A Home Away From Manhattan

Posted on Posted in Wanderwriting

Finding a place to settle down abroad can be a very daunting experience.  If you’re not careful you may wind up living in a cramped three-bedroom apartment that comes furnished with messy roommates or resident mice, or both, all for the low cost of your entire biweekly paycheck.  No totally kidding.  Those are actually the realities of NYC and the “American Dream” that I once blindly pursued.  But hey, at least for three years I could pretentiously repeat “I live on the Upper East Side.”  No one needed to know my illegal excuse of a bedroom was a lopsided closet lacking windows or that one of my roommates got piss drunk and shyte on the floor.  Or that the neighborhood was geographically considered Yorkville.  In comparison, solo habitation abroad was the most peaceful and healthy living situation thus far in my life.

After tirelessly lugging my two overweight suitcases around Cambodia and Thailand for seven weeks, I was offered a full-time position in Bangkok and tasked with finding a permanent address.  To begin my search, I scoured online sites looking for suitable roommates and visited scores of different apartments all over the city.  Before being considered, I had to get a credit check, pay thousands of dollars in security deposits, first month’s rent, last month’s rent, probably some welfare recipient’s rent, sign a bunch of paperwork saying I’d pay for the damages already accumulated five years ago and then move into my dirty new apartment with squatters from last year’s lease overstaying their unwelcome.

One of my potential cohabitors even sent me an unsolicited dick pic during the selection progress.  I suppose he wanted to ensure I was well-informed of the critical details in regards to proper square-inch measurements of my prospective seating arrangements.  Not only was I far from impressed with his pepperoni (his penile euphemism, not mine) I was puzzled by this ridiculous scenario.  As if apartment hunting in NYC wasn’t challenging enough, then I had to endure sexual harassment from closeted finance freaks.  His sausage sext went unanswered as I didn’t want my bed to double as my coffin.

Joking again!  Only not about the pervert’s pizza topping as that really happened, except again it all took place in New York City.  In Bangkok, I was given exactly one day to find an apartment and that was unnecessarily generous.  It only took three hours and then I spent the rest of the afternoon napping before exploring Khaosan Road in celebration.  I didn’t even receive unflattering images of Thai guy’s fuzzy rambutans throughout the process.  It wasn’t completely without incident though, so please allow me to explain how I set about finding an amazing apartment abroad.

Once my job training was underway, I was put in contact with a local Thai agent responsible for filling vacant condos in a luxury high rise development in the near vicinity, Lumpini Park Pinklao.  It was less than a ten minute walk from my company’s office, which is a tremendously convenient commute while avoiding Bangkok’s notorious traffic.  While this particular agent never showed up, another woman draped in cat accessories did who politely greeted me and directed me towards the residential development.  Her English skills were quite limited, which made things slightly difficult, but nonetheless very professional and accommodating.  She was later very pleased with herself when she successfully made a sale to a foreigner.

While we were taking the elevator to review one of the available units, I was hit with a sudden emergency, a serious case of Bangkok Belly.  My body hadn’t yet acclimated to the cuisine.  In panic mode, I alerted the poor confused woman using hand signals of my immediate need for the closest restroom.  We rode back down the elevator and she pointed me towards my salvation situated in the lobby of the building.  I’d never been more thankful for a bathroom in my life, or so I’d naively thought at the time a mere two months into my travels.

IMG_7717Having diverted that disaster, she continued showing me two available spaces in that tower.  The first was a modest unit with a great balcony view, cute salmon colored decor and a queen-sized bed that claimed the whole bedroom.  The second unit we viewed was more spacious and had a washing machine on the balcony, the holy grail of real estate. While larger, this unit was more expensive, lacked character and didn’t have a relaxing balcony where I had already planned on sitting and drinking my coffee during my free afternoons.  The community was equipped with beautiful infinity pools hoisted atop the 6th floor and featured communal laundry units, a small gym, basketball court, public walking paths, a much-frequented Family Mart and a small Thai restaurant serving up delicious coconut milk shakes and cashew nut chicken.

