Ever gone out shopping intending to buy just a few things e.g. a tube of toothpaste, a kilo of cheese or a carton of beer but end up buying something much bigger and vastly more expensive. This can range from anything such as a wide screen TV to a bargain basement return plane ticket to Thailand.
Sometimes you congratulate yourself on how much money you have saved with your spur of the moment purchase. Other times you end up clutching your head in both hands and say – “what possessed me to buy that”
Right now I am in the middle of such a dilemma. Last November whilst on our annual holiday in Thailand and over a few beers with some friends in the Village of Ban Phutsa in Isaan I asked a question. Random conversation often leads to random questions especially when consuming beer. The question I asked was whether it was possible or easy to buy a “Rot Tuk Tuk” or Thai truck.
The question came from simple curiousity. The Rot Tuk Tuk or Rot Itan as it is more commonly known in Isaan can be seen frequently in various parts of rural Thailand but never as much as in Isaan. In some respects I would argue that it is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of North-East Thailand.
I asked the question because although the old fashioned farm truck was still a common sight they appeared to be in danger of being eliminated by modernity. Thais living in an evermore prosperous nation with an expanding road network seemed to be abandoning the old work horse in favour of shiny new Utilities (Pick Up Trucks) from Toyota and Isuzu and bigger trucks from the same stable.
When I visited Isaan for the first time in the eighties, the Thai Farm Truck was the equivalent of today’s Hi Tech. Moving down rural roads and out through the rice fields with the distinctive “ Tuk Tuk Tuk” sound from the diesel pump engine that it was powered by, it was the ultimate can do machine. It’s simplicity of design, robust strength and the stamina of a 102 year old alcoholic meant it was a farmers best friend.
But getting back to that beer session in the village last November. When I asked the question it seemed to develop a life of its own. Soon the half dozen people sitting around the table including my wife Mali were talking with great animation about the virtues of owning such a vehicle. Although the shiny new Utilities were increasingly more popular they couldn’t haul as much rice, tapioca and people as the Rot Itan. The bigger trucks conversely were seen to be in many cases too large and expensive for village people. The Thai Truck was given the thumbs up as the perfect medium.
The short of it was Mali put the hard word on me. How about buying a Rot Itan so that we could set up a family business in the village. On the spur of the moment I said OK, why not. I was further advised not to buy a second hand one but to have one built brand new. That surprised me, as I wasn’t even aware that they were still building the old fashioned vehicle anymore.
The estimated cost between 250 and 300 thousand baht which compared to what was going to be purchased –was not supposed to be a great deal of money. Again I said OK – GULP!!!!!.
The next day we journeyed from the village to the nearby town of Phimai to order our truck. In a large workshop on the outskirts of the town we started to make our decision. The workshop and its environs were cluttered with tools, three existing trucks being repaired and two new truck chassis being welded. Over to the side were two brand new trucks near completion.
Both of them were being painted in the elaborate colours that make this vehicle so distinctive. A husband and wife team ran the business. After dispensing with the social amenities we settled down to business.
After discussing options we settled for a large vehicle and the biggest diesel possible for the vehicles size (I hope I’m not getting to technical here). The truck would also be constructed with a tilt body so that it could be used amongst other things for hauling and dumping land fill. We finally settled on a price and the deal was finally done.
One big catch – due to the size of the business and the large number of orders being received from as far as away as Khon Khaen we were going to have to queue. An estimated wait of four months. We agreed and paid a small deposit.
Two days ago and four months later back in our home in Australia, Mali received a phone call from her sister Porntip in the village. The truck was pretty much ready but wouldn’t be picked up for another two weeks so that they could wait for the start of the rainy season for luck.
The truck will be picked up on the day by family and friends including Mali’s Dad who we are going to name the truck after. From the workshop the truck will be driven to the main Wat in Phimai where its revered abbot will be asked to bless it. From there it will be driven home to the village and housed in the new garage that has been especially built for it. That night there will I suspect, be a humungous big celebration? The next day it goes to work.
The main regret about it is that Mali and I won’t be there to see it. That’s the drawback of being a commuter tourist who only gets to see the kingdom five weeks of the year.
Was buying the truck a sound financial decision (that’s Farang rationalization kicking in). I really don’t know but after almost thirty years of taking back from Thailand in terms of experience, it’s a nice feeling to be finally able to give something back.
If the business does not ultimately go as well as we had hoped I will always be able to find solace in the old Zorba philosophy
“ everyone from time to time needs a little madness in their lives”