Shower Retiling Project

This past Monday we started a long overdue tiling project.  For the past three years, ever since our remodel was complete and we moved into our condo, the lowest point in our shower has not been the drain.  For a variety of reasons, the original contractor seemed unable to construct a well thought-out shower and his workers were unable to install marble tiles on the proper angles to ensure drainage.

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In the old arrangement, there was a gap between the glass and the raised portion of tile outside the shower.  The rationale behind this is that a 1/2-inch diameter pipe connects the lower tiled area in the shower with the tiled area beneath the stacked washer and dryer, about five feet to the lower right of the picture.  The connection was designed so if the drain for the washer backed up, the overflowing water could flow to the shower.  Good concept, but the contractor didn’t make sure the shower was lower than the area where the washer is.

For three years, we’ve had to use a squeegee and a spare towel after every shower to clean up the water that accumulates in the corner of the shower and at the end of the gap, close to the door sill.  Not only was this annoying, but despite our best efforts there was seepage of the water into the concrete.  The brown stains in the marble tile come from seepage, where the moisture pulled the stain from the wood floor in the hallway.

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Not only was the damage cosmetic, but the exterior wall of the unit, which backs up to the shower, started to show signs of moisture and the paint began to blister.  Finally, we were able to coordinate with Chang Dii (nickname meaning “Good Handyman”), the handyman who often works for Tawn’s father.  His reputation is very good and after being burned by our contractor three years ago, we wanted to work with someone reputable.

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Monday seemed to be an auspicious day to begin our project, as it was the day the condo’s pool was reopened after a two-month re-tiling project.  I guess it was auspicious because the pool project finished on time, not because it took two months!

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Precautions to keep the dust from the project safely confined to one area of the house were extensive.  All the cabinets in the bathroom were emptied.  Padded floor cover was laid on the wood.  Sheets of plastic tablecloth (bought off a roll at Carrefour) lined the doorway into the bedroom and covered the main cabinets and washer and dryer.  Additionally, towels stuffed the crack under the door.

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From the main hallway (which is the location of the bathroom’s main entrance), we put up more plastic tablecloths as a dust curtain, and laid down heavy towels to clean our feet as we passed through the portal.  It made the space feel very compartmentalized.

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The first morning, Chang Dii showed up with four young men to help him do the demolition work.  They completed it in less than three hours.  A complaint about the Thai education system is that creative thinking and problem solving is not encouraged.  After watching them swing the door around, trying to chip away tile underneath the door, I finally suggested they remove it from its hinges.  The look I received from the young men seemed like, “Oh… yeah, I guess we could do that, huh?”

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Three hours later, the tile and previous cement was removed and neatly cleaned.  The pipe that connected to the washer area had been removed and the remaining bit to the left plugged.  We’ll take our chances that a washer drain overflow is relatively unlikely.  Another problem we had dealt with from the earlier contractor is that the edge between the tile and the raised wood area had never been finished.  The underside of the wood flooring was exposed.  Thankfully, Chang Dii fixed this in the end.

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Late Tuesday morning, Chang Dii and part of his team returned to begin cutting and installing the marble tiles.  To save money (and get the best of both worlds) we bought ceramic tiles that have a thin layer of marble on top.  The beauty of marble but the structure of ceramic.  Chang Dii explained that the problem we were having with the water wasn’t just that the slope of the shower was wrong, but that the contractor had installed the tile in a “dry manner” – adhering the tiles on top of already dry cement, leaving gaps for the water.  He chose to instead use a “wet manner” – placing the tiles directly on the wet cement and carefully leveling them, to minimize the risk of any gaps under the tiles.

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At the end of the first day, they had completed the wet area outside the shower.  The area is now slightly higher than it originally was.  Since the tiles were floating on wet cement, it was important not to step on them for several hours, so Chang Dii wrote a sign for us.

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Now, I’ll let you know that his Thai spelling is as bad as mine.  But just in case I couldn’t understand Thai, he included the international graphic for “No Stepping”.

