Trip to the Andaman Opera Suite Phuket

Three nights away from Krungthep was just what we (and our guests!) needed.  We stayed at the Andaman Opera Suite located on Mai Khao Beach on the far north end of Phuket island.  A year ago October we stayed at this three-unit condo which we knew as the Black Pearl.  It turns out that each of the units, which are owned by a trio of couples, has a different name.  The Black Pearl is one of the downstairs units and the Andaman Opera Suite is the the upstairs unit.

Since the Black Pearl was unavailable, its owners suggested we call the agent that handles the Andaman Opera Suite.  It turned out to be a great move and was plenty of room for five adults, although the master bedroom suite (in which the three guests stayed) has only a sheer curtain between the bedroom and the shower portion of the bathroom, so this required a little coordination.

Here are photos from the website.  I figured they are so much nicer than anything I could shoot, so why duplicate efforts?

Andaman 8 Andaman 7
Andaman 6 Andaman 4
Andaman 1 Andaman 2
Andaman 3 Andaman 5

The kitchen turned out to be rather well-stocked, enough to prepare a couple of meals at home.

P1080026

Mixed grill – dry brined pork chops and a variety of German sausages.

P1080025

Brownies!  I cheated and used a mix.  Seemed silly to buy cocoa powder just for one batch.

For our third evening, we stopped at the local market and picked up some fresh seafood, herbs, and vegetables to make a nice dinner.

P1080032
P1080042

Before and after: a snapper-like fish stuffed with lemongrass, dill, and galangal root, with kaffir lime leaves and a butter-soy-lime sauce.  Wrapped in foil and baked 25 minutes.

P1080035

Chicken biryani from one of the vendors at the market.  Tasty!

P1080038

Tawn’s own contribution: tom yum goong soup, a spicy chili-tamarand shrimp soup with coconut milk and herbs.  Tawn held back on the chili to spare the guests.

P1080046

Before we chow down for dinner on our final night: me, Tawn, Jack, Craig, and Matt.

 

Unexpected Wrench in the Tday Plans

Two years ago Tawn and I hosted a lavish Thanksgiving dinner for 14 guests.  I cooked the whole menu (except the bird, which I had done at the market and delivered) and we sat at a neatly decorated table on the patio next to the pool.  It was quite impressive, if I do say so myself.  It was also overwhelming so last year Thanksgiving was hosted at someone else’s house.  This year we are doing it again… although a wrench was just thrown into our plans.

To save some myself some of the hassle, this year we billed it as a Thanksgiving Poolside Potluck Picnic.  Instead of cooking everything, I’ll just do the bird, stuffing, and gravy and let others fuss over the side dishes and desserts.  We’re also dispensing with the fussily decorated table and are instead just using the tables and chairs already available on the pool deck. 

Well, that is what we were going to do.  Until Tuesday, when the condo management posted a notice in the elevators announcing that a two-month rehabilitation of the swimming pool would commence the next morning.

Now, the rehabilitation is much needed.  There are many broken tiles (I cut my foot badly a few weeks ago and considered posting the pictures but they are just too bloody) and this work should have been done a few years ago.  But must it begin this week?  And with only one day notice?

P1070549

So the question was, how would this affect Thanksgiving?  We’re expecting about two dozen guests and there is no way I can put them in the house and serve food.  Poolside is out, of course.  Thankfully, three weeks ago a small cafe with outdoor and indoor seating opened on the ground floor of our condo.  It is a pretty space and hasn’t started to get a lot of traffic yet.  Tawn and I went to talk with the owner yesterday and she agreed to rent it to us for the afternoon (we’re holding the dinner on Saturday since everyone is working here on Thursday).

We’ll see how this new space works but I’m glad we didn’t have to cancel.  The cafe has an oven and refrigerator, so we’ll actually have better facilities at hand than if we were by the pool and had to keep running up two stories to the condo.  Whew – Thanksgiving is saved!

