18 September 2005

Apartment Hunting & Salons

It has been decided: I will move out of the nut-house-compound I am living in and get my own place to go with the new job I should start next month. Now, all I have to do is find affordable housing.

Just yesterday I heard that one could rent a really nice, furnished apartment, with security, and at least some, if not all, of the amenities, for around US$300. That meant I really could afford my own little peace of sanity. “Look in the Viet Nam News and find a real estate agent. It’s easy.”

After checking online and in the newspaper, I came up with what I had thought was the agent who would have the most listings. This morning I called and made an appointment for 11am.

Walking into the office, I looked for what I had assumed would be a man in his 40’s. (why I had thought that, I can’t say). But the one-room office was filled with a bunch of 20-somethings. One of the youngsters walked over to me, hacking and wheezing. I backed up. You’re sick? I asked between his convulsions. “I have the flu”. Oh great. I’m in a small, sealed room with a desperately ill, contagious human. I backed up even farther so that he wouldn’t even think about extending his hand.

Aside from that slight distraction, I couldn’t help but notice his totally, un-real estate agent attire. The man did not inspire confidence in his t-shirt and flip-flops. Were that normal here, it would be a different story.

His first question was, “What is your budget?” Around $300, I said. He scoffed. In a country where a whole lot of people make less than $100 a month, I didn’t think $300 on rent was anything to scoff at.

“And what are you requirements, 2, 3 bedrooms?” It’s only me, I explained. Something small is fine.

He didn’t bother to check with a list, or ask any of his colleagues, just said, “I have a very good, apartment in a new building for $600.”
I can’t afford $600, said I. He didn’t believe me. “What, you are a volunteer?” he asked. No, I’m an English teacher.

“But this is a very good place. All new, serviced, swimming pool.”
I can’t afford it. He leaned back in his chair and threw up his hands. “That’s all I’ve got.”

I thought about asking if anything might come up in the near future, but he really wasn’t anyone I wanted to deal with, even if he hadn’t been afflicted with the black plague. I left feeling very dejected. I had planned to spend the morning viewing possible homesteads. Instead, I ended up feeling like a complete looser because I couldn’t even afford the cheapest of the cheap. Nothing to do but go for a walk since I was already in near my downtown walking area.

Somewhere along the way, I got a sandwich, then hit another café for cake, then ended up at the coffee house I frequent. Being Saturday, early afternoon, it was crowed with both tourists and locals. I noticed something that I had noticed on my last trip there. Now, I could very well be wrong, but I think they might be running hookers out of the café. Since most of the presumed set-ups take place inside, and I always sit outdoors, I haven’t been able to do the careful research required to come to come up with conclusive evidence. But I’d put money on it.

After leaving that odd scene, I wondered over to the main post office, a behemoth constructed by those Size-Is-All, French. It really is impressive, especially as it is in pristine condition. I even took pictures.

It was time to head over to a DVD stand I always passed. Six weeks here and I am just starting to miss TV. One can only email and write so much before desperately seeking other forms of entertainment. DVD’s are only about $1 a piece, so I splurged and bought six. I even found the one that I had been watching on the plane ride over, and which China Air had rudely shut off, two thirds of the way through, because we had to land or some such nonsense.

It was now time to head back home and try some other agents. Walking up a side street, I noticed a beauty salon. I walked past it. Stopped and came back. It looked quite chic and there were foreigners inside. That may sound like a bit of a snobbish way to pick your stylist, but it isn’t. My hair and Asian hair have nothing in common. Unless you find someone who has experience with hair other than heavy and dead straight, you are in for a disaster.

One of the stylists opened the door for me, and all but dragged me in. I told her I was just looking and she insisted on carting me around the salon to show me the products they used. I asked about pedicures. (you can get them on any side ally booth, or even on a stool on the sidewalk, but that wasn’t what I’d wanted). It was then that I decided to employ the only sure way of checking out a salon in a foreign country; I walked up to the western woman with wet nails and hair and asked if she came there often.

She went on and on about how these folks were the best in town with hair, nails, and massage. She’d been going there for over a year. Then I asked her about apartments for rent and she gave me some leads on realtors. Maybe I didn’t get an apartment today, but I got a stylist and nail person. I will return in the near future.

Back in my room at the house, I tried calling another few agents and either got no answer or the same, disgusted tone when I said I could not even pay $700 a month. Why do people make you feel totally embarrassed that you cannot afford $1200 a month for rent? My last call may pan out, though. Apparently, there is something for $500, and it is “negotiable”. Still, I find it hard to believe that in a city this size there are only one or two apartments available for under $500 a month. On Monday, I will continue the search.

But now I am going to watch a movie.