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Which, upon closer inspection, I thought showed his attention to detail and clear understanding of the potential for mis-communication.  The original foot is floating above the floor, suggesting perhaps that no levitation is allowed.  So he amended the drawing to bring the (now huge) toe into contact with the floor. 

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Halfway through Wednesday, the third day of Tawn and me having to take our showers and use the toilet next door in the second unit, which we call The Annex, careful progress was being made on the shower tiles.  His guarantee: every drop of water would go down the drain.

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The workers actually did a very good job of keeping their workspace neat and swept the entry hallway thoroughly each evening before heading home.  By the time the project was finished, there was no noticeable dust in the living room or bedroom area.

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By the end of Wednesday, all the tile was laid, except for the door sill.  We originally weren’t going to change this but it was stained brown from the nearby wood.  We called a local stone company and ordered a piece and one of the workers went out to fetch it.  At the end of the evening I noticed the marble, which Chang Dii had trimmed to fit better, appeared to be nearly a centimeter (about 3/4 of an inch) too short.  Tawn and I discussed this and decided it was worth spending $20 on another piece of marble to make sure the work was done correctly.

Thursday morning I shared my concerns with Chang Dii and he admitted, sheepishly, that his men had cut too much from the piece.  Mai pben rai, I said – no worries.  By lunchtime the replacement piece was on site and being carefully cut.

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By Thursday evening we were able to use the shower and toilet again, enjoying a nicely finished tile job.  The gap along the glass is gone, the water drains wonderfully in the shower, and even the connection between the wood and the tile area has been neatly caulked.  All in all, an excellent job.  Hopefully, the moisture that has previously seeped into the walls and floor will quickly dissipate and cause no lasting damage.

As for the question that comes up often – “When are you going to connect the two units?” – the hassle involved with just changing the tile in a single bathroom serves to remind me how not eager I am to undertake a larger remodel and joining of the two units!

 

The Nickle Tour

We enjoy many visitors here in Thailand and when they come for a visit, there’s a request for a tour of our home.  We’re always happy to oblige friends.  Many of you haven’t had the opportunity to come for a visit, yet, so Tawn and I thought you might enjoy the nickle tour to tide you over.

I’m still working on the video of the “Annex” – the studio next door that has been turned into my office and our TV room.  Stay tuned for that.

 

Into the New Space

This weekend we moved into the studio.  Basically, everything in our second bedroom/office was hauled over there.  It has only been two days, but already the move is having some noticeable impact.

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Above, almost everything has been moved out of the old office / future dining room.

The biggest change is that since the units are physically separated, with a concrete wall between them and two different front doors, we seem to be experiencing our own very distinct sense of separation now.  Beforehand, even if I was working on one room and Tawn was in another, there was still the sense of being in the same space, being able to call out and ask a question, knowing that the other person is inhabiting the same area.

Now, it is as if the other person isn’t around at all.  Sunday evening, a few hours after the move, Tawn came over to the “annex” (as we’re calling the studio) where I was working on the computer, looking kind of bored and lonely – a look that I’ve come to learn means, “I’m feeling disconnected from you.”

It takes time to get used to a new space and we’ll still be shuffling things around until we get settled into the new configuration, but I’m curious to see how this plays out.  I suspect that there may be some issues associated these being two separate units.  While we don’t have the funds to do a full remodel of the annex, I’m sure we could knock a door in the wall between the two units if necessary.

Interesting how the physical space we inhabit can have such an impact on us, isn’t it?

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A few shots of the “remodel,” which took all of one day of the handyman working on a few things.  Above, the laminate on the bathroom vanity in the annex had started splintering and peeling away because of humidity.  We had it removed, sanded, and new laminate applied.  Eventually, the entire bathroom will undergo a remodel.  Heck, the entire unit will undergo a remodel one of these years.

Below, some previous owner thought it would be artsy to have an opening (with a pipe running through it) between the bathroom and the rest of the living space.  Another previous owner installed a large mirror in the bathroom to block the space, giving bathroom users some privacy.  We asked the handyman to add a frame and drywall to the space, so it now looks like a regular wall.