 

Denuded and Exposed

Last December I wrote about some of the changes happening to the landscape in the Thong Lor neighborhood of Krungthep (Bangkok), where Tawn and I live.  Most notably, for selfish reasons, is the demolishing of two houses adjacent to our condo.

P1210065

One Sunday morning last December laborers started demolishing the internal structure on this first house.  You can see our condo building – one of two U-shaped buildings that face each other around a swimming pool – in the background. 

Thankfully we live on the back side of the building from this picture so the noise and dust didn’t affect us all that directly.  But like any property owners, we were curious what was going on.  Was this adjacent property going to become a thirty-plus story monstrosity like the one to our southeast?

P1210349

A few days later, heavy equipment came in and the building, an old single-family home dating from the 1960s, was razed.  Once most of the rubble was carted away, everything was quiet for several weeks.  Then about a month ago they started the same process with another house in the property to the left of the one pictured above.

On behalf of the panicked residents, uncertain about what was going to be built just outside their balconies, the homeowner’s association pressured the juristic office to contact the Wattana District office.  The news came back that the properties are owned by an elderly woman who is building houses for her two sons.  There would be no large condos, just new single-family homes.  Of course there are plenty of examples on our street of “single family homes” that become extended family six-story apartments.

P1020518

Then two weeks ago, once again on a Sunday morning, the construction crews arrived and started cutting down all the trees and vegetation on the two, now one since the wall between them had been demolished, properties.  A few days later they also cut down two beautiful old trees that were at the back of their property, situated so that they provided a nice green backdrop for our pool area.

Last Sunday morning was the annual homeowner’s association meeting.  At the meeting, the head of the association, a Thai man about my age who lives in the mirror image condo from ours on the same floor, explained that he had personally contacted the homeowner and offered to compensate her for the trees so that they could remain standing.

She explained that her sons were going to build a pool and didn’t want to deal with the leaves falling into it.  Bleh.  How’s that for a lame excuse?  If you can afford to tear down old houses to build new ones, I think you can afford a pool boy.  They are inexpensive here.  (I keep suggesting we hire one but Tawn says no.  Ha ha… just kidding.  I mean just kidding about hiring one, not about Tawn saying no.)

P1020511

The view from our balcony now includes a clear view of the denuded property and the soi (alley) beyond.  There used to be two really beautiful trees that would put forth these large pink blooms twice a year.  I’m hoping they will plant some new landscaping but it could take a decade to get our verdant view back.

At this homeowner’s association meeting there were four vacancies for the committee.  Three people, including Tawn and a British expat who has lived here more than seven years, volunteered for the positions.  One of Tawn’s big issues is greenery – both aesthetically and also since it affects our property value – so I’m sure this will be an issue that gets addressed at the next committee meeting. 

Also, the British guy (John) and several other people have offered to help pitch in money to plant trees on our side of the property to replace the ones cut down.  We’ll see how that goes as the planter area is less than a meter wide, so I don’t think the large root ball of a tall tree could be accommodated.

Anyhow, we’re feeling more exposed these days, now that our neighboring land has been denuded.

 

New Carpet Arrival

We’ve been in this condo just over two years and yet the process of decorating and remodeling never quite seems to come to an end.  This past week we received two chairs and a new carpet that Tawn had ordered, changing the living room’s look from this:

P1210555

To this:

P1210615

What do I think?  Well, I’m easily satisfied and each new thing seems to be another unnecessary addition to the house.  That’s not the type of feedback Tawn is looking for, though.  I think the chairs are okay, design-wise, although without arms I don’t find them comfortable enough to settle in with a good book.  The color disconnect between the chairs and the sofa is a problem – one or the other needs to change.

The carpet, though, is quite nice.  I’d like to see a little more color in it, but I think the pattern and the larger size makes the space more interesting.

Here’s a 75-second video that shows the whole install process for the carpet in super-fast mode.  Enjoy!

