Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nearly Done

They slowly and steadily completed their jobs last week and cleaned out their rubbish on Monday. Here now is the bathroom, minus a mirror and fittings but with a rather fetching flowerpot. You can't see the rain-shower head, but trust me, it's there:

The sink leaks and has to be replaced. I bought a cheap one from HomePro when I first moved in, and it proved a false economy. The same design by Cotto costs about 4,000 baht:

And here's the new loo:

The french doors have turned out well, though the workers devastated my courtyard (I suppose they needed somewhere to keep their crap, cut and paint the iron and so on, and they did clean it up as best they could). The iron trellis above the door will hold a creeper called Maad Bali, which makes a sort of curtain of air roots:

And from inside:

The downstairs loo/dog shower room is fairly innocuous now -- I decided to paint it white after all and leave it looking cheap and functional -- and has a proper drain:

Really I have no complaints, except for some design flaws that are my own fault (showering in the bathtub is a bit splashy). Wut and his people did a good job and nothing very suprising happened. What can I say?

Of course it's not nearly done, and probably never will be.

Kitti the electrician is coming this week to move, repair and connect some lamps. I need a mirror, replacement sink, shelves and towel rack/ladder for the bathroom, and to have a new sofa made for the first floor (the old one is disgusting). New pictures for the first floor. The front and back doors downstairs need bamboo blinds, but nobody is taking orders at the moment because the factories were all flooded and have just started catching up with their backlog. Rush matting for the bedroom, I think. New Chinese lanterns for outside now that the gutter pipes have been extended; the old ones were damaged by the rain. Then a new air conditioner...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ancient Wisdom

The 'Turkish proverb' When the house is finished, death comes is in fact from Buddenbrooks, and Thomas Mann either made it up or misremembered something; might as well be 'Confucius say'. It's also, however, true.

It Never Rains But It Pours

Could they have chosen a worse day to get back into dervish mode? All morning a storm was brewing and the air was like hot soup, plus I woke up with a terrible hangover, only to find that there was nowhere in the house to rest my aching head and churning gut nor cool my sweating brow. The ensuite, as we estate agents call it, was taken over by two women who were to finish the grouting, and Ood (actually I think his name is Wut) and the iron man had chosen this morning of all mornings to invade the first floor and turn round the windows at the back so they open inwards and can be cleaned.

That meant the rotary saw. Oh, the rotary saw: it was slicing right through my brain. Downstairs Noi was at her cleaning job.

Wut showed me a palette of paint for the downstairs loo, which is waterproof paint for roof tiles, and the only yellow was a horrible orange. Yes, yes, that one, said I, under the influence of last night's drink and the rotary saw. That one. He thought I couldn't be serious. I am serious, I said, under the influence etc. Well, he did as he was told, and this is the result:

A sore thumb's innocuous by comparison, I think we can agree. It's not to be helped: I'll have to pay extra to have it painted over a very pale lemon yellow. Nothing else will do, because I'm not replacing those awful blue tiles that are in there already, and two colours is already more than enough.

By the time the storm broke they were done with the windows and had moved on to the french doors downstairs. The rain gave me a chance to assess the new drainpipes (excellent) and the need for a gutter along the ledge (present). Wut didn't agree, but we know he has a religious fear of gutters. I've already talked to a tin man on Ekkamai, so we'll do that without him. Patiently grouted the women upstairs / And by evening completed their task.

Completed too, or almost, were the french doors. They just need a few strips of iron to face the gaps and a pair of handles:

Friday, March 23, 2012


I haven't posted anything for a few days because Ood and the elderly cement expert slowly and carefully tiled the bathroom, tile after small tile. They worked steadily from 9 till lunchtime and 1 to 5, no monkeying about, but it was tedious progress because all the walls are crooked. What can I say, except that having perfectly capable builders doing a job they are well on top of is a dull experience? Here now are the bathroom walls, tiled:

The institutional effect is a bit stark even for my perverse taste, but it won't look quite so Albanian hospital once the joins have been grouted, and I hope that the chessboard floor and wooden tub and washstand will provide some warmth and character.

