It all starts while Khun Pobaan is minding his own business on some vital task such as composing this month’s blog for his adoring public. This job is not to be taken lightly, as the disappointment of such a significant proportion of the world’s population would be a grave responsibility. While I am concentrating hard, there is a dull thump from the room next door, followed by a shriek and a rushing sound. Next, Mrs Pobaan appears at the door of my office, her face, hair and clothes inexplicably wet.
Songhkran is long gone. There must be another explanation. I rush to the room next door, which is the kitchen. The top has shot off the kitchen tap—hence the thud, which was the top half of the tap hitting the underside of a cupboard—and a fountain has been created, dousing the room with water. Mrs Pobaan recovers her composure and turns off the bottom part of the tap, which is still working.
The tap is a year old, bought as a replacement for a previous tap which wouldn’t work.
‘Chinese rubbish,’ says Mrs Pobaan.
‘Was it Chinese?’ I ask.
‘It was cheap anyway. 3,000 baht.’
‘I don’t call that particularly cheap. That’s ten days’ work for a lot of people.’
‘Can we fix it?’ she asks.
I look at the unpromising bits that have come apart. I’m fed up with shoddily-made household equipment failing. We waste money by buying cheap things that don’t work and then have to pay more to replace them. ‘We’ll get a new tap,’ I command masterfully.
We cruise the kitchen shops of Pattaya looking for a tap. Assistants proudly present us with shiny items for 3,000 baht.
‘Very cheap,’ they say.
‘Chinese,’ Mrs Pobaan says.
The assistants seem surprised. Perhaps they are used to most things coming from China.
‘We want an expensive tap,’ explains Mrs Pobaan.
The assistants are shocked. This is not a shopping strategy with which they are familiar. With other customers, the assurance of cheapness usually seems to secure a sale.
At a smarter shop we find the ideal thing: kitchen taps from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland—I’m not sure where exactly but they’re called things like ‘Scandogush’ and ‘Norskiflow’. Mrs Pobaan is convinced that Folk From The North make fine tapsmiths, so enquires the price.
‘This one’s ’45,000 baht,’ says the well-dressed sales lady without a blush.
‘We don’t need a whole kitchen, just the tap.’
‘That’s the price of the tap.’
This is five months’ pay for a Thai manual worker.
‘Plus fitting,’ she says as a happy afterthought.
We tell her we’ll come back. At a middle-of-the-range shop we find a smart-looking tap for 6,000 baht, reduced from 10,000 in the sale.
‘Does it work?’ I ask innocently.
‘Will the top come flying off to make a kitchen fountain?’
‘Where is it made?’ asks Mrs Pobaan.
‘We’ll have it.’
The next day a chap comes round to fit it. He does so and sits back under the sink to admire his own work. Two jets of water are shooting from the flexible tap connectors and hitting him in the eye.
‘Your tap connectors are rotten,’ he says in Thai. I can’t find your tap connectors are rotten in my phrasebook so depend on Mrs Pobaan to translate.
Panic ensues. ‘We need new tap connectors, we need new tap connectors,’ Mrs Pobaan shrieks like Private Jones out of Dad’s Army.
‘Why doesn’t he just connect the tap to the wall?’ intones Mr Pobaan calmly. The voice of reason has spoken.
‘Oh yes,’ says the plumber without giving me too much credit for the idea since that would result in a loss of face.
Later that day, Mrs Pobaan comes to me with a long face. ‘We have another problem,’ she says.
The floor in our guest bedroom is covered in water. It’s the drain under the basin. Instead of rushing away to the sea (probably), the water has been flowing under the cupboard and out over the floor. I spend the rest of the afternoon upside-down under the sink trying to make a watertight seal where the builders of our house have failed in the same endeavour.
I actually hate plumbing. To me, it’s a bit like one of those war movies in a submarine. You’ve steered your sub to the bottom. You talk in whispers as the enemy patrol boat circles above. It drops depth-charges which rattle the submarine’s hull. Then the bombs get closer and the sub starts creaking ominously. There’s only a thin skin between the crew and the whole weight of the Atlantic. Spring one leak and it’s curtains. That’s what plumbing’s like for me.
The next day, exhausted from the mental strain of risking death under the ocean, I am attempting a weekend lie in. It’s only 9 o’clock so I’m not doing that well. The bedroom door bursts open. Mrs Pobaan is in a panic again. ‘Water, water,’ she yells like a desert wanderer encountering an oasis.
I rush to the laundry-room. A jet of water is shooting from under the sink and hitting the electric junction box on the opposite wall. Struggling against the flow, I turn off the water at the wall. The quiet is only broken by the sound of water dripping from the ceiling. A tap connector, completely separate from the ones in the kitchen, has burst. There is 2cm of water on the floor.
We bail out the house and dry out the electrics. I head off to buy a new tap connector. When I get home I report my findings: ‘You can get Chinese ones for B50, so I got one that’s called ‘No-Burst’ for B350.’
‘Where was it made?’
‘It says USA.’
‘Is that OK?’
‘Probably better than China,’ I guess.
When I have fitted the new part, I inspect the old one, in which the inner plastic pipe has split, rupturing the woven steel mesh that is supposed to resist water pressure and keep the thing from bursting. I notice some writing on the end: ‘Made in Thailand’.
I consider it best to say nothing.