24 September 2005

Wasted Saturday

I got up early so as to meet a new real estate agent and view two more apartments. I was encouraged because this agency would pay for the taxi, and the woman on the phone assured me that what she had was really nice.

My taxi arrived at her office and as I prepared to disembark, she hopped in. I looked at the meter; I’d already spent enough for the day. As she gave directions to the driver, I got a bad feeling that I was going to be stuck paying the full fare.

I overheard her tell the driver to go to Le Thanh Ton street. Wait, I said, I was just there yesterday and all I saw was horrible housing. She assured me that there were really great places to live and she would show me.

My heart sunk as we stopped at the exact corner I had been by the day before. I’ve already been in all of these buildings, I said. She pointed at one down the ally and asked about it. No, but it was next door to one I had been in. She got out and I started to pay the driver. “Oh no, he will wait for us”. Isn’t that expensive? She just kept walking. Shit. But what could I do?

The room/apartment turned out to be in a normal house that hadn’t been sub-divided, although it was jammed between other houses on both sides, front and back. It even had a balcony. But that was the only window. A small door opened into a 2x5 foot kitchen, and one step took you through to the bathroom. Not a bad place, but still more than a beautiful apartment in District 7. And there would be no privacy here. This was a family’s house, and you entered through the front gate just like everyone else. It would mean no wild nights with young handsome men.

We got back in the taxi and headed to District 4, on the other side of the river. (on my map it is called Ben Nghe Arroyo, (go figure), and branches of the Saigon River. Going to District 7, you drive through 4 and then over another Arroyo. Coming back through there the other day, I thought it might be a good location because it would be closer to work. But it did look a bit down and out. When I’d asked the cute French guy about living there he said, (again, imagine the French accent and intonation), “But you cannot live there! It is not safe. It is where the gangsters live!” I mentioned this agent.

“Oh no, that was in the past. Now there is a lot of new, expensive development.” I looked out the window as we crossed the bridge. Both sides of the Arroyo river bank were lined with picture postcard, shanty-town houses of corrugated steel and salvaged wood. Dilapidated boats on muddy banks had clotheslines out and people milling about on the broken decks.

On the other side of the bridge, I kept my eyes open for the New Development. We drove on a torn up road passing block after block of squalid housing, vacant lots brimming with discarded toilets and garbage, dirt and dust. I would not want to be in this area alone. And I kept looking for the “good” section, which I had been told was just over the bridge from District 1.

As we drove along with the river on our right, I asked her where, exactly, was this place. She pointed ahead to a monstrous structure shooting into the sky, about a kilometer up the road. I should have just told the driver to turn around.

Where is the supermarket? I asked, now seeing nothing but garbage and junk along the side of the road. “There are none out here. But you can buy fruit and vegetables at the market. It’s very cheap”. I didn’t bother to ask where the market was since I didn’t even see any people.

We arrived at the building, actually two buildings, surrounded by barren land and garbage. We got out of the taxi, and walked into the totally disserted, cavernous ground floor entrance. We rode the elevator up to the 3rd floor and got out to wander down a long hallway of empty apartments and echoes. Once more, I was very glad I was not there alone. I think there were people living in maybe one unit on the entire, immense 3rd floor.

Inside the apartment it was evident that it was still not quite finished. Light and sunny, three bedrooms, and not one item in there; no refrigerator, nothing. Apparently, the landlord would furnish a bed. I looked out the window to better view the decrepit panorama and desolation. I had to get out of there.

The agent tried to convince of how this was a much sought after location. But there is nothing here, I said. “But soon there will be. The government is putting a lot of money into improving the area.”

Back in the taxi, I had him drive us to the center where both the agent and I got out. She didn’t even attempt to reach for her wallet. I was past getting upset about the taxi fares of the last week, and just forked over the cash.

What I needed to do was get my hair cut. I had wanted to put it off until I had gotten my apartment sorted, but I needed to feel good about at least one thing, and my hair won out. I pulled out the card of the salon I had dropped by two weeks ago, and went in search of it.

I thought I knew, more or less where it was. I walked and walked, but I couldn’t find it. I showed someone the card and they said it was way far away, that I needed a taxi. That didn’t make sense. I looked at the card and realized that it wasn’t the card from the salon, but probably from their second salon in a different district. I continued walking until I got to the Hilton, sat down in the shade of their front steps, and called the number.

I had been right; they did have a shop close by. I asked the woman for the address. She repeated it three times and I thought I had understood. Unless I already know the name of the street, it is very difficult to understand addresses. I looked at the map. It wasn’t too far away, but I’d been walking too long in the midday sun, so grabbed a taxi.

He drove around for way to long, and finally pulled over and I again called the salon and handed the phone over to the driver. Soon we were on our way. He eventually stopped in front of some other salon, insisting it was the address given him. I am sure it was. I just don’t know why their business cards had been left at a salon of no connection. I looked at the meter and almost choked. How could it be so high? Again, what can you do but pay? I got out and started to walk.

Somewhere along the route I stopped in a café for a soda. So far, I had spent almost two hours trying to retrace my steps to find the salon. I knew I had a price list at home, and just hoped it had an address, or I would be totally screwed and never again find it. I took one more swipe at it before finally giving up and taking, yet one more, taxi home.

When I got to my room, I pulled out the price list and saw the address. I had been within half a block and may have even passed it. Anyway, I called Tony, who will do my locks tomorrow morning at 10. And after that, I’ll go back to District 7, to two different realtors, and see even more apartments. I am quickly getting used to the idea of a really fabulous apartment, in a really horrid, (albeit seriously safe), setting, rather than vice-versa. The fates will decide for me.
I really don’t mind the total isolation I feel at times like this. I have the internet, which makes it all relatively easy to deal with life in the bizarre. But I would like to know if people are really reading this and following what’s going on, or if I am writing into a void. Again, that would be ok. But I do have a request. If you are reading this, could you please click on “comments” and just tell me you read it? No names necessary. (anonymous /fictitious/ -also ok)