually, this being Thailand, I said no such thing, since it would not help my situation. In any case the girl said that because my dryer was 6 years old, there wouldn’t be any replacement part for it anyway. I really do wish I could have expressed my incredulity to her. I would like to have said that appliances rarely have a problem when they are new. It is in fact when they are old that things break! Instead I smiled and thanked her…and went out to the privacy of my car to vent my frustrations with some muttered comments about how useless this so-called “service center” was.

So, what’s next? I might have waited until my next trip to Bangkok and see if I had any better luck there. One day though I was explaining my recent problem to a Danish friend of mine over dinner. My friend explained that if I would let him have the part I needed, he thought he could track it down. After some time my friend made good on his promise. He had found my part! It cost only about 500 baht, plus a few hundred for a Thai fellow who had helped him out. What a bargain. Soon I would be unloading a fluffy warm batch of clothes. No more cardboard jeans for Old Sawadee!

There was still the small matter of installing this part. Unfortunately when Somchai had removed the old part from the dryer, he had ripped out some electrical wires. Fortunately a neighbor of mine had the necessary tools to strip the wires, and crimp them into some new connectors. She was ready to roll! I plugged the dryer in, turned it on, and instantly the tumbler was spinning around. Unfortunately the dryer was still as cold as ice. f**k! I couldn’t f**king believe it. I had done all this running around. My friend had done a good deal of running around on my behalf and the f**king thing still didn’t work! Why? Obviously Somchai had not found the cause of the problem. The little SOB had simply been guessing all along! Okay Sawadee. Calm down. Don’t have a conniption fit. You’ve managed to live without the stupid dryer for this long. Yes, yes I know that, but it was just so damned frustrating to go all through this aggravation and still have nothing to show for it. Still I have not given up yet. Recently I saw some YouTube videos about dryer repair which informed me that that there was another small part similar to the one I’d just replaced which could be the answer to my prayers. The next time one of my friends takes a trip back to the US, I’ll see if he can track that little devil down. Until then I’ll continue to do what most everyone else in the world does, and let the sun do all my drying for me. End of story?

Not quite my friends. As the title of this submission says, I have yet another appliance tale to regale you with today. Don’t all start cheering at once! Believe me folks I don’t make this stuff up. This is just ordinary daily life far away from the fleshpots. In the course of going about the business of living, appliances break down, including dryers and…vacuum cleaners.

I know a lot of you out there can get along nicely without a vacuum cleaner, but being more of a Felix Unger rather than an Oscar Madison kind of guy, I find one essential to keep everything clean and tidy. (Note: If you haven’t the faintest idea of who I’m talking about, you are obviously not old enough to remember the classic TV series, The Odd Couple. Try downloading a few episodes with bittorrent and I guarantee you’ll be laughing your butt off!)

Most Thais certainly don’t find the need for a vacuum. For my wife and her family, a few quick swishes of a broom and the floor is “clean”…except it isn’t nearly clean enough for me. All the broom does most of the time is raise a cloud of dust and move the dirt and debris around. Don’t even get me started about swishing a dirty mop around. My dear wife grew up in a dilapidated shack in middle of Buriram, so she didn’t know about cleaning until we got married and moved to the US. It was there that she had her first experience with a vacuum cleaner. It think the first time I turned one on it scared the daylights out of her. She eventually learned how to use one, and even admitted that it did an excellent job at cleaning.

The last home we lived in was one that we had built for us. One interesting feature it had was a central vacuum system. There were outlets strategically place throughout the house that you plugged a hose into. Now that thing had some serious suction! There was even an outlet in the garage so that I could clean out our cars. Living in an area that saw plenty of snow during the winter meant that the roads and sidewalks were always covered with salt and sand. It was nice to be able to clean all that out of our cars without having to go to a car wash.

One of the first things I bought when we first moved to Lampang was a vacuum cleaner. The house that we were renting while we built our home hadn’t been cleaned in a dog’s age. I mean it was filthy. How anyone could rent that to us without cleaning it first is beyond me. Sweeping was definitely not enough to even begin to remove the dirt and debris. Neither of us knew where to go shopping, so we wound up picking up a Hitachi vacuum cleaner at Big C. It was certainly not a heavy duty unit by any means, but when you plugged it in and turned it on, it did manage to work, but the suction was hardly overwhelming. Right from the beginning it did run awfully hot and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Sure enough, a year after moving in to our new home, the Hitachi died. It wasn’t worth fixing. We needed a new one. Every time I mentioned buying one though, my frugal to the core wife would moan about “not wasting money” and that would be the end of the discussion. It didn’t seem worth arguing about, although I will admit that I wasn’t happy with the dirt I seemed to see everywhere I looked.

A few months ago when my wife was out of town I decided to go out and “waste some money”. It was time to go shopping. I didn’t even looking at Big C. They carried very little in terms of selection. Instead I decided to make the rounds of the local appliance stores. My first stop was at the Lampang branch of Siam TV. Anyone who has ever walked into one of these kinds of places will probably relate to being pounced on as soon as you walk through the doors. No one is allowed to simply browse around without being tailed by at least one employee. Ironically, when you actually ask them for some assistance, they seem woefully unprepared to help you.

I once had a part time job as a customer service rep at a Best Buy in my hometown. You can love or hate the megastores, but I was impressed that the staff who worked in every section of the store knew the products they sold, and if they didn’t know the answer to a question, they would immediately find someone who could. Here in Thailand if you ask someone the difference between two models of something, they often are completely clueless about either of them. That’s not always the case, but on this particular sunny afternoon in Lampang, no one knew much of anything about what they were selling.

I did in fact find my way over to where the vacuum cleaners were located and was busily perusing through the different models, trying find out their specifications. For x number of baht, what exactly was I getting? How many watts of power did each one have? I wanted some suction for my money. What attachments, if any did each one come with? What was the warranty on each model? Why was did this one cost 2,000 baht and why did that one cost 5,000? Somporn didn’t know. She called over her co-worker Somchai, who was equally baffled. I mean they couldn’t even tell me in Thai, let alone in English. No matter I saw a Samsung that seemed like what I was looking for. According to the tag it had the necessary power. It was didn’t require bags. It had a dust filter. It was affordable. I pointed at it and indicated that I would take that one. All was smiles. Somporn took the item tag and led me to the sales counter to pay for it. The cashier took my bank card, ran it through, had me sign my name, and handed me my receipt. Now I sat back and waited for someone to get my vacuum out of the storeroom and bring it down to me. This should have taken no more than five minutes. About 20 minutes went by. I sat there watching an enormous high definition LED TV with an awesome home theatre. Too bad it cost a small fortune. I asked the sales clerk if they did indeed have my vacuum in stock. Oh yes sir! Just wait for 5 minutes. It will be coming soon! 20 minutes later, I was still sitting there waiting. I inquired once again about my vacuum. Oh just 5 minutes sir! Is there a problem I asked? Oh no sir. No problem. Just 5 minutes! Needless to say 10 more minutes went by and I had reached the end of my patience. In a calm and quiet voice, and with a Thai style smile on my face I asked for the clerk to please issue me a credit. I was leaving. Of course the truth was that they didn’t have the vacuum in stock. Now if after the first 20-minute wait they had come to me and admitted that they didn’t have the model I was looking for, I would have simply selected a different one. Instead they kept me sitting there knowing that they were never going to produce the stupid vacuum but no one wanted to be the bearer of “bad news”. Well the bad news, at least for them, turned out that I wasn’t going to be purchasing anything from them that day.

I headed to the large appliance store just across the street, which was a Telewiz. In a matter of moments I saw the exact same Samsung vacuum cleaner that I had minutes before attempted to purchase. The price was exactly the same. With a bit of trepidation I asked the sales clerk if they actually had that model in stock. The answer was a resounding yes! I would in fact be getting the very vacuum that was right in front of me. Buying a floor model didn’t bother me, since it had never been used.

