We set off at about nine o’clock, late enough to have enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and avoid the rush hour traffic heading into Bangkok.
My wife and I live in Kanchanaburi, a thriving tourist town about two hours west of the Thai capital. I have lived here for over four years, meeting my wife and opening a restaurant during that time. I have also recently developed a potentially financially ruinous hobby in watch collecting.
My natural caution has led to me buying a variety of Seiko watches at the lower end of the budgetary scale, traversing the foothills of horology. The SKX 007 and 009 dive watches were no brainers, as they are so cheap to buy online here in Thailand. They really do have a touch of vintage charm about them, and keep surprisingly good time in my experience. The SUN045P1 is a black and gold beast of a special edition dive watch at 47mm across, a kinetic quartz with a surprisingly noisy internal rotor and incredible lume behind the sapphire glass. The all gold Flightmaster is a joy to wear, even if the small type scales on the dial are close to indecipherable.
The latter watch was part of the reason for our trip to Bangkok. The chronograph function was broken, with the hand stuck on forty six seconds, unable to return to base camp at twelve o’clock. Take a look at my Instagram page (Julian Madeley) and you will see a couple of shots of this beauty with the hand stuck right there. I initially had this watch on a nato strap as I thought the all gold vibe would be a little too much, but I have recently returned it to its full glory on the gold metal strap. I’m never going back now, properly sized on my wrist the gold really works with that subdued yet detailed dial behind the distorting Hardlex cystal. This was too good a watch to leave in the watch box, not functioning properly. So, a trip to Seiko’s rather excellent Bangkok service centre was required.
However, there was another reason for our journey into the metropolis, scything through the madness of Bangkok traffic on a sunny Tuesday morning. I was going to buy a new watch, my first purchase in a retail shop since I had taken up the hobby. Everything else had been bought online, where a thriving grey market in Thailand keeps prices very competitive. The Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical was not available online in Thailand though, and the prices in Bangkok were competitive. I had seen the white dial version a couple of weeks before, and I hadn’t been able to get it out of my mind. A 38mm matt stainless steel case, clear, crisp dial and vintage lume on an olive Nato strap, it felt great on the wrist. A reliable wind-up movement powered by a slightly outsized crown, with an impressive 72-hour power reserve. This is a watch that is practical, highly legible and fundamentally stylish.
The first part of our mission was fairly easy to complete. I still had my Flightmaster warranty card, so the Seiko service centre staff agreed to repair the watch for free and send it back to my home address for a small fee. As I write this article three weeks later I have yet to hear back from them, so hopefully, I will get an email any time soon telling me they are ready to send it back, fully restored. Or maybe inform me that the repairs have been delayed due to a lack of parts in Thailand, and that the return of my watch will have to wait until specific components for this unusual quartz chronograph have been shipped from Japan. Such are the joys of owning and keeping these complicated machines running.
We left the service centre in good spirits. My wife had got a new leather strap for her retro Winnie The Pooh watch in the Seiko shop attached to the centre, and I had been reassured that my Flightmaster could be repaired. It had just gone midday, so we were going to head to Siam Paragon, the largest and most glamorous shopping centre in Bangkok, to park our car and buy my new watch.
I moved into the outside lane and sped up to a junction that crossed a railway line. The green traffic light changed to flashing orange just as I approached it, and in a split second I took a decision to accelerate through before it turned red. Big mistake. No sooner than had I passed the traffic light than a policeman sprung out into the road and started waving me down. I had no option but to pull over into the left-hand lane by the side of the road, groaning audibly. It had all been going so well.
The policeman had one of those ghastly fixed smiles on his face as he explained that orange meant stop. He asked for my driving license, started writing out a ticket and informed me I would be able to retrieve the license at the local police station once I had paid the 1,000 baht fine. I couldn’t really argue with the penalty, he was technically correct, but my contempt for this uniformed extractor of hardworking people’s money was fairly clear. After I wound up the window I sat there in silence for a full minute with the penalty notice in my hand, letting the anger well up and then subside. Don’t let this ruin the day for us, I thought to myself. My wife, practical and calm, simply got out her phone and found the local police station on her map. Within an hour, we had located the station and I had paid my fine, got back my driving license and left the station with a final backward glance of defiance towards the policeman.
We finally got to the shopping centre, parked the car in the dark underground labyrinth and walked to the Zen department store. The Hamilton was on my wrist within a minute, and it didn’t come off for the rest of the day. Mission accomplished, despite the moment of drama. Sitting in a Korean barbecue restaurant half an hour later with my wife, admiring this beautiful dial in the bright lighting above us, twisting that smooth crown a couple more times for luck, I knew it had all been worth it.