The agent explained that she had another space to show me in a different building further down the street so she ushered me to her car in the building’s parking garage.  Together we drove in her Hello Kitty mobile to another development nearby.  With the gridlocked traffic it probably would have been more efficient to walk, but such is Thailand.  She wanted to show me a studio unit that ended up being the cheapest of the trio, but it was fitted with antiquated yellow plaid everything and the pool paled tenfold in comparison to its competitor.

Probably an hour after our introduction, she deadpan questioned me which one I’d chosen to move into the following day.  Apparently this is not a decision that required any time in weighing the pros and cons or mulling over a few factors.  I wasn’t yet accustomed to the Thai life so asked her to go back and look at the first two units, which in retrospect seems excessive.  After reviewing both condos in the nicer tower once more, I did what any pragmatic person would do and chose the unit with the prettiest view in the building with the bigger pool.  I had no other pertinent information; a visual sweep was all one needed.

IMG_7782“I think you like pool,” she said once I verbally confirmed.

“Yes!  I love pool.”  That was an understatement.

The agent smiled knowing the rationale behind my responsible decision making process and kindly walked me out towards the highway to fetch transportation.  She said she’d be in contact with me for moving-in procedures which also happened to be the next day.  I hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi and headed out for the evening in the direction of fun.  I wanted to raise a Singha glass to my new residence and an end to my meandering.

I woke up painfully hungover the next morning and excitedly checked out of my hotel.  I arrived early with my luggage and the Thai Baht equivalent of approximately $600 (USD) to cover my first month’s rent and a security deposit.  I signed a bunch of poorly translated papers and provided copies of my passport and visa.  A serial number on the first sheet was circled, indicating that is where the $300 rent payment would be deposited into the condo owner’s account at the bank which was located two minutes from my office.  I was then given the keys and security cards and waved off to settle into my new home where the first thing I did was throw up in my new toilet.

I found out the humiliating way that you really cannot flush toilet paper in most residential properties in Thailand.  I stubbornly refused to abide by this unhygienic rule until the third or fourth time repair men were summoned and threatened to evict me if I continued.  If proper disposal of toxic waste in your living quarters isn’t debatable as a renter, then I strongly suggest not moving to Southeast Asia.  Those more flexible with unconventional commode habits will quickly take to removing bathroom trash at frequent intervals.  You must also learn how to predict an appropriate quantity of toilet paper to be used in public restrooms, as there is usually only one communal roll outside of the stalls.

Once I accepted the toilet situation as normal procedure, the only problem I ever had regarding my condo was leaving it, not because anything bad happened, but because I loved it so much.  That quaint little condo quickly became my most treasured safe haven.  While it was furnished with the basics, I did have to get a few small things upon moving in to make it more cozy.  I ventured to a nearby Tesco Lotus for affordable bedding, bathroom resources and household appliances and shopped in local street markets for additional decor and materials to perfect my expat abode.

IMG_7157One of my favorite additions that I believe was well worth the $50 price tag was a hot plate that sat atop the counter.  It was equipped with both a small grill and boilerplate.  Kitchens in Thailand, at least to my knowledge, don’t typically come installed with oven ranges.  After two months of eating sodium-filled street fare, I wanted to cook for myself to have a better idea what my body was digesting.  I used it to make traditional American breakfasts, pastas, grilled meats and vegetables and sometimes tried making Thai curry dishes.  I once failed miserably at whipping up my own version of Italian meatballs.  Apparently there is more to it than balling up ground beef and placing it on the oven to brown, who knew?

