Sunday, January 9, 2011

I buy a refrigerator in Bangkok

I know, that's a strange name for a travel blog post. Let me explain.

As you know if you've been reading this blog for any length of time I've been traveling for the past few months with Nut, my beautiful Thai girlfriend. It's been a wonderful experience getting to know her and, at this point after spending every minute of every day and night for 3 months together, I'm feeling very connected to her. When I left Bangkok last spring I had only spent a few weeks with Nut. I was infatuated with her, sure. After all she's an exotic lover, a Thai woman 20 years younger than me, so very unlike any other woman I've ever been with. We kept in touch over the summer via Skype but as the time for my return drew closer I began to wonder just where this relationship could ever go. There is this huge language and culture gap separating us for one thing. Also, given my history, I'm more than a little bit cynical about relationships at this stage. But it's always a turn on to "ride the wave" as a good friend confided to me one day concerning her new love affair. Who doesn't enjoy that feeling of being swept up in something big and new and romantic? It was in this frame of mind that I met up with Nut after our six-month separation. Long story short, things have worked out better than I ever expected. We're still together and I'm growing fonder of her every day. As Nut is fond of saying, "We can't know the future. We just accept whatever happens day by day." 

Getting back to the refrigerator story. Before we went to Cambodia last month her apartment was broken into. My guess is that some local guy had seen me, a wealthy tourist in his mind, coming and going and one day when we left her place to have breakfast he seized his opportunity and ripped out the wire mesh in a window to gain entry.  Nut had decided to return from breakfast alone leaving me at the cafe to do Internet stuff and surprised the would-be burglar inside her room. He ran off without hurting her and got nothing. I had only about 80 bucks in my suitcase and had my camera and computer with me but our passports, my extra credit cards, and my GPS were inside. We caught a very lucky break, two lucky breaks actually because Nut wasn't hurt. But from that point on I carried all my most important stuff with me whenever we left the place and I never left her there alone again. It was time to find a new place.

In this area of Bangkok, Banglamphu, there are many apartment buildings. Actually, apartments as we know them stateside, are fairly rare here, at least for ordinary people. Most live in one room flats like the we just moved to. Anyway, after a few days of walking the neighborhoods we hit on this place -- a nice, partially furnished room at ground level, all tile, with A/C and wi-fi Internet, a big bathroom, and a very private, completely tiled patio where Nut can wash clothes and cook. It's in a quiet neighborhood yet only a short walk to the big tourist center of Khaosan Road where Nut will work after I return to Alaska. And it's on the shady side of the building so the sun doesn't roast the place all day, a big consideration for this large farang. Her old room was tiny, stiflingly hot, and had a bathroom I could barely squeeze into, not to mention the narrow and exceedingly steep stairway to the second floor. This place seems heavenly by comparison.

Nut doesn't own much in the way of furniture. She sold most of her stuff when her marriage broke up a number of years ago. This place came with a desk and table and chairs and a comfortable king size bed but I needed a refrigerator to keep my beer cold. And Nut has cooking skills, extensive cooking skills it turns out, that I wanted to enjoy. Off we went to the local department store, Tang Hua Seng, which reminded me of a older Sears Roebuck's, where we bought a small Panasonic fridge. It cost 5,000 baht, about $150 USD. We added a nifty induction hot plate for another 1,000 and as I pushed my Visa card toward the clerk I asked if they could deliver the fridge.
"No problem", replied the salesman, "we can deliver today."
"Great. When today?"
"Right now."
"Wow!," I replied, surprised by his answer. "But we have a bit more shopping to do."
He wrote down his cell number and said as he handed it to Nut, "Call me when you're ready and we'll meet you outside. You can ride with us in the truck and show the way."

We picked up a few more things, a mop and broom, a bath mat, a dish towel, the sorts of things you always buy when moving to a new place. After about 20 minutes Nut made the call to tell him we were ready.
"Watch for us downstairs. We'll be out in a minute". A moment or two passed and out came our new refrigerator in its shipping carton with the salesman and a helper, another appliance salesman, pushing it along on a two-wheeled cart out onto the street. I'm already regretting I don't  have my camera because the sight of these two salesmen in white shirts and ties actually delivering the refrigerator they just sold to me is such a far cry from what happens stateside that I wanted to capture the whole improbable scene. As if that isn't crazy enough, he signals to a passing tuk-tuk and when it pulls to the curb he begins to negotiate the delivery with the driver.

Thus I learned there would be no truck involved in this delivery. Instead the lowly pick-up truck of urban Thailand, the tuk-tuk, usually powered by a noisy, smoking 2-stroke engine, invariably operated by drivers who rev those engines incessantly at a red light, and I must add here, a vehicle thoroughly despised by my friend Albie, was to deliver our purchase. The driver lowered the tailgate and together with the salesmen strapped our fridge onto it. Although bulky, it's a small unit only weighing about 90 pounds so the load isn't as heavy as it appears. Of course we're all riding together in the tiny vehicle so Nut and I hop into the small cab with our bags of other purchases. Our salesman wedged himself in beside us while the other guy hangs himself off one side of the driver's seat. Off we go to make the most bizarre appliance delivery I've ever heard tell of.

The tuk-tuk drove us right up to our doorstep and the salesmen muscled the carton to our doorway where they unpacked it and walked it through the door. They plugged it in and after assuring themselves that it was in good working order, departed in the tuk-tuk. The store picked up the tab for the delivery, as promised. Imagine this happening in the states. I don't think so.

Giancarlo and Albie with me and Nut and the new fridge
We had a little gathering the other night, an impromptu housewarming, attended by our friends Albie, Walter and Phil, from Homer, along with Henry, who introduced Nut to me last spring, and Giancarlo, an Italian expat and like the rest of us, a lover of Thailand. This is the group I hang out with when in Bangkok and by now they all know and like Nut a lot. Here are a few scenes from that celebration.

Henry at the housewarming - Nut and Walter in the background
Walter at the Gecko Bar next night
Phil at the Gecko Bar
Anyway, that's the story. Nut and I are really enjoying our quiet and cool apartment. We've been picking up little things here and there-- a wicker chair, a folding table for the patio, some cookware. Bangkok's become very comfortable all of a sudden. When it gets hot later in February we'll just use the aircon but for now we leave the sliding glass doors open day and night. It doesn't get much better than this.

I'm off to Africa in a few days. I'll be back in a month but I'll miss Nut a ton while I'm away. I booked my return flight for Mar 31st. I'll miss the Songkran festival this year but by then it's just too blasted hot in Bangkok for this farang. Okay, signing off for now -- next post will be from somewhere in Africa.