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Before we moved into the new unit, I shot some video of the old unit, a virtual tour.  I’ll try to get that edited before I head to the US and share it with you.

 

Meanwhile, walking home from the ramen shop the other day, I passed this ice cream vendor.  There are lots of vendors who ride around on these tricycles, selling ice cream, beverages, brooms, and other things.  What are your guesses as to the flavor of ice cream he sells?  (Answer below.)

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Our rainy season weather has turned interesting.  We’re getting slightly cooler weather and after an evening of rain, the skies are bright blue the following morning.  These big fluffy clouds, starting white but turning grey, move in as lunchtime arrives, building up until the rains start again in the late afternoon.

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I find the clouds fascinating as they are very tall.  Watching them float through the sky, I’m reminded of some Miyazaki film.  Hard to believe they aren’t sentient beings!

Answer: coconut

Heather’s Slightly Less Helpful Coworker

Dillon Sconce A little bit more about my Restoration Hardware sconce replacement shade project.  The friendly Heather sent me an email, providing the part number for the replacement and told me to call customer service at my convenience and any of the representatives could help.

So I called the toll-free number – which connects to a call center in Tracy, California – and got off to a bad start with the lady who answered.

After explaining what I wanted to do, the lady asked for my original order number.  What?  That was two years ago and 9,000 miles away.  I don’t remember my order number.  Instead of giving me a constructive response like, “Well, sir, why don’t I search for the order in the system… do you recall the address the order was shipped to?”

Instead of saying something like that, she told me that she couldn’t place a replacement parts order without the original order number and then left us hanging in silence.  “What should I do next?” I thought.  My exasperation started to show when I explained the two years and 9,000 miles situation, and she finally remembered her customer service training and asked for my address so she could search for the order.

From that point out, she was actually helpful and friendly enough.  But in the end, even though the part number that Heather gave me is in the system, it shows a zero quantity in inventory, so this lady couldn’t place the order.  After 24 minutes on the phone, the conclusion was that she has filled out some sort of a request for replacement parts that goes to up the decision-making chain.  Supposedly someone will get back to me.

This is kind of an up-and-down saga.  At first, RH was doing a pretty good job in customer service.  Now it has taken a turn for the worse.  We’ll see how it concludes.

 

Heather from Restoration Hardware

I am getting a message that the photo module is unavailable right now, so I guess this will be a picture-less entry!  As a pleasant break in our rainy season weather, the nights have been cool and breezy.  I woke up very early this morning – about 4:30 – thanks to noise from the rubbish collectors outside.  Despite the breezy, 80-degree weather (which is what I mean by “cool”), they were banging rubbish bin lids, sorting glass bottles into sacks, and generally making too much noise.

A few minutes later, just as I had rolled over and started to fall asleep again, my phone rang, a forwarded call from my US number. 

“Hello, this is Heather from Restoration Hardware…”

When we did the remodel of this unit two years ago, we couldn’t find sconces that we liked for a reasonable price here in Thailand.  Restoration Hardware in the U.S. was having a sale so we bought some Dillon single sconces and packed them back.  This ended up being a long and complicated process and we wound up spending as much on shipping costs as we saved by buying in the U.S.

To top it off, the frosted glass shades that come with the sconces are a bit fragile.  We’ve broken two so far, although the first one was damaged in transit.  The last time I contacted Restoration Hardware to order a replacement shade, the one I ended up receiving was the wrong color.  I called again this week and the friendly agent took down my information and said someone would contact me and let me know the status within 48 hours.

True to his word, I did receive a call within 48 hours.  Despite my asking that he include a note that I prefer to be contacted by email since I’m overseas on business, I still received Heather’s perky call at 4:45 or so.

Heather asked for some more information and said the search for the spare shades was still on.  She also promised to make multiple notes on the form so that I wouldn’t receive a call again in the middle of the night.

I appreciate that they are following up as promised, though.

