A House with Shade

I mentioned in a previous entry that the mid-Sukhumvit area in Krungthep (Bangkok) used to be on the outskirts of town, home to the weekend homes for well-off residents of Rattanakosin Island (the old city) and Yaworat (Chinatown).  Here is a perfect example of the type of home from the 1950s and 1960s that were quite common on the sois of Sukhumvit.

This is the house located in Sukhumvit Soi 12 on the same property as the Crepes and Co restaurant that we enjoy having brunch at.  The house could be described as “modern Thai tropical” and is typical of the old houses in our neighborhood including the one that was just torn down behind us.

While the house itself isn’t that exciting, I love the grounds.  Cool, shady, tropical.  To some extent, this property reminds me of the one my paternal grandparents lived on in suburban Kansas City:

 

This is taken one morning in the summertime probably sometime around 1990.  The row of elm trees branching over the street provides nice shade, a look that I associate with midwestern suburbs.  I lived in this house for fourteen months before moving to Thailand and while I was disappointed by the lack of good sunshine for a garden (except in a small plot in the back), I really liked the shade afforded by the trees.

Whether in Thailand or in the US, I’d like to live somewhere with nice shade trees.  Or vines.

Chris the Handyperson

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

Pterodactyls sell condos

I’m always amazed at how fear can be used to sell things.  Sometimes subtly, sometimes quite obviously.  A recent advertising campaign for a new condo complex promised you will be able to “Escape the Old City Living” – pre-sale available at Siam Paragon shopping mall from the 28th of March until the 1st of April.

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If you look closely at this black and white collage of familiar Khrungthep landmarks – Victory Monument, the Rama VIII bridge, etc – you can see all sorts of interesting signs of urban “decay”:

Giant cobwebs on the bridge’s cables

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Shattered windscreen on the BTS Skytrain

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And of course, the true sign that urban decay has blighted the Big Mango is the flock of pterodactyls flying over the city.

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Because we all know that before white flight from the suburbs really started in the US in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, there were many incidents of prehistoric winged creatures in the skies.  One can only imagine what local sightings of these fearsome creatures portend for Khrungthep.

Fortunately, there are many options if you want a change from the “old city living”.  The Bangkok Post today reports that there are no less than 17 condominium projects going up between Sukhumvit Sois 53 and 63 – the distance between exactly one stop on the Skytrain.

Here’s the fast progress being made in the large property adjacent the Asoke BTS Station.  Formerly a Ford and Volvo dealership, it will become a large multi-use complex in the next eighteen months. 

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That was taken two days ago.  Now there are twice as many cranes at work.  We need a new city motto.  Maybe, “Khrungthep: Things are always going up.”

 

Different things to different people

In the musical The Boy from Oz, Hugh Jackman (playing Peter Allen), opens the show singing a song titled “The Lives of Me”.

“I come in many colors, assorted shapes and sizes,

can adapt to your demands.

And if you smile at someone then I’ll just become that one,

and throw in all the others for free.

All the lives of me.”

Boy From Oz Sometimes I feel that way about my blog.  This is probably a feeling common to many bloggers.  You start out writing the blog for one reason or another and over time, as it attracts more readers, it is easy to start feeling like there are different blogs being written.

There’s the food blog, the travel blog, the Thai cultural blog, the gay long term relationship blog, the airline enthusiast blog, the random quotes from showtunes blog… you get the idea.

Just like the character of Peter Allen in the musical, I feel like if you enjoy one particular blog, my blog will become that one and throw in all the others for free.

The blog started out because I knew I would be moving to Thailand and wanted to create a means by which my family and friends could stay in touch with what’s happening in my life.  Many of those “target audience” member do read regularly although I’m always a little amazed at friends who, when we trade emails, express how out of touch with me they feel.  No reason to be out of touch… you can get a pretty exhaustive recap just by reading my blog.

Along the way, I’ve assembled a fascinating and rewarding collection of readers.  Truly, some very interesting and thoughtful people whose acquaintance I’m very glad to have made.  I just hope that you weren’t misled about what this blog was and feel subsequently disappointed that there aren’t enough entries about food, travel, Thai culture, airplanes, showtunes, or whatever it was that drew you to the blog in the first place.

 

Doing a PR Polish for Ble

Tawn recruited me on Friday morning to help our designer, Ble.  In advance of a feature article on him in the Bangkok Post newspaper, Ble (pronounced “bun”), was sent a list of interview questions.  When he showed Tawn his responses, Tawn shook his head and asked, tactfully, how he could be such a good designer and yet such a poor self-publicist. 

P1050458 I was called in to polish his responses so bicycled over to his store at noon on Friday.  We had lunch at a cute little place on Sukhumvit 16 called Kuppa, a cozy place that reminds me of a restaurant I’d expect to find in the San Francisco Bay Area.  More about it on a future visit but here’s a picture of their tasty cherry pie, left.

The lunch proved to be a very good opportunity to get to know Ble better.  We’ve never spent any time, just the two of us.  Tawn has known Ble for several years and we’ve socialized, but never had two hours of solo conversation.  In the course of essentially re-interviewing him, I learned a lot about what drew him to design in the first place.  I tried to polish the answers to convey certain themes.  Here’s a selection:

P1050460 How did you become involved in Modern Thai Living?

