Friday, 18 March 2011

A long year...

2010 was, for me, a very long year. I have neglected my blog. It was, in the first instance, mainly as a record for myself. I've looked back at my life and wished I'd kept some kind of record of it. So this time, when something interesting (at least to me!) is happening, I decided to record it for posterity.

It seems as though at least a couple of people 'out there' in the world have appreciated my writings, so I've had harsh words with myself and here I am, writing again.

I will try to make it more regular, as it tends to sooth my soul somewhat. Not that I currently have an un-soothed soul or anything, it's just that...well, you know, it's good to get things 'out there'. I always enjoy reading other people's ramblings so I feel I should contribute some of my own on a more regular basis.

As the title says, a long year. The last time I left Thailand was (consults passport), the 5th of June 2010!
It made me sad to leave my girlfriend and her family, it always does, but this time I knew it would be harder and for longer.
The plan was for me to come back to London and work to get enough money to buy a small house in the village where she lives. Currently she's living in two rooms built underneath her sister's house. Whilst this is adequate, it's far from ideal.
I have also made up my mind that I want to emigrate to Thailand as soon as possible.
There are many reasons for this, one is that I have no family here to speak of, largely due to my errant behaviour in the past. Others include; a Tory government (I remember the last one we had and it wasn't pretty!) the thought of getting old(er) in London, or anywhere else on this sceptred isle for that matter, fills me with, not despair but something reasonably close to it! I see things that don't endear me to my fellow citizens, lack of respect, lack of manners, no real purpose in life other than chasing after money/cars/gadgets/pharmaceutical oblivion etc.

You know, the usual 'I've been somewhere else and can now see my country for what it might actually be' kind of thing! :-)

Anyway, I digress somewhat, I do that, I drift off into a ramble, but hey, it's my blog so I'll ramble when I feel like it!

So, having attempted for, hopefully, the last time to achieve the holy grail of home-ownership in the UK, that has been touted to us in this country since I can remember as the 'be all and end all' of our purpose in this brief life, and had it snatched from underneath me by a crippling CSA attachment of earnings order to the tune of just under £700 a month. I refocussed my attentions to the more appealing task of buying a house in Thailand!

I stayed with a friend until he and his girlfriend also buckled under the pressure of the London rat-race and moved out of their rented house, into another friend's place, who also had to move after about six months! It reminds me of my earlier life, moving from one rented room or flat or house to another every few months. Life can be like that in London.

I worked every possible hour of overtime, had little or no social life (Facebook doesn't count as a social life, but more on that later!) and sent money over to Thailand every month, we had given ourselves a deadline of January 2011 to get the 335,000 baht required to purchase a nice little two bedroom bungalow just around the corner from my girlfriend's sister's place.

Yes, I know about the foreign ownership 'thing' in the Land of Smiles. For those of you who don't, here's a brief summary;

Can a foreigner own land in Thailand? No. There, that was quite brief wasn't it? So, you may ask, what are you doing? Well, the again brief answer is, I'm buying my girlfriend a house. 335,000 baht, by the way is, depending on the exchange rate at the time, around £6,500 so given that the last time I entered into a 'joint ownership' kind of deal here in the UK it cost me about ten times as much as that, not too much of a risk in my not so humble opinion.

There are many people who, presumably, are caught up in the whole 'ownership' thing. They will say stuff like " come you're buying a house you will never own...?" " should only rent in Thailand..." etc.
The last comment does not only refer to bricks and mortar by the way!

My view is this, I've rented houses, I've bought houses, well paid mortgages on them anyway! There's not much difference, you're paying for the right to use the house to live in. If you stop paying, you stop being allowed to use it, it's really that simple. I could get paranoid about the possibility that my current relationship will not last, obviously the previous ones didn't!
What will happen if that happens again? Well, pretty much exactly what happened with the others, I will end up with nothing to show for it other than memories. The way I think about it is, everything is a risk, nothing is certain in life, only that it will end one day. So I'm taking a chance, I quite like taking chances, this one has a different 'ring' to it though. The last one was, there's a chance (quite a good one it turns out!) that you won't be able to pay this mortgage for 20 years! Then you'll end up with sod all! Yep, tick that one off....

This one is, there's a chance your relationship will not survive. Then you'll end up with sod all! Yep, been there, done that, still carrying boxes of those T-shirts around with me every time I move house!

So, the same risk as every other relationship then, ok, I can deal with that.

Anyway, (I say that a lot by the way!) work was hard, sometimes I was doing twelve days on the spin without a day off, some days were often twelve hours long (the work part, obviously all days are, in fact, twenty four hours long, I do know that, thank you! Yes, the internet does allow me to read your thoughts!)

My girlfriend, Bow, was supportive, helpful and very good with money, all through this long period of saving and working. I have to say, if it wasn't for her I would have succumbed to despair on quite a few occasions, feeling that I, once again, was 'back to square one' on so many levels. Every day she washes, cooks, cleans, takes care of at least two children (often up to five), and also takes in work from a local textile factory. I send her money to supplement her earnings, she gets about four or five thousand Thai baht a month (around £100) which is nowhere near enough really, I add another ten thousand to that. On the emotional side, she's been incredible, picks me up when I'm down, laughs with me, tells me what's going on in the area, and basically has helped me to understand what people mean when they trot out that cliche about their wives "...she makes me a better person..." She does.

We, by that I mean she, signed a kind of 'pre-sale' document. We agreed to come up with 100,000 baht by September 2010, this would be signed by both buyer and seller, witnessed by other people of 'good standing' in the village and the Pu Yai Baan. I just managed to get the money together in time.  There was no backing out by either side now! If we couldn't come up with the rest by January (it wasn't specified to me whether it was the beginning or the end of January!) The seller would get to keep our deposit and sell the house to someone else. I was always fairly doubtful that there was anyone else lined up to buy it, the property market in rural Thailand is nothing like the same as it is here. I can't see anyone who hasn't got a connection to that particular village wanting to buy it and those that have, already have houses so when we reached November and he (the seller) suddenly announced he had another buyer, I didn't panic too much!

Turns out I was right, the mysterious 'waiting in the wings' person didn't materialise and the 'start new year, need to do everything finish' ended up being the 18th of January!

We did it, we bought the house, no mortgage, no estate agents, no bother. Well, almost no bother....(see the post entitled 'Mai dai!' for further information of just how much 'bother' Thai beaurocracy can put in your way!)

Anyway, (see I told you!) after the money changed hands there was work to do! The land at the back of the house had been planted with banana trees. It was previously occupied by an old Thai lady. Old Thai ladies, often quite rightly, see it as important to be able to grow food.

Seeing as we intend to build another small house for Bow's sister and two children to live in as they currently occupy what can only be described as a small shack made from odd bits of wood and corrugated metal on land belonging to, how shall we describe him?

Here we touch on the Thai extended family and what, if you've spent any time amongst Thai people at all will be reasonably familiar with. He's my girlfriend's sister's husband's father. We'll call him 'Dad' everyone else does! It can be confusing for some 'farang' to hear "sister from me but not for really" "yes, mum but not mum" "dad from my friend but same same dad from me" I find it best to do what they do. Everyone old enough to be your dad is 'Por' (followed by his name, sometimes) female equivalent is 'Mae' or mum. Everyone old enough to be your older brother or sister or maybe younger but you're not sure or they might be more important than you, is 'Pi' (that's pretty much everyone, I know!) after that, it gets complicated!

So, trucks of earth needed to be brought, turns out the land isn't high enough, bit of a dip, not the best idea given the proximity of one of the largest rivers in the world (about 100 metres!) So, negotiations are required with the owners of the land to the rear of the property as we have to cut down some trees on their land to gain access. Splendid idea, I think to myself! Ready and waiting for "you hab husban falang, he hab too mut money chai mai?"

Dad to the rescue! he nips round there, tells them they're getting 3,000 baht and that's the end of it! "ow sam pan baht la gan!"
I like Dad.

The hole is duly made, the neighbours get their 3,000 baht and the trucks and tractor arrive. 500 baht per truck load of earth, not bad.

It all gets levelled out, here's Pi Suk (Bow's sister's husband) and his son Gop getting their hands dirty. I should add at this point, some families of Thai girlfriends/wives seem to, how shall we say this politely? Have their hands out?

I have never been asked for any money for the hours and hours of hard work Pi Suk and his friends have done on my behalf.

They do all this work in between bringing their crop of tobacco in from the fields. It's a family thing, it's a good thing!

A bit of earth is needed at the front as well, all levelled off and looking nice I think!

Now for the wall.
This wall (no, it's not finished yet, there's more rebar there for the supports and it will be rendered and painted white) goes round to the right hand side as we're looking at it now, down the side of the property to stop the dogs getting into next door, they sell food and drink there, they don't want our pesky dogs running about all over the place.

Pesky, maybe, but cute none the less!

Ok, that's it for this post, a bit long and rambling but there it is!