Bangkok Phil

The inconvenience of convenience

The on-line services that supposedly make our lives easier - but do they?

Last week, I ordered a steam cleaning gun from one of Thailand's best-known home shopping websites.

Their website, unlike so many in Thailand, is a dream to use. You select your product, read the description, fill in a few credit card details and click, click, boom! - you get a nice message thanking you for your business and the promise of delivery within three days. You can even track the progress of your delivery on-line. One minute your steam cleaner is leaving Singapore, the next minute it's arrived in Bangkok. And you're behind your computer following it every step of the way. How exciting is that?

Eventually of course, the steam cleaner arrives at the very final stage of its mammoth journey - the delivery to your home address. And it's all downhill from there.


"I'm on Theparak Road" said the delivery driver, "but I can't find the house number"

Theparak Road is about six miles long. I would defy anyone to find a specific location armed with nothing but a house number.

I passed the phone to my wife, as I usually do in these situations. She explained to the driver that he needed to make his way to the next intersection, make the first u-turn at the huge Nissan repair center and our house is then on the left. It has a green gate, a white wall and an enormous pink bougainvillea bush out front. You can't miss it. Well, no normal person with the magical gift of eyesight could.

Five minutes later and the phone rings a second time. The driver is lost. He's actually at the completely wrong intersection. And so the sorry saga continues with no fewer than six phone calls over the course of a stressful hour as the driver takes the second U-turn instead of the first, loses sight of possibly the largest Nissan repair center in Bangkok and fails to recognize a ginormous pink flower bush when it almost jumps out and bites him on the arse.

This is what I call the inconvenience of convenience.

Lost again

The only other time I've used this home delivery company was when I ordered a splendid leather cover for my kindle. However this time, I didn't have my wife's Thai language skills to rely on. It ended up with me standing on Theparak Road in front of the house for half an hour - in the boiling hot sun - and waving my arms up and down at every vehicle that passed and looked like a white delivery van.

Isn't it easier to just go to the shops?

The number of home delivery services in Bangkok has exploded over the past few years. Nowadays you can order your groceries, printer ink and cotton t-shirts without leaving the comforts of home or traipsing around soulless shopping malls and hearing one shop assistant after another come out with those magical words ‘mai mee' (no have)

That's the theory anyway. But for folks like me who have a Bangkok address that's seemingly impossible to find, it's invariably a system that never quite works. Almost........but not quite.

Pizza problems

Years ago, I lived in a rented house on a sprawling ‘moobaan' off Ramkhamhaeng Road. Back in those days, the only thing people had delivered to their door was fast food and pizza.

I'm not a great pizza lover but every so often a promotional leaflet from someone like Pizza Company would be shoved through my front gate with an offer that was just too good to pass up.

"Order a large pizza and get another one entirely free. Hell, we'll even throw in a large bottle of Pepsi and some onion rings as well"

All that grub for some ridiculously low figure of 149 baht or thereabouts. I know a bargain when I see it. Who cares if I'm going to be living on cold pizza for a week?

But the pizza delivery boy could never ever find me. My address was 149/1 Soi 3 Moobarn Seri 5. It may as well have been on Mars.

Eventually it got to the stage where I would call and place my order with the pizza company and immediately start rummaging around for my running shoes. I knew that twenty minutes later there would be a desperate call from the delivery boy to tell me he was hopelessly lost.

"Don't worry" I would say, "I'll meet you at Premier Apartment Building" - which was both a five-minute walk away and the only well-known landmark in the vicinity.

And Premier Apartment Building was where the cash and pizza handover would take place, and in turn totally defeating the object of pizza delivery.

The inconvenience of convenience.

In other modern-age developments that are there to supposedly enrich our lives, we now have several dial-a-taxi services in Bangkok. With a few clicks and swipes of a mobile phone app, you can order a clean, sweet-smelling taxi (complete with rear seatbelts) and a polite, uniformed driver to whisk you from A to B for little more than the cost of a regular taxi flagged down in the street.

I've never understood why so many expats have problems with the regular Bangkok taxis. Yes, some of the cars could do with a valeting and yes, a number of drivers could improve their customer service skills, but by and large I find Bangkok's taxis and drivers to be pretty easy to get on with. However, a large number of expats, tired of being refused or being taken on magical mystery detours, now prefer to use the dial-a-taxi services it seems.

But as with pizzas and steam cleaners, the whole system depends on someone being able to find you.

The long way home

My wife and I had an appointment a while back at a government office in far-flung Northern Bangkok. As most visits to government departments tend to be, it turned into a long and exhausting day. We had also opted not to take our car after hearing it would be murder getting parked.

Business done, we emerged into daylight just as the city's evening rush hour was starting. We stood on the footpath, looked out at eight lanes of gridlock, and decided it was time to put that taxi app to use. Let's go home in a bit of style and to hell with the expense.

After ten minutes (it felt like much longer) we had found a driver. He had accepted our destination and our generous offer of a hundred baht tip - as well as the usual fifty baht surcharge. All that remained was for our driver to get to us. He called us on the phone to say he was about three kilometres away.

Another ten minutes passed and the driver called us again to explain that he was stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of a narrow soi. I could see from the tracking system on my smartphone app that he was crawling at a snail's pace. To make matters worse, the traffic on the main road where we were standing had started to move freely and we lost count of the number of available regular taxis that started whizzing by.

We could have hailed any of them but we felt a strange bond with our unknown dial-a-driver who was battling horrendous road conditions to get to us. We had to stick it out because it felt like the ethical thing to do.

Eventually our taxi driver showed up - on the wrong side of the road, unable to do a u-turn, and leaving us to negotiate a pedestrian bridge and a few hundred metres of obstructed footpath in order to get to him.

Had we just stopped a taxi in the street, we would have been half-way home already.


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