"Well, if you could find us a Farang man to marry into our community, then maybe we could build more elaborate houses than these humble 1-story dwellings," Ms. Sangchan explodes into a nefarious laughter.
Eli, a young Farang student from America, smiles bashfully. He doesn't expect her answer to his architectural question to be related to his love life. He scribbles something down in his small notebook which holds precious materials for his Ph.D thesis. Of course, Eli is already engaged to a Thai lady from Kon Kaen - much to the disappointment of Ms. Sangchan.
Sangchan is the chairman of the saving co-op here at the Srilamtong Collective
Housing. There are 49 houses in this community; most people here work
in the surrounding rice mills.
Next to one of the shops, are three coin laundry machines - an unusual sight in the rural area - with an instruction posted overhead:
STEPS IN USING LAUNDRY MACHINE
1. TURN ON THE ELECTRICAL SWITCH
THANK YOU FOR USING OUR SERVICE
NOTE: BE SURE TO TAKE EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR CLOTHES' POCKETS. IF YOUR CLOTHES HAS ZIPPERS, BE SURE TO ZIP THEM UP BEFORE PLACING THEM INTO THE MACHINE.
There is a large French Boule court in the middle of the community playground; somehow the sport has managed to impregnate this rural community.
"That's interesting," says Eli. "I see more and more of this everywhere in Kon Kaen."
We didn't ask, but it's assumed that Ms. Sangchan had already successfully imported a few Farang men as instruments of cross-subsidy for the community.
There are 50 members in Ms. Sangchan's saving co-op. It is divided into 9 sub-groups of 5 to 6 people who work with one another on a weekly basis. Then on a monthly basis, the entire community meets to discuss strategic plans.
They have managed to save up to 448,412 baht. This made them eligible for the housing loan and land loan from CODI which requires that you save up to at least 10% of the loan amount.
land belongs to the co-op. It is 8,048 square meters; they purchased it
for 1,700,000 baht.
"We take out a 1,530,000 baht land loan from CODI and a 520,000 baht housing loan to build our houses," says Ms. Sangchan. "There's enough saving pool in our saving group, so there's no problem paying back the loan - so far. With these simple one-story houses, we are doing OK financially."
The folks here are also eligible for 3,250,000 baht infrastructure grant from CODI. However, she says that CODI's infrastructure grant was barely enough to cover the cost of land filling, electrical and plumbing upgrading costs; so the municipality of Chumpae stepped in to help fund the rest. The cost of extending the electrical grid is 923,414 baht and the plumbing infrastructure cost 375,391 baht.
"You should choose your site carefully when buying the land," warns Ms. Sangchan. "Just because the land is cheap, doesn't mean that the cost of land filling will be cheap!" she nods slowly.
"Some communties that I know wasted all their money on land filling alone," she continues. "Their land was cheap, but it was unsuitable for building houses."
"That's unfortunate," I observe. "So
now, how much are you paying the co-op each month?"
"Cheaper than going out and rent an apartment?"
Eli the American student jots down diligently everything Ms. Sangchan says in his notebook. He can speak and read Thai fluently, thanks to his fianc?e. Now he's learning the slangs.
"We love it here, it's near the market and the school; things are very convenient here," says Ms. Sangchan as she glances slowly around; taking in the pleasant afternoon environment.
Many houses here have satellite dishes on top of their roofs. Unlike the old days where people gather in front of their houses to talk and drink in the evening; today people goes inside their individualize unit and watch prime time TV.