 

Edit: Just checked my email and there is a message from Heather.  She’s located the spare part number for the shades.  I also realized that my blurry memory was wrong, as I had initially referred to her in this entry as Katie.

 

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!

 

Of pumpkin pies and upside down sconces

Paul and Aori came over last night.  They thought they were coming over to see the condo then we’d go out to dinner, but I cooked dinner for them.  Nothing fancy: linguine with homemade pesto, a mixed green salad and a baguette.  For dessert, homemade pumpkin pie.  From scratch.  Yes, really.

Started out with this … and ended up with this

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The crust didn’t work out correctly.  I had this “foolproof” pie crust recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that uses a vodka/water mixture to keep the dough pliable but not tough when cooked.  But it is made with a food processor and my food processor is in Kansas City.  So I cut the fat in by hand and it just didn’t work out the same.  For some reason the dough already seemed moist before I ever added any water.  It didn’t hold together when being rolled out.  Maybe I mis-measured, although I thought I was being very careful.  A tablespoon of butter is 1/2 oz or 4 grams, right?

Maybe I really need to have a food processor to distribute the fat correctly?  Jenn, if you’re not using my Cuisinart, I might be bringing it back to Thailand next time I’m in KC.  No budget left for buing one here.

Anyhow, crust aside, the pumpkin filling tasted great.  It really is so easy to make it from scratch that I don’t know why you would bother with canned filling and that tinny flavor that accompanies it.  I’ve never been much of a fan of pumpkin pie, but this was seriously tasty.  Roka was the one who first asked if I knew how to make pumpkin pie, so as soon as I get the crust figured out, I’ll make one for her.  Anyone else want to come over?

♦  ♦  ♦

 

P1030701 This morning the mirror men (glass men?) came to install the handles on the mirrored cabinet doors.  This involved drilling into the mirror and through the wood behind it.  It looked like a complicated process as they changed drill bits frequently and were sprinkling water on the mirror as they drilled, I guess to either keep it from cracking or to keep the glass dust from flying around.  Considering that nobody had any protective gear on, either reason would be fine with me.

The electricians showed up unexpectedly after that to install the final two sconces, which Paul had hand carried from San Francisco.  Unfortunately, when the question came whether to install them facing up or down, I chose up.  I tried calling but he was in a meeting and I couldn’t get through.

Feeling empowered, I told the electricians to install them facing up.

They’ll be out Thursday afternoon to correct that and turn them to face down.

So much for being empowered, eh?

♦  ♦  ♦

 

P1030705 Afterwards I had to run an errand so while out, I met up with Ken, Bill and Roka at Kalpapruek Restaurant off Silom. 

I’ve eaten at their locations at Paragon and Emporium many times, but it wasn’t until I walked onto the property today (the restaurant is situated in an old house and adjoining buildings between Silom and Sathorn) that I recognized it: this is the place Tawn brought me for lunch the day after we met, eight years ago.  There has been remodelling since then but I knew it in an instant.  Above, Ken tries to navigate the menu as our waitress looks on, very patiently.  Below: Kalpapruek is known for their baked goods.  Here is their orange cake with a meringue frosting.

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♦  ♦  ♦

 

P1030712 Back at the Surasak BTS station, I took some pictures of the abandoned office building immediately next to the station. 

There are hundreds of these ghost buildings in the greater Khrungthep area, victims of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. 

While dozens of new buildings are being built today, there are countless relics that for whatever reason are never finished.  Most of them just stand empty, others have been taken over by squatters or have been targets for what I assume are mostly farang graffitti taggers.

♦  ♦  ♦

 

 

 

Funny election picture.  From the New York Times is this picture of John McCain.  All I can think is, “I hope he doesn’t try to hug me!”

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Thursday evening Tawn and I are heading to Hong Kong for the weekend.  It is the end of my 90-day visa and I need to renew it, so a border run is necessary.  Temperatures are wintry there – highs forecasts of 25 C / 77 F and lows of 20 C / 68 F.  Where is that parka?