Annexation

Two years and three days ago, we purchased our condo.  It is 68 square meters (roughly 730 square feet) and “kind of” two bedrooms in that a portion of the main living space is partitioned off by a pair of pocket doors to create a separate salon in the fashion of the old San Francisco Victorian houses.  But even then we realized that 68 square meters isn’t a lot of space for two people, especially when one of them works from home.

While we were in the process of purchasing our condo, we engaged in some wishful thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if one of these days we had the opportunity to purchase the studio adjacent to our unit?  On some of the other floors in the building, owners had joined the corner and studio units to create very nice 100 square meter (1,076 square feet) proper two bedrooms with a larger living area.

In fact, just about three weeks ago we had once again said how nice it would be to have a little more space, after Tawn expressed his frustration upon getting home from a long day of work how we were tripping over each other as I continued with some calls to the US from my “office” – the small second bedroom that also serves as our TV room.  “I need space to just be,” he said.

It was an interesting coincidence, then, when a week later I was approached by the owner of the small convenience store downstairs who serves as rental manager for about 40 of the 200 or so units.  The tenant of the studio, a famous supermodel, had moved out and the owner was open to selling, provided it could be done quick and easy.

Yesterday, two weeks after the initial conversation with the rental manager, we were at the Land Department registering the sale.  We were able to agree to a price that was 10% lower than what we paid per square meter on our first condo, and I think the larger space will allow us to command a premium if we should choose to sell it in the future.

Home Expansion

The question, of course, is what to do with it.  After the horrendous six-month remodel we went through with the original space, I really don’t want to get into that again.  Tawn and I have agreed to a two-year moratorium on any significant changes to the new space.  We’ll freshen up the bathroom, where the vanity is badly water damaged, and put some new paint on the walls, but for now that is all.

We will also keep it as a separate unit for the time being, which will give us greater flexibility over the next few years until we have a clear sense that the timing is right to incorporate it into the original unit.  Then, we’ll install a wood floor to match, remodel the bathroom, build a door into the wall between the units and brick over the existing outside door of the new unit.

In the meantime, my office armoire, the TV and sofa are all moving into the new space.  It will truly become my office, leaving the original unit for living, cooking, sleeping and entertaining.

With this annexation, I hope the owner of the next unit over won’t get nervous.  Truly, no need to worry – this is enough!

 

Chris the Handyperson

P1130703

P1130702 A few Sunday mornings ago, I was sitting at the computer working on something, when all of the sudden a large crash! came from the kitchen.  I looked over and saw nothing amiss.

It wasn’t until I opened a cabinet later in the morning to get my oatmeal pan that I saw the problem: the top anchor of the shelves had detached from the wall, right. 

Under the weight of the pots and pans, the shelves were leaning away from the wall and stressing to the bottom anchor, too.  I quickly removed everything from the shelves and placed it on the counter, eliciting quite a shocked look from Tawn when he woke up later in the morning and sauntered, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen.

“What happened?” he asked.  “Are you cooking something?”

When our handyman installed the the Haeffle wire swing-out shelves, he behaved in the manner most familiar to Thai handymen: pure improvisation.  The corner of the cabinet to which the anchors attach isn’t truly 90 degrees.  Instead, it has a lip.  As a result, one side of the anchors does not have a flush surface into which the screws can go.

P1130698 I noticed this during the original installation, but the handyman assured me it wasn’t a problem and shooed me away.  That was back in the days when I still trusted a Thai handyman’s words.  No more.

His solution was to create a small piece of wood to fill the gap, gluing together several layers of the veneer used on the cabinet until they were thick enough to fill the gap. 

He then screwed the anchor into that glued veneer.  But the layers of veneer were never actually attached to the structure of the cabinet – just sort of clamped to the lip of the cabinet!

