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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thai Time

Time is a rather relative term here. Having come from a western background, and working by a schedule that never saw enough of it, being retired, it seems I have the time, sometimes it feels too much time. But if you have read previous posts, it is clear that for the most part in my dealings here, time is an abstract thing, and it is always important in any discussion involving meetings or appointments to be very precise, and then be prepared for waiting.

I had learned previously, that when pressed to give a time estimate, be it for meeting you, or getting something done, 10 minutes is the standard response. It seems everyone is 10 minutes late, or they will be there in 10 minutes or the manager will come in 10 minutes. I have yet to encounter it, but I am sure if I called a call center the estimated time for your call would be 10 minutes.
The best way to gauge the actual time is to assume that whatever you have arranged will be 10 minutes later, plus some. And being late for 10 or more minutes does not seem to be a cause for concern, and expressing your annoyance at the wait, it is usually met with a stare, that seems to communicate "what's your problem farang?". So it is best to plan that 10 minutes can translate to up to one hour.

Then there is the one hour time frame. This time frame, means that sometime after one hour I will be there, or the delivery will happen. This time frame can span from one hour to 8 hours, and it is not uncommon that after one hour of time, you will not get a call to say they are running late. If you contact them, you will be told that they will be there in 10 minutes (see above).

Having dealt with the minutes and hours, you are now ready for the "tomorrow" reply. And in the words of a song I once knew, tomorrow may actually never come.

A case in point. The back door to my home had begun to sag and the track screws would not go back in. I have a very good landlord and he is always responsive, so I sent him a message and he replied in a few minutes, as he always does. He would send the builder to look at it. And a short time later the builder arrived and took lots of measurements and told me that the termites had destroyed the wood, so they would come tomorrow to replace it. So tomorrow came and went and no visits. By now I knew that tomorrow may have actually meant sometime in the next week. So one week later I sent the landlord a message again saying the builder had come a week ago and said he was coming back, but had not. Later that day, the pool maintenance men came and a flurry of measurements were retaken. The builder would be by tomorrow to fix the doors. Five days later, a man and his wife showed up and began the project of framing the large double patio doors. The removal took one full day. And they returned the next day, to install, the ready made frame from the previous measurements, only to find the frame did not fit. So off they went to return tomorrow. And the next morning the task of framing commenced. At the end of the day the frame, doors and security screens were in. The dogs had a field day the night before with the entire back end of the house wide open, chasing the neighbourhood tom cat, who had come by for a visit at 2AM, 3AM and 530AM. So I was happy that at least the doors could be closed again. Along the top of the door frame is an opening that had smoked glass in it, a rather important feature if you want to run your air conditioner, without sending cool wind to the neighbours, and making the Thai electric people very happy when they issue you your bill. As the next day was a holiday, he explained that he would be back "tomorrow, tomorrow". So applying my time formula, I took this to mean in 2 days. Had he said "tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow" then it would be three days. Well, "tomorrow, tomorrow" in this case meant 10 days. So I could have misunderstood that he meant "next week, next week", meaning in 2 weeks.

I have found the solution for this is to take down the wall calendar and point, or carry a wallet calendar card. It saves a lot of frustration waiting to figuring out what the translation of what "tomorrow" really means.

The next worst time rule is what I refer to as the Gay Thai Time. While being fashionably late for a gay function may be okay, when it is done here, you must add the Thai factor and the Gay factor to get a projection. The gay parade for example. Scheduled for assembly at 3PM on a Saturday. As our Tourist Police Volunteers unit would be walking in the parade this year , we arrived in our uniforms at 1430. At first I thought we had the wrong place, as there was not a sparkling boa or tiara to be seen for kilometers. Eventually we asked someone who said that we were at the right place. By 1600, a few entries had arrived, some off to get something to eat, others holding up the main through-fare to pose for photos. Having gotten a bit weary now of standing. I set my water bottle on the curb and went to find someone to see when we would be going. I received the usual "10 minutes" and went back. As I reached for my water bottle my team members yelled, don't touch the water. Apparently, as I had gone away, a soi dog came by, lifted his leg and urinated on my water bottle. Now as 1630 approached, thundering down the road were three large flat-bed trucks, that were scampered upon by the people on the street in various stages of costume. My favorite was the lady-boy in 5" spikes, hoof it up the tire well and onto the flatbed, in one continuous motion, flounce her hair and strike a pose on top of some go-go bar dancing pole and smile. And finally by 1700 the parade began. So in this case, the time delays, in 10 minute increments of course, calculates as follows: "10 minutes" multiplied by  asking 3 times = 30 minutes. Because this was a Thai/Gay event, you need to double the time frame. So the corrected time was 1 hour later than published. So next year I will just plan to be there for 1630, and I should be right on time.

And lastly my challenge has been for a concept of completion time. I have already figured out that a requested task is completed as requested. There is no deviation. Getting a contractor to come, and have a job done from square one to completion, without repeat visits, seems to be an elusive goal.
I like to note the various projects that have huge banners proclaiming the establishment of this business, with a date. Only to realize the date was for the previous year. A construction project was clearly underway, but it has yet to get finished. And then one day it will suddenly be all done. I watched with amusement as the local Pizza shop closed 2 weeks ago for renovations, proudly proclaiming closed from 01 May to 14 May, grand reopening. It is now16 May and as I went past today, the chef is having discussions about the concrete pouring for the floor. Somehow I think the projection was a bit optimistic. The good thing about being a local is that you get recognized. And of course if you are a farang driving around with something like this:

you are bound to be recognized. And so as I scooted down the road last night, the pizza guy came zooming alongside me to tell me that he will be open in 4 days.

There are however, some constants. I remain thankful that it is about 5AM when the mosque begins it calls to prayers, and then the rough time throughout the day, as they continue calls. And It is always about 1030AM or 430Pm when I hear the sounds of the walls Ice Cream salang trolling the side streets, in Thai, broadcasting that apparently we all love ice cream.

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