23 September 2005

This Can't Be All There Is

Let me tell you about the hellholes I was shown today. They equal the $2 dumps I have looked at in other developing nations, yet the average price here seems to be $400 a month.

As you may recall, I was to meet a realtor today at 2PM. I t was only after I had been given the address that I realized it was with the same company where I had been a week ago, and that had proved to be an awful experience.

I should preface all this with pointing out that I just got a new cell phone and hooked up my voice mail. I’d already sort of figured out that the Vietnamese populace does not use voice mail. They just call, hang up, and figure you will return your ‘missed calls’. So one is reduced to calling and saying, “I got a call from someone at this number.” But I specifically told all realtors that I teach, so please leave me a message.

I checked my voice mail when I got home form work, and there was nothing, but I did have those two missed calls. Had I not been waiting for apartment calls, I would not have dialed those numbers, but times are desperate. Not only did I have to call and say, “Did you call me?” I had to ask who they were, then thumb through my messy notes trying to match them up. This was greatly compounded by the fact that they sometimes have very heavy accents, and they can’t always understand me.

But back to my story. I called the first of the two numbers and it was the agent who was calling to confirm the 2:00 appointment. He said to meet him at the office. From my last few outings with realtors, I have learned to tell them ahead of time that I will not ride on the back of their scooters. When I said this, he replied, “Fine, we can take a taxi, but you have to pay”. (it has cost me a small fortune in taxis this past week.)

Not wanting to run into his colleague, and not wanting to go out of the way to get to the office, I said I would meet him at the apartment. “I’ll call you back to see if I can do that”, he said. An hour later, at 1PM, he had still not phoned, so I called him. “Can we meet at 3?” he asked, “and you’ll have to pick me up in the taxi at the office.”

I was about to cancel it all – bad vibes- but, as I’ve said, I am not in the position to turn down any possibilities. I agreed to meeting at the office, but at 2, as previously planned.

At 1:40, in the taxi, my phone rings. It is not the guy I was going to meet, but his co-worker, the jerk, from my first visit there. “Hi, this is DC, my partner can’t make it so I will show you the apartments.” Shit! I’d been bamboozled, or so it seemed. To late to turn back.

We picked up Mr. DC, and drove to an area that is just a few blocks from where I always drink coffee and walk, however, it seems I'd missed these few blocks. It’s full of expensive little restaurants and shops catering to the ex-pat crowd. It would be a great place to live, I thought as we got out of the taxi. Then I followed DC down a dark alley that lead to a maze of interconnecting alleys, all lined with attached buildings rising high into the sky.

The structures where so close that the balconies had about two feet between them. No sunlight fell onto the pavement as it was blocked by concrete. It was dirty, and dank, and frightening. I could not believe he had brought me there. I started to notice sign after sign of “Rooms for Rent”. I knew these types of places existed in the backpackers area, but didn’t know they were also here. I kept seeing more and more foreigners, all white males, walking in and out of the alleys. Obviously, this area also catered to the tourist/English teacher.

Finally locating the building, we were taken up to the fifth floor of a house that had been divided, then divided once more, into little rooms. They showed me a place that is smaller than my room at the compound. It had one window opening into an airway between buildings. The space was filled with a bed and a desk, and closet. You needed to walk sideways to get around anything. The price? $600.

On to the next. Up to the sixth floor, through a door into a small space with two more doors. Again, the cut and divide method of apartment building. This place was more horrific than the last. Smaller than the smallest hotel room I have ever seen, grimy, smelly, one small window. This one was only $450.

I left DC to take a scooter back to his office saying I couldn’t possibly live in places like he’d shown me, especially since I knew I cold get a brand new, sexy flat in District 7. “Well, if your budget wasn’t so limited…” he said. F-ck you! Is what I wanted to say knowing damn well he either lived with family or paid $50 a month on rent.

After he left I decided to walk around and check out some of those rooms for rent places. Oh My God! I didn’t think it could get worse, but it did.

Mr. Long showed me several rooms in two buildings, in amongst the maze, but at least the front entrance had a little space between it and the back of the building in front of it. I had hope. That soon disappeared as we started up the stairs that had been jury rigged into a house that had been subdivided into about 30 rooms. The width of the staircases was about two feet, and there were two of them going in different directions in a house that is only one normal room wide to begin with. He led me through passageways that had been cut through walls and were less than five feet high. I was getting more claustrophobic as we wended our way up and over and through, to get to the room.

I must stop to point out that the interior, as insane as it was, was immaculate. Maybe there was hope for the room. Wrong. Tiny and dark, and dingy and scary. Thank goodness he was with me or I would have been lost getting back to the front door. Earthquake or fire in there and your chances are less than zero.

We then walked four doors down to another building where there was a bigger room with a balcony. This place was less of a maze, but the room was nasty and tiny, even with the balcony. I just don’t understand why all these tiny rooms have queen sized beds. And a good proportion of Vietnamese sleep on straw mats on the floor. Maybe that is why. Maybe they assume all the foreigners would rather have wall to wall bed than open space.

I went to a few more of these places and decided I was just depressing myself. If even one of them was as large and light as my present room, I might consider it, even without a kitchen. Oh, and the price? $250-$500 a month. District 7 is looking better every minute.

I spent the next hour or so walking around and bought a watch. My fake Swatch that I’d had for over three years, finally bit the dust. I now have a beautiful, turquoise blue, TAG Heuer, Formula 1 watch. ($650, for the real thing and this sure looks real to me.) Hope it lasts a few years.

I have sorted out the photo problem of yesterday. So today you get District 7, Barbequing, plus today’s sights. The pictures from today only look bright because of the flash. And will someone PLEASE tell Sony there is a major design flaw in their DSC-P41 digital camera? Part of my hand is always in the picture!

Everyone cross your fingers and light candles to the apartment gods for me.