I was just wrapping up a very productive day. At the “office,” I’d worked up a Flash video animation from start to finish and sent it off to my boss — all before anyone back home opens their email for the first time on Monday morning. I finished shaving (a once-every-three-days operation that I mostly like to postpone until I can’t stand it anymore), completed a rigorous workout on our in-home exercise machine, ate lunch, cleaned up lunch, took out the trash and watered the potted plants. Apple called at around 5:30 in the afternoon and said she’d be home soon, so we could eat dinner together. Having finished my work, I fired up the Xbox 360, connected to Xbox Live and made sure all of my games were up-to-date with the latest patches.
At length, the doorbell rang. This is Apple’s signal that she’s arrived home, so I can shut down everything here in the room (A/C and lights off, computer on standby, keys and cell phones in my pockets) and come down to open the door for her. This time, I was in the middle of starting a download of Street Fighter II: HD Remix — the free trial version — from Xbox Live Marketplace. If I waited until I finished this task before going down to open the door, Apple would be sitting out there for another couple of minutes. So I stuck my iPhone and the house keys in my pocket, turned off the air conditioner, and decided to run down to open the door and then head back upstairs to get the download going before dinner.
I went down, met Apple and brought the clean laundry into the house. (Each day, thanks to the housekeeper Apple’s family employs, we take dirty laundry to the print shop and we bring a clean load home.) I told her my plan and then dashed back upstairs to put the laundry basket in the bedroom, start downloading the game and then return to the kitchen. But for some reason, as I grabbed and twisted the bedroom doorknob, the door refused to budge.
For a moment, I thought maybe it was stuck. Back when it was raining here every day, the house’s wooden doors soaked up a lot of moisture and expanded, making it hard to open and close them. But it hasn’t rained in days. Further attempts to open the door made it pretty clear that it was, to borrow a phrase from Peter DeLorenzo, notgonnahappen.com.
In my haste to leave the bedroom, I thought, I must have accidentally pushed the locking button on the inside of the doorknob before closing it behind me. So I ran downstairs to tell Apple to ask her brother-in-law A — who had just brought her home — if there was a spare key somewhere to open that door. A had just left the house, though, so Apple called him, got the location of the key and we tried it. But even though we clearly had the correct key, and the knob was clearly unlocked and turning freely, the door was still not opening.
Okay, now it’s pretty clear that something’s gone really wrong. Over the last week or so, I had noticed offhand that the knob on the outside of our bedroom door was a little loose. As I wrassled with the door, I realized that the knob was now really loose. There was so much play in it, in fact, that I became convinced the mechanism had failed. I had never locked it accidentally at all. And it was quickly becoming apparent that there was no way we were going to get it open without major disassembly or major violence, one or the other.
Although I probably could have destroyed the door by firing myself at it like a projectile, I doubted that would be the best (or least costly) course of action. I then set about trying to pry the plate off the door so I could access the latch internals. But that wasn’t happening either. Unlike most doorknobs in the U.S., where the plates are attached with two screws, the knobs here use some kind of trick to hold the plates on, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Meanwhile, all of my stuff was still on in there — the Xbox, my computer, and soforth — and my cell phone was in there, as well as our clothes and most of our other stuff, which was starting to make me nervous.
After another ten minutes of screwing around, using such precision implements as a hammer and a butter knife, we called A on his cell phone and asked him to call a locksmith. By now it was around 6:30 in the evening, going on 7:00. To the credit of the Thai workforce, an amiable guy showed up not 20 minutes later and went straight to work. He managed to get the fabled plate off by triggering a small pin on the underside of the knob itself. He then removed the outside knob and, by hammering the tip of a screwdriver, popped the inside knob and latch mechanism out of the door and onto the bedroom floor.
Unfortunately, despite the gaping hole where the knob had been, the door was still not opening. The actual latch portion of the mechanism was still in place. The locksmith worked for another ten minutes or so before he was finally able to extract the rest of the mechanicals, and the door fell open. He showed us the bent pin that had failed and caused the whole mess, although being decidedly more well-versed in electronics than mechanics, I essentially had no idea what I was looking at.
We were finally able to access our room again. But to our embarrassment, between Apple and I, we didn’t have enough cash to cover the measly 200 baht (approximately $6) that the locksmith charged for the service he’d performed. After scrounging everything we had, including coins, we only had about 155 baht. So, the locksmith (amiable as ever) agreed to wait a few minutes until A got back home, upon which time the rest of the bill was covered and the case was closed.
So now, comically, we’ve got a flashlight sticking out of the hole in the door where the knob used to be. There’s a deadbolt on the inside, which is useful for holding the door in place while it’s closed. Later in the week, we’ll pick up a new knob from the local HomePro (think: Thai version of Home Depot, except way classier), which will also be our next occasion to test whether our replacement Capital One credit card works. After our old card number was hijacked, My parents actually went down to Florida, plucked the replacement cards from the mail and UPS’ed them to us. We got them on Saturday and I activated them via cell phone, then immediately called Capital One’s “travel notification” hotline to report that we’d need use of the cards in Thailand. That evening we tried to use the card, but it was declined, so we apparently must wait a couple of business days for the travel notification to be processed.
Our shortage of cash this evening just highlighted what a royal pain in the ass it’s been to actually get money over here. Unlike in the United States, where cash is almost eschewed — go to your local Best Buy during the week before Christmas, and they’ll probably only have one register equipped to perform cash transactions at the checkout — in Thailand, cash is king. Credit is easy to come by for international travelers like us; the same credit card you used at home typically works abroad too, assuming you’ve ironed out the security issues ahead of time. But how do you get cash, particularly without paying exorbitant bank fees or wire transfer fees and waiting till the next epoch to receive your legal tender?
As far as we can tell, you can’t avoid both the fees and the waiting. You must endure at least one or the other. The lowest-fee route, we decided, was to use PayPal. We asked Apple’s sister to set up a Thai PayPal account so that we could get cash via her bank. Here’s our process:
- Transfer money from our bank account to my PayPal account. Elapsed time: 4-5 business days.
- Transfer money from my PayPal account to my sister-in-law’s PayPal account. Elapsed time: Instant.
- Transfer money from sister-in-law’s PayPal account to her bank account. Elapsed time: 5-7 business days.
- Sister-in-law gets cash from her account using ATM and gives it to us. Elapsed time: Various, depending on how busy she is. 😉
It all sounded great, despite the near two-week lead time. Unfortunately, the first time we went through this process, PayPal threw up a whole bunch of verification roadblocks that wasted an additional one or two weeks. It’s now been nearly a month since we initiated our first cash transfer to my sister-in-law, and thanks to all the secret codes, verification steps and interbank delays, she still doesn’t have the money. And now we’ve got zero cash and a personal credit card that still doesn’t work. We still have a fully-functional corporate credit card, but obviously it will create a bit of an accounting mess to start charging personal debts on it all willy-nilly.
Fortunately, all of these situations should resolve in the next couple of days, literally, if everything goes according to schedule. We’re just waiting for my sister-in-law’s bank to process the transfer from PayPal, and it’s already been a week, so we’re expecting it to drop at any time. And as I mentioned, Capital One should open up our new card for Thailand transactions within a couple days (if they don’t, I’ll get on the phone to them and raise hell).
As for right now, it’s been a busy day, and I’m going to sit back and play some Xbox. It’s been a week since I unwound with some video gaming, so I’d say I’m overdue. Perhaps later I’ll do some writing on the laptop after hours…I feel another creative binge coming on.