The downstairs loo is being tiled in the cheap yellow tile, which is so ugly against the white that I'll have to paint it yellow:

Today there's a little more activity -- they're fixing an iron trellis over the new french doors and grouting the tiles -- so maybe there will be more to report.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lazy Days

We've had a few lazy days. He's got another job somewhere nearby where most of his people are needed, and it really is very hot. The person who was supposed to tile the bathroom today called in sick. Still, progress has been made. The french doors downstairs are coming along:

The roof has been sealed:

The washstand now has the requisite holes in it, the new bathroom walls have been plastered, and the downstairs loo has a pair of doors made from something called smartboard to conceal the pump under the stairs. I've bought some tiles for the downstairs loo--buttercup yellow, cheapest in the shop--a water heater and a tap for the bathroom. All in all these have been a busy few days.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Great Engineering Swindle

Our much-trumpeted engineering solution was a total failure. They used huge chunks of styrofoam instead of small cubes, no mesh, and no gravel at all in the cement, so they might as well have covered marshmallows in icing sugar and hoped for a miracle:

But the miracle never happened:

Like a bad politician I blame others, but like a good soldier I'm resigning my commission because I can't see how I could bring anything but shame on the regiment now my lack of leadership has been so glaringly exposed. From now on I'll just be Me.

Actually it doesn't matter very much; they can just fix those bits and then it'll get a layer of tile putty and tiles on top, but still...

I suffered another setback because the antique tile I fancied, at 28 baht a tile, would have made the bathroom the most expensive room in the house. I couldn't bear to live in a place like that, especially since the rest of it is carefully badly finished and done on the cheap. Also I'm cheap. Instead, with a heavy heart, I made my way over to Ratchada and the bathroom emporia there and bought some bog-standard chessboard floor tile and small white tiles for the walls in the hope that that will at least produce a slightly institutional effect.

I had to get a Subaru to transport them back. The driver was ancient and a kind of stoic complainer, the way such people often are, somehow both grumpy and imperturbable. The load was far too heavy for the car, but he noted the fact and then cleared some debris from the seat and we set off. Have you got your bill? he barked, 'not unkindly.'

The car was a time machine, weird bits of armature and rusty bottle tops on the dashboard, dusty curled papers spilling out from behind the sun shield, and the drive took us along one of those back routes where it's always 20 years ago. Little lawyer's practices, condo sales offices where the hoardings have bleached to near-invisibility, bad apartments, restaurants with a car parked in the back of the eating area, grimy houses where no one seems to live but the slippers outside the door change every now and again ...Pracha Uthit. Klong Chuat Yai. And then, in the gathering dusk, you recognise the handwriting on a sign nailed to a tree that says sue air kau, and soon you're home.

He helped me carry the tiles in, so I gave him a 100-baht tip and a cold drink, and all of a sudden a radiant smile... No, I can't do it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Her Own Worst Enemy

The woman with the warm woolly hat and socks, who is very nice and gentle and works wonderfully hard -- she never takes a break outside but brings food in -- has a habit of painting herself into a corner. She did it twice today, first by starting to pour the concrete by the doorway and working her way back to the window, then again on the roof, so now her footsteps are sealed into my house for all eternity. Not that it matters: the bathroom will be tiled and the roof needs to win no beauty contests, plus the dog also went for a little walk on the fresh cement.

Engineering Solution (update)

Ood's wise man suggested bypassing the problem of the temperamental wood by 'seeding' the concrete with styrofoam cubes instead, which won't have the strength to crack the cement by either expanding when wet or disintegrating. Still, the principle is the same: the point is to reduce the mass of cement and thus the weight.

When Ood came back with the styrofoam, he proudly reported that the styrofoam man told him everyone buys it for that. There's at any rate an extra i-beam under that part of the floor, so perhaps all this expense of brain power was unnecessary.

For the roof we've used something called Flex Shield, which is apparently used as a cheap swimming-pool sealant, because Ood felt epoxy was too expensive. It sets a nice light grey so won't retain too much heat from ze burning sun of ze tropics.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Tilt

The house, as the subtitle indicates, tilts. This isn't much of a problem until you try and build a bathroom on the second floor, at which point the angle is so vertiginous that in order to counteract it and make sure the water flows down the plughole, the floor needs to incline like the red line:

That means that in the other corner, which hangs over the staircase with no visible means of support, we'd have to pour up to 15 cm of concrete. This they felt might be too heavy for the poor old house, so they sat and thought about it, wondering how to shave off an inch here and there by introducing an Escher print worth of steps. Here my nonexistent training in the building trade kicked in and I suggested we lay a lot of old wood on the floor instead and pour the minimum necessary concrete around it. Ood's wise man, the mad plumber, rejoiced, congratulated me several times, the dog (also present) relaxed with a sigh into a pile of brick dust, and so it was agreed. We'll apparently add some steel mesh to stabilize it in case the wood proves temperamental, and the problem's solved.