Once again I handed over my bank card to a cashier, who ran it through and gave me a receipt while Somchai went to back room, brought back the box, and carefully packed everything up. All was well. But I still was without my vacuum. I was told to wait for 5 minutes. Does everything in this country take “5 minutes”? 5 minutes turned to 10 and then 15 minutes. Over in a corner some kind of huddled conference was taking place between Somchai, Somchai’s manager and the cashier. Sweet Jesus what was the problem this time? Finally I went up to the whole lot of them and asked why I could have my vacuum cleaner so that I could take it and go home? “Oh I’m so sorry sir, but the price listed on the sales tag for this vacuum cleaner was incorrect. You must pay 800 additional baht.” Once again in a calm and quiet voice (You get a lot of practice using that kind of voice in Thailand) I explained that I had just seen that model across the street for the price listed on the tag. I wasn’t willing to pay 800 baht more. Please issue me a refund. I was leaving. Apparently I wasn’t leaving all that soon. Suddenly the cashier was having a problem getting her card scanner to work. It took another 15 minutes before I was able to get the hell out.

Now perhaps some of you would have gotten the hint that the shopping gods were not smiling on you that day, and that setting out yet a third time to find a stupid vacuum cleaner was pushing your luck just a bit too far. I however was in a decidedly stubborn mood. I was bound and determined not to go home without a new vacuum…and just to show myself that I wasn’t going to be pushed around by the whims of fate, I was equally bound and determined not to settle for anything other than the Samsung that I was now obsessed with having…and at the price I first saw it for!

This time I decided on a different approach. I avoided going to another large appliance store. Instead I headed for a much smaller one that I had often passed by without a second glance. Hey, what did I have to lose?

There I found in one corner of the store my red Samsung. With hesitation I looked at the price tag. It was the right price. Now came the tricky part. Did in fact they have it in stock…and at that price? The answer to both questions was to my delight yes! As I was waiting for my receipt I chatted with the sales clerks. One knew who I was. It seemed that I had had her granddaughter as one of my students last year and that I was well thought of as a “nice farang” and a good teacher. 5 minutes later I was waving goodbye and was headed home.

At home I could hardly wait to assemble the parts and turn this baby on. There were no instructions in English, but luckily even I could figure out how to attach the hose to the body and the wand to the hose. I stepped on the start button and happily began cleaning every room in the house. It worked so well that I then proceeded outside to vacuum out my truck. All was well, and the ordeal of finding a new vacuum cleaner was quickly forgotten. That euphoria lasted for about three weeks when one morning I stepped on the start button and nothing happened. I checked the obvious things. Yes the plug was firmly in the electrical outlet. Yes, the outlet itself had power. The hose was firmly attached to the body. Still the damned thing would not come on. I couldn’t f**cking believe it. I must have had some premonition that something like this might happen, because I hadn’t thrown away the box that the thing had come in. Now here I was repacking everything up and heading back down to the place where I had recently bought the damned thing.

I’ll be honest. I was fully expecting to suddenly have become a persona non grata when I walked through the doors of this shop. You can imagine how amazed I was to find that the sales staff saying how sorry they were that my vacuum had a problem, and that they would do their best to quickly remedy the situation. They said that they would send it off immediately to be repaired. Okay that sounded encouraging, but this being Thailand, I had visions of the repair taking many months. Imagine my surprise when ten days later I received a call that my vacuum had been fixed and I could picked it up anytime. The sales staff apologized for any inconvenience this problem had caused me. Back home I found that the problem had indeed been fixed. The vacuum turned on and since then has continued to work like a champ. It’s nice when a tale of woe does turn out in the end to have a happy ending.

And the moral of these two tales of appliances gone wrong is…? You simply never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning here in Thailand and head out your door to go shopping, especially for anything electrical. If you believe in karma, it couldn’t do you any harm to help an old lady or two across the street before entering a shop. If you believe that you have no power whatsoever over your fate here in the world of relative existence, I sincerely hope the dice roll your way. Whether it’s luck or random chance, you still need all the help you can get when you walk through the door where Somchai and company and eagerly awaiting you.

Stickman's thoughts:

Yep, as anyone who has lived in Thailand for a good few years can relate, I know how frustrating this sort of thing can be!

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