My condo was easily accessible to two mega malls, movie theaters, restaurants, street stalls, supermarkets, 24-hour convenience stores, fitness facilities, spas and a hospital which turned out to be very helpful in times of Typhoid.  Whenever I traveled or had just gone out for the day, I was always relieved to return to my own quiet space and decompress.  I spent many relaxing evenings reading a book by the pool, watching the sunset from my balcony or just hanging out listening to music and enjoying the pleasure of my own company.  I only locked myself out on the balcony once when I excitedly went to take a picture of the stunning view with my iPad.  I slammed the sliding door behind me to keep out the heat and it must have locked by default.

IMG_7661Since I happened to be helplessly standing there in a wet swimsuit after a dip in the pool and wasn’t able to call for help, I broke the latch to save myself (from embarrassment).  It was a close call.  Obviously I paused for a photo opp to document the event.  Being that I was on the 18th floor, I wasn’t too concerned about attracting unwanted guests to my open door, other than the geckos that invited themselves as pets into my home.  Freeloaders.  I did spray pesticides like a madwoman upon first moving in because a few creepy crawlers had nestled in during human absence.  After I assumed ownership and commandeered my rightful space, I only saw one dreaded cockroach hanging out on my balcony one frightful evening.  I murdered him in cold blood and flung his lifeless body over the railing to warn the others what would happen if they were caught peeping in apartment A1818.

I naturally developed a decent regiment around my nontraditional schedule.  Since I worked every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and my two free days fell during the week, I spent most weekend evenings playing soccer or doing yoga.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays when I had off, I slept until I could no longer block out the sun beating through my wall-to-wall bedroom window.  I’d lazily wake up and just lay in the cold air conditioned bliss while day dreaming.  When my brain needed a break, I’d unwillingly pull myself out from underneath the cool comforter to make eggs and bacon and down grainy instant coffee while seated at the table overlooking the terrace.

Sometimes I’d leisurely lap swim a mile or tan by the empty pool, one of the perks to having mid-week weekends.  Or I’d clean every corner of my apartment while singing the 70s classics along with the Glee cast.  Since it was quite compact, I’d have it completed in two hours.  Occasionally I’d go shopping, plan future trips, grab a cab to another soi for some form of entertainment, see movies solo, jog around a local park, take a Muay Thai class or get a massage.  I had certain grocery stores I’d visit depending on my mood and food choices or if my wine inventory needed to be restocked. Life was good indeed.  Sabai sabai.

IMG_0414But so it goes, all good things eventually end.  When it came time for me to leave after having spent fourteen glorious months in residential ecstasy, I became quite emotional by the sudden change.  I’d decided to leave Bangkok to pursue a creative writing program in Prague for the summer where I’d have to share a dorm with a college student.  If only it were possible to physically pick up my condo and take it with me along my journey.  I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I actually locked myself out of the condo for the first and last time with only three days left in my lease.  I had to pay $10 to have the door lock removed and replaced.

While closing all my overseas accounts and transferring money proved to be a royal pain in the ass, moving out of my condo was effortless.  I gave everything I couldn’t take with me to a charity drive that was fortunately being collected by the building administrators at the time.  It took a mere two trips to relocate the rest of my belongings across the street at a colleague’s condo for the time being.  Once I had stripped the apartment of all its Chandra charms, the condo owner met with me to check the premises and return my previous deposits.  She was a spitfire of an older business woman who loved to chat without any filter.  I’d lost a key card which she overlooked because I’d left the unit in better condition than when I moved in and had gifted her several valuable accessories, like my hot plate.  She complimented my cleanliness in keeping her property pristine before demanding that I unplug the refrigerator, pick it up and move it to the balcony to defrost.  I obeyed.

Yet again, I had to live out of suitcases as I hobo bummed at my buddy’s apartment for my last four days of being a farang.  In private before leaving my humble home, I said one final goodbye to both the beautiful pool and my barren apartment.  I actually cried while walking away and am still not entirely recovered from that tragic break-up.  So many times since then I have wished I could click my heels together and magically appear inside that memory-filled fortress.  There is just no place like Pinklao.

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