Khun Prasert (not his real name) has been our go-to Thai handyman for several years now. But this is a story of how a trusting relationship can all go sour for the sake of a measly few thousand baht.
Although Khun Prasert's true expertise lies in electrical work, he has done plenty of good jobs for us in the past. With the help of some good, reliable crews, he's repainted our living room and staircase area, fixed a faulty fuse-box, sorted out a couple of water drainage issues and cleaned our air-conditioners.
I have long had a bitter love-hate relationship with Thai handymen. The problem is not that handymen treat your home like they would treat their own; the problem is that they do! But Khun Prasert's work - and that of his workmates - has always been first class. They lay groundsheets under the area where they are working in order to protect furniture and they avoid putting handprints all over your walls (something that drives me mad whenever I let handymen into our home)
A guaranteed good job
Khun Prasert (and probably most of his workmates) used to be employed under the umbrella of a foreign-run company and whenever we needed a job done, I was always happy to pay a premium rate that obviously included a percentage going straight to the employer. However, when Khun Prasert cut his ties with the company and went freelance, he asked us if we would continue using him for all our household jobs and in effect, cut out the middleman. We had no problems with that at all. I admired his entrepreneurial spirit.
In Prasert's most recent visit to the house, we had asked he and a workmate to clean a newish Samsung air-conditioner. The machine has only been on the market for a couple of years and it's one of those anti-virus, money-saving, computer-driven models that generally requires a lot more care and attention than the more robust machines that are probably far better suited to a Bangkok environment.
In fact, Prasert had told us himself the last time he had cleaned the machine, "this air-conditioner is far too sophisticated and delicate to have the compressor unit outside the house and out in the open air, where it's exposed to insects and traffic fumes. This is why things often go wrong with this particular model"
But there was nothing really we could do. We had only had the machine for a couple of years. I guess we were kind of stuck with it for now.
So Prasert and his helper dutifully went about giving our spiffy air-conditioner its twice-a-year clean-up. Once completed, his usual service fee was around a thousand baht and he had also needed to buy and refill the coolant, which came to another 800.
Job done? Well not really.
The problems begin
We turned on the machine and let it run for twenty minutes or so but it just didn't feel cool. Certainly nowhere near as cool as it had been in the past. It felt like a giant fan just moving hot air around. We complained to Prasert while he was still on the premises, and he went to check the outside compressor.
Prasert conceded that there was a problem with the main board (it looks like a giant circuit board to the uneducated like yours truly) and he tinkered with it and made a few adjustments. We turned the air-conditioner back on and while it did feel significantly cooler, it tripped the electrical supply within five minutes. We tried again. Same result.
Prasert started scratching his head and looking for some divine inspiration. My wife and I immediately started to lose confidence. We should really have been calling out Samsung's own engineers with a problem like this but Prasert was confident he could save the day. "I think you need a new Samsung main board" he told us, "this one has been destroyed by insects and exhaust fumes from the busy road outside".
A costly repair
We felt we had no choice but to put our trust in him and let him go to the Samsung dealer and purchase a new main board. Later that day, Prasert called my wife and told her that the new part would cost 8,500 baht and he would pick it up in a couple of days.
Ouch! 8,500 baht was a fair chunk of change to spend on a machine that was barely two years old and only cost 25,000 baht in the first place. But we just couldn't face the rigmarole of traipsing around department stores looking for a new air-conditioner. So my wife transferred the 8,500 baht to Prasert's bank account.
Meanwhile, we moved furniture and arranged bedding downstairs in readiness for a couple of nights on the sofa and living room floor. The bedroom gets unbearably hot without a/c so sleeping up there was totally out of the question.
True to his word, Prasert returned a couple of days later with a new main board (or so we were led to believe) but after FIVE hours of fannying around in front of the compressor unit, he was no nearer to getting the machine working. He eventually waved the white flag and called Samsung for help and to arrange for one of their technicians to come down to the house.
He later told my wife that for some reason Samsung Customer Service were not playing ball and seemed unwilling to help. Knowing what we know now, this was probably a lie. Whoever Prasert was calling on the phone, it almost certainly wasn't Samsung.
We've been duped!
You might say the deception was starting to unravel. My wife and I began to put two and two together. We had no proof whatsoever that Prasert had purchased a brand new main board from Samsung. In fact it was becoming far more likely that he had spent considerably less money on some re-conditioned, second-hand job and pocketed the balance. Hence his reluctance to get Samsung involved because a Samsung engineer would have taken one look at the ‘brand new' main board and immediately blown Prasert's cover.
