Sunday, October 28, 2007


I'm shocked. I am totally shocked that I actually have the keys to my shocking green house.

As of this weekend, I have the keys and the majority of my important personal items have been moved into a shocking green-colored, 5 story house festooned with windows on the edge of the market, about two blocks away from my office. I'm not sure what is more shocking: the color, the number of stories and rooms, the number of windows, or the fact that I am actually finally inside the house.

Moving out of the office has been and (it seems) will continue to be a long and arduous process. When I first accepted the post in Vietnam, it was with the understanding that while I would have to live inside the office for the first few months, as soon as the new project budget was approved and implemented, I'd bet out of the office and into a private house. We started looking almost as soon as I arrived, and the first place I looked at was the first place I liked. We made a verbal agreement with the owner to come back in June. Then things went downhill.

No ugly details here, but things on both sides got stretched and stretched and stretched. Finally we agreed that when I returned from the US, I would move in (no sense in moving and paying for a month of rent when I wouldn't be there to enjoy it). Well, of course, that became the week after I returned. Then the week after that. Then they were doing official government paperwork, so it wouldn't be that week. Then I was in Hanoi. I spent several weeks packing and half unpacking and trying to find bags to take to Hanoi and keep packed, in a constant state of moving limbo.

Finally it was agreed that Saturday morning at 9 o'clock would be the time. Nine AM sharp my translator showed up as I hauled down the last big bag from my fifth floor room to the kitchen. We headed off only to meet my chief negotiator and soon-to-be neighbor, my head counselor coming to head us off. Sorry, she said, the family wasn't ready – time had been changed to two o'clock that afternoon.

Needless to say I wasn't crazy happy about that idea. But I suggested we go to talk to the landlady and at least get the contract signed. We found her hanging out in her pharmacy shop while her husband drank beer across the street, with pieces of beds and a few baskets of things sitting out on their steps. We sat down and started chatting. Then we said we understood they weren't quite ready and that they would need until 2 PM. She said, well, no, actually, 4 PM would be a better time for her.

Well, that's when I put my foot down. No more delays. I have to work and at this rate they're already getting almost 10 days bonus on the contract from our intended move-in date and that Saturday. Then she proceeded to tell me that there was going to be an issue with sharing the water meter with the house next door. The Landlady was inspired to drag her husband off his butt and put him to more semi-productive activity. And at least I had something to do with my spare time – change the contract to manage the water issue. So, there I was, back in my room, staring at the ceiling and waiting for two o'clock to come.

2 PM found the family frantically dragging things out of the house, people frantically running up and down the stairs and leaving heaps of resurrected detritus in their wake. We pulled up in our borrowed government pickup full of my bags and boxes and pedi-cab with the refrigerator transported two whole blocks from the office. So now we had people pulling bits and pieces out while my stuff was stuffed on in. All around the three or four men (including the husband) enjoying afternoon refreshment at the dining room table.

While my things were piled in the entry way, we made the tour of the facilities recording furnishings that would be left for my use while my dear head counselor scraped 10 years worth of grease build-up off the counters and glass cabinets and ventilator hood. And I started making mental calculations of how many hours and millions of Dong it would take to make the place livable. As we came down we were both more exhausted – her for the work already done, me for the work that was still to come.

Finally they were out – and I was off with my translator to purchase an all-important stove and gas bottle and lock for the gate, leaving one helpful staff person to watch over the house until we could get back and secure it.

We returned to find that some improvement had been made in the kitchen area – and that apparently I had inherited a Cheers. There, taking all eight seats at the dining room table was the local happy hour crowd, already well-ensconced with their beers and cigarettes.

Sigh, first thing to make clear – my house was no longer in possession of a liquor license, and Cheers was going to have to move premises. Sorry guys.

So, finally at 5 pm I said good-bye to the last of my helpful neighbors, staff and friends, their husbands and in-laws, and turned to look at the wreck was renting.

I managed to mop down the bedroom floor before 8 pm that night, but as I was without a mattress, I have yet to spend a night in my new house. So, while I have the keys and today I managed to make serious headway into bringing the house closer to health code, it might be a few nights before I actually sleep there. Still, it is nice having a place that I might escape to and know that it is my own territory. Now that Cheers has been relocated, I will be assured of nobody wandering around without my explicit invitation.

Strange, but this assured privacy is also bringing me closer to the community. I look forward to having more stories about Vietnam and Vietnamese people to post very, very soon!


Tim n Karin said...

We are wondering if this shockingly green house has 5 rooms, one stacked on top of the other, rather than, say, the Brewster Ranch in Three Lakes, where rooms are arranged side by side? Being on the top floor and wanting something on the first floor would be a fairly common bummer. We enjoy the blog. Thanks. Tim and Karin, Galena, AK.

Erica in Vietnam said...

Yes, the house is something of a vertical version of the Midwest sprawl-style:
Ground floor: Kitchen, "dining area," and bathroom;
1st floor: Living room, what will be a music room, bathroom;
2nd floor: Master bedroom, guest bedroom, bathroom
3rd floor: Large space that is used for storage (inverse of a basement?), balcony;
4th floor: unusable covered roof area w/skylight

So, it's actually not as big as I made it in the blog, and worst case I'm only 3 flights of stairs from what I want. And compared to where I was - bedroom on the 4th floor, kitchen and refrigerator on the ground floor with a lot of office in between and no living room area - this is sheer luxury.

Judy - want to send me some of your extra stuff? I've finally got space!

I will post interior pictures as soon as I can get things semi-organized. It's actually quite nice on the interior!

nbrewste said...

Judy's extra stuff!?!?! You get our basement first!

Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad said...

We would like you to clean out your stuff from our basement before you start volunteering to take Judy's. And you could take some or our excess stuff too.