As a child, my interest in design was already evident.  I would spend hours drawing; I was fascinated by textures and textiles, fabrics and furniture.  My playtime was spent exploring the markets.  It was there – especially at Chatuchak – that my love for Modern Thai Living was cultivated.

What are your extravagances?

When I’m abroad exploring for beautiful objects for my clients and my stores, I have only one extravagance: no matter how remote the town, no matter how hot or dusty the markets I’ve searched in, I must conclude my day with a satisfying meal at a cozy, comfortable restaurant.

What advice would you give visitors to Bangkok?

Beyond the famous tourist sights, beyond the temples and the nightlife, Bangkok is a city full of hidden treasures.  Every local has a favorite restaurant, a favorite shop that is his or her “hidden gem”.  Make every effort to meet as many locals as you can and as you get to know them, they’ll share these treasures with you.

Hopefully that doesn’t sound too silly.  What do you think?  Hopefully the prose is a beautiful as his design work.

 

A House in the Country

Sukhumvit Road in modern times is very much a main artery in the City of Angels.  It might be hard to imagine that not that many decades ago, the street was lined with two small khlongs and rows of trees.  Well-heeled residents bought land along Sukhumvit and in the sois that branch off it in order to have country homes where they could escape on the weekends.

Of course, nowadays the idea of a home along Sukhumvit being a country home seems downright absurd.  But amidst the condo developments, hotels, and shopping centers you can still find plenty of examples of the beautiful houses built in the distinctive styles of the 1950s and 1960s on gated compounds that feature generous gardens and a peaceful respite from the surrounding city.

Below are two photos of one of these houses.  Facing Sukhumvit proper between sois 34 and 36, this house is a lovely example of 1960s tropical architecture.  To the east of the building is a new condo complex that will tower some 30 stories above it, destroying whatever privacy the residents enjoyed.  One day, eventually, the family or their heirs will finally cave in and sell the property to developers.

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These days, the homes being built in the countryside are large developments, gated communities in which several hundred cookie-cutter homes are squeezed together on old rice paddies.  No gardens of any appreciable size, no cross-ventilation, and a horrible commute into town.  It is times like these when I wonder whether it is really appropriate to use the western definition of the word to measure Thailand’s “progress”, for this relentless suburbanization of the city hardly seems like progress.  More like degeneration.

 

Bill’s Farewell for Now Party

P1050513 One constant in your life if you’re an expat is the coming and going, the constant ebb and flow, of other expats.  Francois left last week, gone home for two months to work.  Russ will leave soon for a few weeks.  Ken will be out of town quite a bit over the next two months, to say nothing of Markus, who is away more than he is here.  Bill’s turn is next as he’ll be heading back to Florida on Tuesday for an indefinite length of time although with a desire to return just as soon as he can.

To celebrate his departure – or perhaps just to finish his collection of whisky – he threw a party on Saturday night.  It was a collection of the usual suspects leading to the usual conversations and silliness.  Right, Ken dances for Roka and Russ looks on.

Below, Tawn and Chai

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Call me crazy, but if you throw a party beginning at 7:30 in the evening, wouldn’t the normal expectation be that you have at least a few real food items on the table?  We ended up just with chips, dips, and other assorted junk food.  Worse yet, Tawn and I contributed to it!  We brought cupcakes.  I know, I know… chicken satay would have been a much better contribution.

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Yet, there was an ulterior motive.  I’ll let you in on the conceit:

My elder niece turns five at the end of the month.  For her birthday gift, I used Shutterfly to make a customized picture book telling the story of her trip to San Francisco last autumn with her uncles to attend a family wedding.  It is 27 pages with pictures and a compelling story.  On the final page, I wanted a funny picture of me and Tawn wishing her a happy birthday.

P1050467 I settled on the idea of buying some cupcakes and staging a photo in which we ostensibly were presenting the cupcakes to my niece, but instead I’d be sneaking a bite of one while Tawn scolded me.  We did a number of shots with Bill doing the picture-taking.

Wanting some nice cupcakes for our friends, we went to After You, a small shop in J Avenue on Thong Lor.  After You has really cute packaging, right, and a very clever name. 

You see, there is an upscale Japanese barbecue restaurant two doors down called Yuu and, like most Japanese restaurants, it doesn’t really offer much in the way of a dessert menu.  I understand that in Japan, if you want dessert you go to a dessert shop afterwards.  So after eating dinner at Yuu, if you want something sweet to finish the night you go to After You.  Get it?  Clever, huh?

Anyhow, here’s the picture we settled on.

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Apartment Hunting in Bangkok

Tawn has started apartment hunting in Bangkok.  His goal: to scout out apartments that meet our combined criteria (mission impossible!) so that when I’m there in late September we can select a place.

 

I’m not being very helpful.  I found a web site called Mr. Room Finder, set up by a Bangkok local who wanted a site that listed apartments that real people, not overpriced expats, could afford.  So I send Tawn links from my searches, fully realising that I don’t know Bangkok neighborhoods all that well.

 

My recommendations are not always very useful.  Like personal ads, these apartments listings are sometimes… generous.

 

We’ll see what turns up, though.  He’s found a few places that look nice, have a decent location, and are teeny-tiny.  But that’s the reality there, I think.  Especially when we don’t want to spend more than US$ 400 a month on rent.