Prasert now found himself in a no-win situation. Although neither my wife nor I were yet to accuse him of any monkey business, he had bought some dodgy second-hand main board which he still didn't have a clue how to get working. He had also taken 8,500 baht of our money along with another 2,000 baht for a service fee. In short, we were over 10,000 baht down and still looking at an air-con unit that didn't work.
When the going gets tough, the handymen get going. Prasert assured us he would take care of the situation and then promptly did a disappearing act. We heard nothing at all from him for several days. He'd been rumbled.
It was now well over a week of having to sleep on the living room floor but at least I've heard it's good for your spine.
A plan of action
My wife and I had a serious chat to decide on the best way forward and these situations often serve to highlight how different my wife and I can be. I tend to be the ‘anything-for-an-easy-life' kind of guy. I was all in favor of cutting our losses, learning our lesson and buying a new machine. To hell with the expense. Let's just chalk it down to experience. But that is not my wife. That is not her at all. Cheat her out of money and oh boy, she will hound you to the ends of the earth.
The first step was to find and contact Prasert (or ‘cheating bastard' as my wife had now christened him) She made a flurry of calls to his mobile phone but predictably they all went unanswered. She then contacted him via his LINE messaging app and chose not to mince her words but the gist of it was ‘we want our money back!' This time, Prasert read the messages and did reply with the excuse that his pick-up truck had broken down but not to worry, he would sort things out. My wife was not willing to accept that. You pay us back the money now or I go to the police. It's that simple.
Prasert didn't reply. In fact, he went a step further and blocked my wife on the LINE app. Further proof (as if we needed it) that we had been duped. It was time to get nasty. Or nastier.
My wife not only found Prasert's Facebook page but also that belonging to his wife. She told Prasert's wife the story and the following day we got a reply. "I am sorry that you have a problem with my husband. To be honest I take little or no interest in his work so don't really know what's going on. But rest assured, I will make sure he pays back the money he owes"
Prasert's wife seemed a very decent sort. She was clearly a good, honest working class girl (a seamstress I believe) who had unfortunately found herself dragged into the situation. But needs must I suppose.
She obviously had words with her rogue husband because later that day, he got in touch. Perhaps he realized that my wife was the bulldog and he was most definitely the bone. "I will pay you back the money but I have financial problems at the moment" Prasert said "is it possible to pay you back in three monthly instalments?"
It wasn't an ideal solution as far as my wife was concerned but she agreed to the payment plan.
And that sadly is the end of our relationship with Mr Prasert, whether he pays the money back or not - all for a measly few thousand baht and all for a very high-risk opportunity to make a quick buck on the side.
Light at the end of the tunnel
We got in touch with Samsung Customer Service and after failing to keep the first appointment they showed up on day two. Credit where its due, as soon as the Samsung technicians turned up in their smart grey uniforms, you felt you were at last in the hands of experts - people who genuinely knew what they were doing.
Finally, we would get a definitive answer to the main board question.
"It is a Samsung main board" the technician told us, "but it's a second-hand one and in quite poor condition. Actually, the main problem is with the motor but it probably won't be a bad idea to replace the main board as well"
Drum roll please. And how much is a brand spanking-new Samsung main board for that particular model of air-conditioner?
Answer - 2,700 baht. The defence rests.
So Samsung are coming back in a couple of days time with a new motor, main board and copper coil and to refill the coolant but for now the air-conditioner still isn't working and we are now entering week FIVE of sleeping on a mattress on the living room floor. It's become almost a way of life.
I shared this story as it progressed via a series of tweets on Twitter. Let me address some of the questions that Twitter followers had.
1) Why didn't you go to Samsung yourself and buy the main board?
This all boils down to lack of time. My wife is far too busy to go gallivanting around Samsung Service Centres. That's simply the way it is I'm afraid. Plus we had no reason to disbelieve that a brand new main board would cost 8,500 baht.
2) Why did you pay for the main board in advance before the job was completed?
Firstly, Khun Prasert said that he didn't have 8,500 baht of his own money. Again, no reason to disbelieve it at the time. We paid the 2,000 baht service charge when the work was completed and before the air-conditioner tripped the circuit. It was only a five-minute window but that's enough time to hand over 2,000 baht if you think the work has been completed.
3) Why didn't you go directly to Samsung to fix the main board problem?
Yes that's what we should have done but hindsight is always a wonderful thing. Prasert had just finished cleaning the air-conditioner when we discovered the main board problem so we naturally thought the two issues might be connected. Very difficult to say OK, you've cleaned the air-con, now off you pop and we'll contact Samsung about the main board. You put your trust in people I suppose.