Building a dream

Today we raised the main pillar of our new house as per the local custom of picking an auspicious day to begin. Not that I believe in such things but it seems to be important to the locals and to a lesser extent to my wife. Of course this all started as far back as thirty years ago when I first came to Thailand. As to why I am doing this now as opposed to some earlier date could become a very long and drawn-out story. 

The short answer is I am getting older, have been with the same woman for nearly 10 years, my parents are aging and I have started feeling the need for a homestead, so to speak. When I was single, life in the big city provided all the services I needed. Now I long for nature and a simpler outdoor life. I’m a bit spoiled, however, so I want to bring some of my city comforts and conveniences with me. Fortunately for me my wife and I have similar ideas about this house.

 We have spent much of the last seven years traveling in the United States and caring for my parents in Hawaii. That exposure to a different culture and environment no-doubt helped to mold my wife’s style and taste from that of the typical village girl.

Beginning the process
It’s hard to remember when the whole process began. We like to rent a car for a month and drive the back roads and National Parks of the Western United States, from the Pacific Coast to as far East as Colorado. We often stayed in quaint or beautiful towns and wondered what it would be like to live there.

That began a dialogue about what we would do there. Where would we live and could we afford it? In short, was it realistic and doable? That gets you started thinking about what it is that you would really want in an ideal world and then looking at how much of that you can achieve in the real world. Because of our age, gender and cultural differences our needs were never going to be identical. We usually agree on the aesthetics but she needs more of a social life than I do.  High fixed overhead leaves you with less play money for travel and other pleasures.

In the end we settled on her hometown after earlier in our relationship writing it off as a nonstarter. Over the years I have found more things to do there and more places to explore on foot and mountain bike. Some of the family obstacles that would have made life uncomfortable were removed. Now there is a good mix of things we can do together and things we can do independently without imposing on each-other.

Beginning the search
For me the real search began on the trails and in the fields. I discovered that there was something deeper, yet less tangible, than the view itself. I found certain places elicited a sense of peace and tranquility that quite simply made me feel at peace with the world. Many places were too inaccessible or difficult to provide with water and electricity. Many were not for sale or too expensive.

As a side note, after we had purchased our land, sellers came out of the woodwork so to speak. In the beginning it seemed there was nothing for sale. There was a great deal of deliberation about the pros and cons of the available properties. We finally settled on a 5 rai piece of land on the outskirts of her village with unimpeded views.

Now we had our land and had to decide what to do with. The location dictates much of what you do. If like us, you are in the middle of a rice paddy you will likely need to dig a pond and use the dirt to build up a house site and a road. Water and electricity are a major concern and you need to decide what kind of house to build. Do you go local-cheap or farang-expensive?

Our talks led to my wife making several drawing of our desired floor plan during the last six month stretch we spent in Hawaii. Finding an architect and working through that whole process of turning dreams into working drawings is a real adventure. If possible, finding the contractor is even more time consuming and scary. If you pick the wrong guy you are in for an endless nightmare.

We looked far and wide but wanted to find someone local so they could spend more time on site and we could develop a closer relationship. At our first meeting with our contractor and his wife, my wife and I knew they were the ones but forced ourselves to continue the process with the others we were talking with.

Next we had to decide when to build. To give ourselves plenty of preparation time we had planned on the end of the year, after the harvest season and the rains. Both things can affect a house project. In the end the question became “Why wait?”. We were ready so went ahead and pulled the trigger.

In the midst of all this we continually discussed how this project would be viewed by our neighbors. We had always played it very low-key before and didn’t want to make ourselves too much of a target. In the end our location and scale of the project has left us anything but low-key. That has led to an endless list of questions about what we are doing and why. The most persistent and annoying questions are about the cost of everything. We decline to answer as tactfully as possible so they go about guessing and spreading rumors anyway.

For us there was no question about being present during the construction so we had to first make our present house more livable. The prospect of going without certain things for eight months while the house was built was not acceptable. We already had air conditioning but needed to add satellite TV and broadband internet. We also did a minor upgrade to her mother’s kitchen so my wife wouldn’t mind cooking in it daily. 

The weather was nice for a bit longer this year than usual but we are now fully engulfed in the HOT season. A little rain would be welcome but we need to finish the foundation and roof before it gets too wet.