I hopped into the car and left Bangkok exactly three hours and one minute before I passed the Nong Ki sign on Thailand's Route 24. I was off up to Buri Ram province to meet an architect and a builder.
All the way up on the drive I was thinking to myself, please don't let a mafia mini bus driver crash into and kill me, please let me find a competent architect who understands my needs. Please let me find someone I can talk to about keeping it simple but making the simplicity with a high quality. Please let me find someone who doesn't want to create their own image of their perfect home and then put me in it. Please.
Still praying, I drove past a pink and purple cottage and into the village. I nearly wet myself. My parcel of two rai popped into view. The front rai had already been raised above the road and the sugar cane fields around. That will sort the ground run off and reduce flooding. Crumbs. That ground looked very dusty, and bright in the midday sun. If I was John Steinbeck I would write a few pages about it. I'm not John Steinbeck.
Having said I am not John Steinbeck I do wonder how Cheops felt when his lads had leveled the pyramid area on the banks of the Nile. Wonder what was going through Montezuma's head when the first shovels of Mexican dirt went down? How did Rama I celebrate the night after the marsh was finally drained on the Bangkok side of the Cha Phraya. The emotions in the first city building folk in Mesopotamia. The celebrations of the druids at Stonehenge?
If I was any one of them, back then, I would have got an artist man in. I'd have held up the work for a few hours. "Hold up, hold up, everyone hold up. We're doing a before and after sketch. Do it from here, here. I'll pop it in my tomb when I die so the bastards in the future don't think this was built by a load of extra terrestrials and not us lot." This record the moment, before and after thing started to happened at some point. In Thailand there is a ceremony around the first City Pillar. In Indonesia there are family rites around ashes and a piling on the North East of the plot, Or is it the South East? It is one of the main compass points, I know that. And Hitler had a photo of him laying the stone of the Reich Chancellery. With the SS in the background with flags and a buffet ready for lunch. I've seen it. The photo that is.
I don't have a Chancellery or a despotic megalomaniacal dictator to photo, but I do have the man that did most of the ground raising. Here he is.
After my ground check and a swift bacterially safe omelette and rice it was some North East waiting around and sitting in the shade, anticipating the architect and builder arrival.
I'd prepared my thoughts and plans and tried to load them in Powerpoint, loaded in "style photos" of interiors and exteriors that fitted with the look I fancied. This was to help brief the designer man on "clean and simple". I am a man, not a princess, not an effeminate transvestite ladyboy who's just married the night club owner, not a hi so Chinese Khun Ying with a metallic gold Merc chauffeured to the Nelson Hays Library and then afterwards to the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. No blue floor times. No Louis the whatever golden taps and door knobs and chandeliers.
I think Khun Prasert, Upcountryna Buri architect man, understood my general direction and the swing of who he was going to be working with. There's Praseret above. He's wearing a local district office uniform as they do up in Thailand. Look how well turned out he is! No square spectacles, black sweaters and Audi 8s for this guy. Uniform and a silver Toyota Hi Lux pick up. Khun Prasert could well pop along to a royal 86th Birthday march past and flag wave celebration dressed like that. Immaculate.
But he did say a few times "It is a very, very big house." Later he said "It is a big piece of land" he after we'd walked the dirt. He spoke it in a not so reassuring tone. He talked as if he was wetting himself.
In times like these I have learnt it is best not to get excited and whizz off into farang jargon and telly architecture history talk.
Waxing lyrical around "the lines in a Mies van der Rohe pavilion", "organic roof sitting on top of a Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water", "the machine for living in the guts of a Villa Savoye courtesy of Le Corbusier." No point in doing any of that. It is all merely sounds roof sounds water sounds sounds sounds villa.
I showed pictures from magasines and together we worked on pen and paper sketches to clarify the ideas.
For the now the most important thing was that he seemed a decent enough bloke, was proud to wear a uniform and had created house plans before. I'll see in time if he was simply being polite to keep everyone happy. It wouldn't surprise me if he telephones in this afternoon saying his uncle needs him to run the family business for three years and so, unfortunately, he cannot take on this job for at least three years. It happens.
After I'd walked the site with architect and super smiley builder man "yes yes I can build a shower like that" / "he can build a shower like that, he is an expert" (on showing a gray slate man's bathroom form a magazine), return wai'd Khun Charles Jencks before he drove off to be dismissed for the evening by his company sergeant major, and squeezed back in my petite hire car to follow mister builder man to Buri Ram.
I was off to see the quality of the build of a finished house. Another check on his past work was not going to do any harm. It would be reassuring to check what I'd seen on the last trip to Nong Ki.
I'm not sure what happened.
I have no idea why he took me to this particular bungalow. It was truly a house fit for the waiter who had married the mamasan. Poorly fitting doorway liners, old style windows, naked holes in the tiles for the door bolts, and so on. With delight he showed me the shower. "Here! I am expert at showers." Oh bugger. It was a pre formed cheap plastic corner unit and not the clean simple man's slate shower of the magazine.
I kept smiling and maintained a level of polite enthusiasm. As you have to.
I'll sort out the reasons why I was shown that place. Boombim can do some investigation work with her sister. I can only liken the session to a client briefing whereby the HR director discusses with the workshop session organizer at the Sheraton in Hua Hin the venue and facilities she would like for their important upcoming management team building program. After an hour or so of chat, glasses of water, head nodding, mutual laughs and yes, yes, yessing, the head of banqueting takes the client off out to show her the shitty all you can eat buffet at the Sawasdee Happy Fortune Lodge three miles out of town, built in the 1980s.
The danger in Thailand is assuming the person who speaks the best English is the smartest person, and the most competent professional. They get away with this because they can make foreigners feel at ease over someone who struggles to make themselves understood. Often the smartest people have spent their time on activities other than learning English. The non English speaker gets overlooked. In many cases they simply need time around and another approach to get a full understanding.
Therefore my patience is required, at least for the timebeing.
Still... in the car on the way back to Bangkok (I was testing the Nong Ki to Bangkok timings for a night run, and a check on whether the journey was survivable) I did think to myself, "What was it with mister builder man? Did I really come across as a tuk tuk driver who had just won the fucking lottery?"