Mr. Blandings in Thailand
I’m an old movie nut, and one of my favorite Cary Grant films is “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.”
It’s the risible story of one man’s struggle to build his own home out in the Connecticut wilderness so he can commute to work and come back to his own castle at night, where the wife & kiddies await him by the blazing hearth, ready
to give him his pipe & slippers and lead him into the spotless dining room for a sumptuous dinner. Naturally, things go awry from the get-go. But, like all antique Hollywood stories, the man finally triumphs over balky contractors and the
forces of nature to rear a shining beacon to the American Dream. At only double the original projected cost.
When I came to teach English in Thailand many years ago I never dreamed of building my own home. No, I was quite content to rent an apartment, and, when I acquired the requisite Thai girlfriend
(and her numerous sponging relatives)I was quite content to rent a nice bungalow at an incredibly low price, which has never gone up.
But I do have a friend in Thailand, we’ll call him Rupert, who married a nice Thai lady and has, so far, fathered 3 charming children. He came into some money a few years back and decided to have his wife buy a piece of land where they would rear
a temple to domesticity.
That’s when the fun began.
The land was sold to him (or rather, to his Thai wife) by one of wifey’s distant relatives. It was good, solid ground that needed no preparation to begin building.
Until it rained.
Then this solid piece of real estate turned into a swamp rife with water snakes and other aquatic wildlife that would have done credit to any zoo.
Rupert had to buy tons of fill to get the land above the water line. The laborers hired to dump and spread the fill were also distant relatives of the wife; they were immediately infected with a curious swamp fever that required frequent infusions of
Chang beer to keep them on their feet.
When the land was finally ready, Rupert had his design for the house all drawn up and began to work in earnest. Back in England he had turned his hand to house building, so he knew what he wanted, and he knew how to do it.
What he didn’t know was how things work (or don’t work) in Thailand.
It seems a permit was needed to buy and mix the required cement.
The permit cost a mere 150 baht, but could only be procured in a provincial office that was never open. At least, whenever Rupert went to get the permit he found the office shuttered and deserted. Obsequious clerks down the hall assured him the office
would be open the next day, but Rupert quickly found out those clerks were talking through their bamboo hats.
Finally his wife went down to the building where the office was located, provided a case of cheap Thai whiskey to the proper authorities, and came back home with the permit.
Rupert purchased steel beams and bricks and mortar and got the floor poured without incident. The beams were put up, and the roof began to take shape over their heads. It was a beautiful blue tile that sparkled in the tropical sun.
It also cracked like peanut brittle at the least little commotion.
Need I add he had gotten a “deal” on the tile from one of his wife’s relatives?
The tile was thrown into a heap in the backyard, where it became the haunt of vipers and spiders the size of dinner plates.
New roof tiles were bought, from an avaricious but reliable Sino-Thai company. Rupert began placing the roof tiles himself, but had to quit after the tropical sun literally burned a hole in his nose that a specialist in Bangkok assured him was pre-cancerous.
Luckily, Rupert had several brothers-in-law who were glad to help out. The blazing sun was nothing to them. They got the roof up in record time, under the supervision of Rupert.
The fly in the ointment was that they installed all the tiles upside down, which Rupert was unable to observe until he clambered up onto what he thought was his completed roof to see how things were going.
I could go on . . .
The sunken living room was sunk several feet too far, and became a pond. The innards of the toilets rusted out even before they were installed. And nobody, but nobody, would work for more than an hour or two before breaking for long, leisurely lunches
and dinners and snacks and beer runs. Rupert’s Thai wife could never hear of a new somtum stand or a truck hawking durian without commandeering the workers to run shopping errands for her, and then feeding them all handsomely afterwards.
At one point Rupert was forced to fly back to England to float a loan on the business he had there.
But, by golly, he persevered, and eventually, through flood, famine, and Chang beer, he got his house completed.
And that’s when his wife decided they would rent the house out and live off the proceeds in a modest shack down the road.
After all, the house was in her name.
Rupert told me all this one day while I was actually looking the place over, thinking I might rent it myself.
But the rent Rupert’s wife wanted was, to my mind, outrageous, and she wouldn’t come down, so it came to nothing.
The last I heard the house was still empty. Rupert and his family live down the road in a rented place that looks like the Siamese version of Tobacco Road.
That Rupert has not garroted his wife and fled to the Scottish highlands with his children is proof of the strength of English phlegm.
Stiff upper lip, and all that . . .