Left, the top anchor of the shelf, still screwed into the layers of veneer that are glued together.  Notice that the holes on the left have been stripped out by the heads of the screws, as the shelf pulled away from the wall.

This left me with a bit of a dilemma: how to repair this problem?  Calling the handyman back didn’t seem a very good idea, but the essence of his fix – finding something to fill the gap created by the cabinet frame’s lip – was sound.  I just had to figure out what to put in there and where to find it.

Unlike life in the United States, Canada and other western nations, Thailand doesn’t have any Home Depot, Lowe’s, Orchard Supply Hardware or even Ace Hardware stores.  With the exception of some completely useless “Home Pro” stores that sell lightbulbs and sinks, all of our hardware is sold from small mom-and-pop (mostly pop) stores.

The first thing I needed was some wood.  Again, no obvious place to go if you need a few small lengths of wood.  But I recalled that in the old city, the area surround the Golden Mount temple is a woodworking district, handcrafting teak doors.  We headed there after brunch with friends.

It was already mid-afternoon.  Many of the shops were closed and the few open ones looked to be closing soon.  At the first shop, a grizzled old Chinese-Thai man listened as Tawn explained the problem and looked around his shop.  He wanted to sell us a length of teak wood – about 3 meters long (10 feet) – when all we needed was about 15 cm ( 6 inches).

We walked down the soi to a shop where they were still out on the sidewalk, sanding a beautiful teak door.  The trio of men listened as we explained the problem and one started rummaging around the shop, wonderfully crowded with pieces of wood of all sizes, and found a few small scraps.  We tried them out and found a width that was a close fit, then he cut it down to the desired length, leaving us with two 15-cm pieces.

“How much?” Tawn asked the owner.  He laughed with a half-toothless smile.  “If I wanted to sell it, I would sell it for 10,000 baht (US$285).  But I’ll just give it to you.”

We thanked him profusely and walked away with our two pieces of wood that, given the difficulty we were expecting to encounter in finding a solution, we would probably have gladly paid 10,000 baht for.

Returning to our neighborhood by canal taxi just a few minutes before 5:00, we rushed to a hardware store around the corner, just as they were pulling their wares inside from the sidewalk.  We explained what we were looking for – longer screws with larger heads and maybe some washers, too – and the owner browsed the shelves lined with tattered paperboard boxes of various sized hardware until he found eight of each item we were looking for.

Back at home, I pulled out the power drill and started the fix.  First, screw the piece of wood to the cabinet lip, creating a flat surface and ensuring that there is something solid for the shelf anchor to mount to.

P1130731

This was a little difficult as I couldn’t face the work area head-on but had to hold the drill from the side.  Not so good for my neck.

Next, with Tawn holding the anchor and the shelves in place, I screwed the anchor to the cabinet, starting with the side that had the new piece of wood.  This processes worked pretty well, and although the wood split near the bottom screw, it seems to have a firm hold as the screws I used for the anchor actually sank through the stop-gap piece of wood and into the cabinet frame itself.

P1130732

I decided that before loading things back into the now-secure shelf, I should reconsider just how much weight I was putting on it.  This required a complete reorganization of the kitchen cabinets, moving several heavier items (especially dry goods – flour is much heavier than a skillet) to the cabinets above the countertop.

P1130739

The resulting arrangement – which is more organized in real life than it appears in the photo above – places heavier pots and pans on the lower shelf and lighter items on the higher shelf, including the backup stash of vodka in the Absolut disco bottle!

Meanwhile, I used this opportunity to tidy up all my other cabinets and complete a labeling project I started when we first moved in.  This is similar to how my maternal grandparents have their cabinets organized – lots of plastic storage containers, each with a printed label.  This sort of anal retentiveness actually appeals to both Tawn and me.  Arranged from left to right as you look at the area above the stove:

P1130738 P1130737 P1130734

The big white thing in the center cabinet is the overhead vent for the cooking surface.

So there’s another project done by Chris the handyperson.