In the continuing saga of Mario Kleff, this article will be devoted to his alter ego, his wife and partner, both in business and life, Nittaya née Wongsin. Nittaya, aka Meow, comes from a middle-class Thai-Chinese family in Rayong. Her father was an industrious and successful tailor, whose work so acclaimed that he was privileged to be one of the personal tailors of the queen of King Rama VII, apart from outfitting Naval officers in U-Tapao, and running a fashion and boutique business. He wasn’t a devotee of feng shui, or any of the other aspects of the Chinese heritage, apart from his keen interest in herbalism and the desire to lead a simple life. Nittaya was a typically devoted daughter, having her first taste of accounting by doing his accounts every week using an abacus.
Nittaya’s upbringing was strict in the classic Chinese fashion, though she first went to St. Paul’s Catholic School in Sri Racha, where she proved to be an adept student, not least in languages. So much so that she gained entry to ABAC University in Bangkok at the tender age of 16, where she studied business in French. Wishing to broaden her horizons, she next went to the UK, pursuing a Post-Grad Diploma in International Relations at Lancaster University, her academic career culminating in an MBA from Cardiff University.
Returning to Bangkok, enriched with a broader perspective and more self-confidence, Nittaya, then 24, worked for 1.5 years for the SET (Stock Exchange of Thailand) as an international relations officer, organising road shows and promoting the SET internationally. Next, she went to work at the Thai branch of the largest property construction firm in Japan, Taisei Corporation, as a co-ordinator, but rapidly became bored, especially with the chauvinistic attitudes of the Japanese. Fancying a complete change of direction, she began working for Avon, the cosmetics multinational, in marketing. Here, she really felt at home and thoroughly enjoyed her 7 years with them, progressing through the ranks to end up as marketing manager, directly responsible to the female marketing director.
During this phase of her career, she learnt how to manage, co-ordinate, facilitate and to think deeply and constructively, familiarised herself with planning, inventory, organisational structure, facilitating, team building, and developing people skills, being responsible for organising conferences, merchandising, and exercising sole control of the ‘book’, the organisational planner.
Thus thoroughly grounded in all facets of marketing and management, she next decided to heed her father’s advice and branch out on her own; he’d told her you
can’t make any real money working for others. Her brother had recently died and she wanted to be close to her family, so returned to the Eastern Province and set up her own real estate agency in Pattaya; a typically high-earning capacity career after her Bt100,000 salary from Avon. When I asked how she managed to have made so many volte faces, or radical changes of direction, Nittaya responded that she thrived on change and welcomed challenges, so as to test herself and hone her already considerable skills.
She was completely work-oriented, in the classic Chinese manner, despite the Thai patina, the Thai veneer, and had little time for socializing. Her family had many useful contacts in the property industry, including with the woman who had started the building, which later became Northshore, after it was taken over by Raimon Land and redeveloped, following the first owner’s cash crisis. This was around 2003, the first real property boom in Pattaya, and she rapidly became successful at selling land, second homes and condos, not least because she represented a solid and reliable interface between the often foreign buyer and the typically vacillating Thai owners. Unlike them, she quickly built up a reputation for plain-speaking, telling the truth, keeping her promises and thus engendered considerable trust in her clients, who were also impressed by her efficiency and organisational skills.
It was about this time that she decided to set up a website and asked around for a website designer, and who should turn up at her door but Mario Kleff. Rather than actually design her website, he took an immediate fancy to her and started talking non-stop, as is his wont, largely about his life and exploits. In those days, Mario wasn’t quite as well off as he is now, quite the opposite, and to cut a long story short, she took him in hand and straightened out his life, largely because she felt sympathetic, but also because she recognised his power, which does not take long to emerge from his eyes, especially when he bares his soul, as he had done to her.
Now, some might glibly think that relationships, especially profound, life changing ones happen by chance, but as the eminent psychologist, Carl Jung, said there’s no such thing as coincidence. In fact, some time before, Nittaya had met a gifted, clairvoyant fortune teller, who’d forecast that she would meet and marry a farang, who would initially cause great disruption in her life. How right she was! Nittaya’s parents had had plans to marry her off to a rich Chinese businessman, but Mario’s entrance completely scotched that. The effect he had upon her was radical and profound and resulted in her estranging herself from her family and eventually going off with him; not dissimilar to the mythical wandering gypsy who enters the tranquil village and bewitches the daughter of the squire, riding off into the sunset with her. Mario did follow a strict etiquette, however, and wooed her in the traditional manner, marrying her one year after his return from Germany, where he’d had to go to straighten out his affairs.
It’s easy to see from their interaction that Mario and Nittaya have a very romantic relationship and it’s likewise obvious by the extraordinary degree to which he is prepared to go to exalt their love union.
Nothing illustrates this depth of love more than their choice of wedding place, Wat Yangsangwararam, the royal temple under the patronage of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. This location obviously appealed to Nittaya because it is Chinese, and as such is designed according to principles of feng shui, particularly the side
temple in which they were actually married, being located amidst water features and at the confluence of raised hillocks that surround it. As such, it was an extremely auspicious place in which to get married.