I felt like an engineering 'major' and have therefore decided to promote myself. The Principal's history, say hello to the Major.

Meanwhile the plumbing's all done. Notice the bathtub on the right (10,000 baht from one of Chinatown's last coopers):

And this will be the washstand (3,500 baht from a man on the road to the airport who makes things from old wood):

Really they work hard, fast and well, and Ood now has the sense to double-check before he does anything drastic, which is all I ask.

PS: Now I'm thinking bamboo would be even lighter, but maybe that's tempting fate.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Great Pipe Mystery

We started the day on a brittle note when I told them to paint the blue pipes white because they hadn't asked me what colour to get. He said what do you mean? The only other colour is yellow, and that's for electricity. I said no, there's light grey, as you know perfectly well. He denied it. I insisted. He agreed to paint them. Still, it rankled, so I drove round a few hardware stores in the area and asked them if they had the light grey ones. The first one said no, they exist, but I don't know where you can get them; the second said no; and the third said they existed '20 years ago' but no longer.

Yet the first contractor I'd spoken to, who was a smart man with an even smarter wife, told me they do exist, are the same in every respect and cost the same. I even have a notion I've seen them, but where? Boonthavorn doesn't have them. Maybe they're a figment of my imagination -- in which case I might offer to put my imagination in the service of the Thai hardware industry and make a lot of people very happy.

Otherwise progress has been swift, held up only for a few minutes after lunch when Ood (the Leader) sat outside on the bench in quiet religious mania and refused to come in as long as the dog was in the kitchen. His squeamishness also extends to gutters, which he begged me not to install along the ledge on the top floor. After some probing it emerged that he has no experience with them and would have to get someone else in.

Their second attempt, much better:

P.S. One possible answer to the riddle: he now says the off-white pipes do exist, but they're rainwater pipes and thinner than the blue ones, which are drinking water pipes. But this is a country of convenient truths and agreeable facts (and none the worse for it), so I'm reserving judgement.

Friday, March 9, 2012

First Crisis

So fast were they that in the time I went away to buy some plates they'd managed to lay the big sewage pipe right in front of the first-floor window and insisted there was no other way. I said who the fuck wants a sewage pipe right in front of their window? No! said the Leader, frantic enthusiasm undimmed, his main concern is that I should be happy. I explained where it should run (past the ledge along the wall on the left), so tomorrow they'll do it again... Measure twice, cut once, have I said that before?

Here's their first attempt:

And here's the dog on the patio:

Stage Two

The tasks before us are here.

A lot of men and women arrived at 9 o'clock sharp and by lunchtime had cleaned the roof, led by their fantastically energetic, er, Leader. His only handicap is that he's a Muslim and can't be contaminated by my 'unclean' dog, which he's too polite to mention and therefore blames on his staff's fear of being bitten. The dog is delighted -- he loves human activity around him -- and has taken rather a shine to the poor man. The cats have decamped.

The plumber came after lunch and proved even more frantic than the Leader, and we spent some time screeching, figuring out how to put the shower controls together and arguing furiously about the question of copper pipes. Already a grumpy older fellow is digging into the wall where the sink will go, while an indefinable mass of others are swarming all over the house doing god knows what.

I'm sure it'll all go pear-shaped soon enough, and it's costing me as much as Nek took for the whole house, but I've seen this man's work (I found him in soi 25 where he'd just built a spectacularly tasteless place with shiny shit-brown parquet everywhere, which is difficult to do well), and behold it was--

--forgive me, he just came to say he'd replaced a door handle downstairs while the going was slack and is now off to buy bricks, bab nueng! I can't type as fast as things are moving. A teenager is digging up the patio, another is lining up pipes, a woman in a warm woolly hat and socks has hacked a hole in the wall for the wastewater pipe... (Of course the pipes are blue; I took my eye of the ball for half a second and 20 m of pipes arrived before I could remind him I wanted the light grey ones. Oh well, they'll have to paint them.)

Here's the bathroom: