To the Pobaan mind here is no commercial transaction quite as dispiriting as buying a washer.
What’s a washer?
Thanks for asking. For those of my loyal readers who have thumbs instead of nimble fingers or who regard calling in the professionals to put up a shelf, fix a leaking tap or rewire a plug as a legitimate lifestyle choice, arguing no doubt that their time is more profitably spent trading pork belly futures on the Chicago commodities exchange from their work-station in the spare bedroom, reading the paper, making things out of srtring or, indeed, lying on the beach on Koh Larn while their toes are massaged by a persuasive tout, I will explain: a washer is not a machine that purifies your smalls; it is, in this case at least, a small metal disc with a hole in the middle which house husbands and other handy chaps like Kuhn Pobaan put on a bolt before screwing it in. It’s to stop it working loose. Apparently.
Anyway, a washer enjoys a harmonious and essential co-existence with a bolt. A washer and a bolt are like vim and vigour, spick and span, flotsam and jetsam, Posh and Becks, Christmas and Slade, pleasure and pain—you simply don’t get one without the other.
On the occasion under study I am called upon to buy a washer. I have a bolt that doesn’t want to get loose; it cries out for urgent washer-fulfilment. Like a woman on a dodgy blind date it refuses to get tight, at least without its doughnut-shaped natural companion.
So I emerge from the grand surroundings of Khao Talo Towers and descend to that part of Funtown where hardware shops are wont to be located. In a likely emporium I state my need to a pleasant-looking retail assistant who, after digging about in a teetering stack of cardboard boxes, comes up with what I want—a washer.
‘That’s the one,’ I confirm.
‘One baht,’ she says, sensing the meagre profit that will flow from the transaction and wishing to close the deal without delay.
Considering the asking price to be reasonable, I dig out the appropriate coin and am just about to hand it over when I am struck by the sudden realisation that I have unwittingly agreed to a severely disadvantageous contract. For a moment everything looked OK but now there’s something about the deal with which I'm not happy. I’m not being cheated—I do not wish to suggest that the washer woman is anything but an upright member of Pattaya’s commercial community. And it’s not that the merchandise is particularly expensive; but hell, there’s something about it that just doesn’t feel right.
As I hand over the shiny, coppery coin, expensively decorated on the obverse with a likeness of the king and, on the reverse, a picture of Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, she gives me my purchase which, let’s face it, is nothing more than a disc of similar size to the coin, but of rough steel with a hole in it, and I realise what the problem is. I was better off before, I now see. I have swapped a valuable, miniature masterpiece lovingly crafted by the Thailand mint and forged from exotic metals for a cheap bit of iron.
Somehow—and I don’t know how—I’ve been shafted, taken for a ride and stitched up like a kipper.
The memory of my recent experience in a handbag shop comes rushing back like a freight-train. I’m in a small car whose engine has stalled on the level-crossing. The starter motor whirrs impotently. As I glance along the track sweat bursts from my forehead like that stuff that comes out of a cheese if you forget to put it back in the fridge. I see the train head-on. It’s getting bigger. Sparks fly from its brakes, but too late. The memory has smashed into my consciousness. I have the crazy notion that a handbag would be a suitable Christmas gift for my teerak Mrs Pobaan. I know she likes fancy brands and has mentioned Dior as a suitable source of future love-tokens, should I be in need of direction.
I drift innocently into the glossy shop. I survey the merchandise which, to be honest, I don’t find that attractive. A glamorous assistant circles like a mongoose sensing lunch. Fearing that I have placed myself in a retail killing zone, I zero in on a glass shelf and lift a small handbag, suitable perhaps for containing a mobile phone, a lipstick and a miniature hanky (well, hang on a minute, how am I supposed to know what women put in those things?) and pretend to study it. It’s a handbag; what is there to study? Really, I’m searching for the price tag. They’ve tucked it in quite low down. After a bit of a struggle, closely observed by the glamorous woman aforementioned, I’ve got it.
That’s what it says. Seventy-five thousand baht. Two and a half grand, US.
I develop a bit of a sweat, like on the level-crossing.
I want to buy a miniature item of luggage, not the freehold of the shop.
While the glamorous woman smiles condescendingly, challenging me to admit defeat, I consider what I could do with that sort of money, instead of spending it on a thing to hold a hanky. I could fly somewhere quite distant; I could drink 1,000 beers—enough for almost a month—or I could solve poverty, as least for someone; I could probably save a life.
I report my misgivings to Mrs Pobaan, omitting to mention the news that she shouldn’t expect a Dior handbag any time soon and concentrating on my disquieting experience while buying a washer for one baht.
‘If you preferred the one-baht piece, why didn’t you just keep it?’ she enquires.
‘But it hasn’t got a hole in the middle.’
‘Well then, you got what you wanted, a hole.’
And there you have it, washer enthusiasts: the hole costs one baht.