With Nittaya’s financial backing and Mario’s artistic flair and architectural genius, they then set up the Wandeegroup and have never looked back. Apart from predicting their fateful meeting, the fortune teller, Chavee, also predicted that Mario would begin to make his fortune in the space of 3 years, especially if he moved location from their first office to their present one in view of the nearby wat on the hill; again another startlingly accurate prediction. So Nittaya had renounced her roots, and forsaken a blossoming career, to join her lot with a somewhat eccentric farang, with whom she was soon to have a beautiful daughter, Ming.
Some might say she had taken leave of her senses, but then they wouldn’t have had the strength of character and insight into the potential of her man that Nittaya has. They are perfect complements, Mario provides the vision and architectural expertise, and Nittaya grounds his often wild flights of imagination, with substantial business organisational skills and sound financial acumen. They are both incredibly fortunate to have a relationship, which spans both love and career, and their mutually supportive understanding and acceptance of each other’s foibles, coupled with their fluid interaction can only deepen and create a perfect partnership; her ying to his yang.
The fact that they got married in Wat Yan is astounding, as normally only royalty is allowed to perform any ceremony in the wat’s precincts, let alone mere commoners. Mario appealed to the head abbot, who gave them special dispensation because of what he intuitively recognised in Mario and also because of Mario’s deep involvement with one of the most exalted religious texts of the West, the Book of Kells. Mario also designed Nittaya’s wedding dress, himself, and personally cleaned the wat from top to bottom, as well as laying out the incense and other accoutrements for the wedding.
The length to which her husband went to ensure an ideal wedding day, is also a token of how far Mario had to go to win her love. Nittaya confessed to Property and Lifestyle that Mario was effectively the first real love of her life and one suspects she didn’t give her heart lightly, but when she did she gave it completely, like the classic princesses of fable. She freely admits that prior to meeting Mario, she’d had neither the time, nor the inclination for serious relationships, being too committed to her studies and then her career. Nittaya said her idea of a weekend’s relaxation, while she was with Avon, for example, was to spend it with her female boss, discussing business.
A story by Mario Kleff - perhabs the most honest architect in Pattaya
Don’t judge a book by its cover has been good advice since Gutenberg started mass production of literature. If you apply this thinking to the real estate market, you would say: “Don’t judge a condo by the showroom!”
The word ‘showroom’ is intended to indicate that the room will show potential buyers what the architect has designed and that will later get built. Most of the brochures and renders already have a statement of caution: artist impression only, reality can differ.
Now, I have been working as an architect in this city (Pattaya) for more than six years and delivered more than 80 residential building designs for the greater Pattaya area – and I am absolutely amazed by the amount of variation that some developers ask their clients to stomach.
Let’s take the familiar case where condo-miniums are built in the middle of a sprawl of ugly old high-rises that look like the fantasy of a North Korean dictatorship – but in the brochure they look as if they were located in the middle of a pristine jungle.
So every time I see some of these creative visualisations, I ask myself why the developers so underestimate the intelligence of their customers. I think that customers deserve better and more respectful treatment – no restaurant would dare to put lobster on the menu and then proudly serve a couple of shrimps and ask the guest, how was it?
Maybe not everyone will agree and some people think that the more difficult the times are, the more they have to exaggerate their claims.
How else could there be people trying to sell a 21 sqm chicken cage as a luxurious studio? Or present a plain vanilla standard design tower as “the most luxurious building ever to come to Pattaya”.
The guys must have gone nuts.
But let’s look at some practical details and establish some rules on how to survive the ocean of misinformation in real estate advertising.
First of all: the devil is in the detail. When you inspect a showroom, you would like to think that the architect has designed a kitchen complete with marble workplates, sink and appliances and that the kitchen you look at in the showroom represents the actual final choice of product that has been selected and will be used.
Now, when you have read so far, you will not be surprised to hear, that this is not always the case.
So: first of all ask the sales staff if what you see is what you will get then take your camera out to record some memories of this nice kitchen, workplates, doors and windows.
This might sound strange, but you should know that the value of the interior of a typical Bt1-2m condo can vary anywhere between Bt200,000 and Bt800,000 – the shrimp and the lobster – and the difference in value is what the developer will pocket if you are not careful.
Even a big fat shrimp is not a lobster
The mentioned examples are not only true for the lower end of the market – I personally know friends who are paying Bt60m for a big, luxurious ‘lobster’ condo and are now being presented with a shrimp and are thinking of getting legal help – just like so many of the smaller customers who have been taken down the garden path by their developer of ‘trust’.
In my opinion, nobody wins in these scenarios. In fact everybody loses and that’s a serious concern for me and other people who are serious about real estate in this city. If we advertise lobster we should deliver it – and there’s also a nice market for fresh juicy shrimps as well.
Ultimately, Pattaya doesn’t need quick deals to the detriment of naive customers, but careful planning and honesty from the drawing board to the final product being transferred.
This article is not written to divide the market into “the good, the bad and the ugly” but to put the facts on the table and unite the industry for its own benefit. I call for a quality consensus of real estate professionals here in Pattaya, where codes and conducts are agreed to protect the customer – and therefore, ultimately, the agents and developers who can still look straight into the eyes of their clients after the development is finished.