Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chinese Beds and Myanmar Carpenters

About six months ago, I was very happy to buy, on the cheap, a nice queen-size mattress from a colleague who was leaving the country. I also bought a queen-size bed frame from a local retailer, as a nice mattress shouldn't just be laying on the floor.

Last week, as I was sitting on my bed, eating and watching TV, I heard a crack and then suddenly, the middle of my bed was slumping downward. I heard the sound of metal clanging. When I found the piece of metal that had made the noise, and looked under the bed, I realized what had happened. One of the bed frame's mid-mattress supporting legs had broken off.

I felt disappointed, but not surprised. See, this 6-month-old bed frame was the latest of dozens, if not hundreds, of products I've bought here in my time in Asia whose quality has proven to be utter shit. Here in Myanmar, as well as in Thailand, I've bought so much luggage, furniture, computer accessories, clothing, what have you, almost all of which has broken, failed or collapsed well before I'm accustomed to. Why is this?

Although there are no laws here that a product must be labeled "Made in ____" like there are in America, I'm pretty sure most of this crap is made in China. Okay, you may note, China exports lots of products to the USA, and it's not that bad. I suspect that Chinese exporters have two levels of quality control: stuff that's going to America or elsewhere in the developed world, and the junk they send to other Asian countries.  That's what I get. I know I'm a heavy guy, and maybe the designers weren't expecting there to be weight on only one side of a queen sized bed, but still, there's no reason why the welds on a bed frame should fail after six months! Bed frames should be really strong and last for decades!

In America, I woulda gone back to the store where I'd bought the product and complained. Here, that doesn't happen, so I thought about how to fix it.

Here's a picture of the mid-bed support near the head of the bed that's still intact (although you might notice it's already starting to bend)

Here's the bed frame at the foot where the leg broke and you can see that it's sagging.

Well, this didn't seem like it would be too difficult for me to fix. I figured that all I needed was a piece 4"x4" cut to just the right length, and I could just shimmy it under the support beam and all would be fine. Back home, I'd just go down to the lumber yard and ask for such a piece of wood and I'd be done.

Problem is, I've never seen a lumber yard here in Yangon; there's no Home Depot or Lowes in Myanmar. Despite living here for 20 months now, I had no idea how to get a simple chunk of wood.

I drew up a draft of what I wanted, asked my landlord if he knew of a carpenter (which he did), and then asked if he'd please pass the draft on to the carpenter so that he could make this support for me. I explained it was for my bed. Eventually, I heard back from the carpenter that he wasn't going to do this until he looked at my bed and saw the problem. Okay. Fair enough.

Now, in America, if you have a tradesman come to your home to inspect a needed repair, you're adding $100 to the bill just for him to knock on your door. Not so much here. After inspection, the carpenter suggested multiple supports, drilled into the metal of the frame, for which he was going to charge me 7000 kyats to produce and install, i.e., $5.38.

Seemed a reasonable price to me.

Off they went. They measured and then cut the new bed legs out on my balcony.

Then came the installation process. Although I originally thought of doing this repair myself, and I'm perfectly capable of doing so, these guys had power tools. In the semi-permanent existence of an ESL teacher in SE Asia, we don't own power tools.

I had to laugh after they installed the first leg. The new wooden middle support lifted up the back two corner legs half an inch off the floor. Hilarious. I thought for a sec that he'd need to remove the wood support, shave a bit off the bottom of the leg and then put it back on. After a bit of thought, I understood that the whole frame had bent a bit while not being supported, and once the mattress was put back on and particularly with my 230 pounds lying on top of it, the edges of the frame would bend back to the ground.

The carpenter's solution to the one corner being off the floor? A little different. It's ironic as this solution is what I had thought to use for the problem as a whole at the start: a shim.

I don't know how long this solution is going to last. Unfortunately, my bed is not the site of lots of rigorous activity.  I do want to change that.


  1. Fingers crossed that the bed holds up under more rigorous activity.

  2. Hopefully, this will work well enough so that you'll rest well and relax your back. Blessings...


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