Thursday, October 14, 2010

Settling In

I came to Penang with the romantic idea of living in one of its candy-colored buildings at the edges of Georgetown’s historic area. I had been sure I wanted to make my home in the upper reaches of a shophouse there until I visited one that my friend Elizabeth had rented in Thonburi. Except for on the front of the building, the house had no windows. It was sandwiched tightly between two similar residences and it felt dark and stuffy. As I watched her wrestle with the gate that secured the place, I knew I was made of far weaker stuff than she. I need light and air or I shrivel up into a torpid lump of depression.

In Bangkok, renting an apartment is as easy as getting a room in a hotel. In Penang I would probably still be homeless if not for my pal Victor, who introduced me to a friend of his who grew up in this city. He gave me the name of a friend who is a Penang resident, born and bred, and that is the only reason I have a place to live today.

It didn’t surprise me that there were no rental listings in the daily paper, since the internet has killed that form of advertising all over the world. What did surprise me was the lack of apartment listings online for the area that I wanted, and the neighborhoods that did have vacancies could have been on the dark side of the moon for all I knew. Photographs yielded images of gargantuan apartment blocks and my optimism wavered. “I’ll give it a week,” I told myself, but the property agent I contacted by email was elusive and the one that I was introduced to by friendly waiters in an Indian restaurant seemed more eager to take me to dinner than anything else.

But there was Lynn, the friend of a friend. If I didn’t think, mistakenly as it turned out, that she herself was a rental agent, I would never have imposed upon her. By the time I found out that I was wrong, I already knew that she was a someone I liked and wanted as a friend. As was her oldest sister, whom we went to visit and who lived in an apartment that I yearned for.

It was in one of the characterless blocks, about three miles from the historic part of Georgetown, but it was full of light with a view from the balcony and cross-ventilation in addition to large ceiling fans in every room. And it had three bedrooms and two baths and a functioning kitchen—all for the price of a Bangkok studio. The neighborhood was thick with food vendors and when we went out to explore, I found that this area brimmed with the same life I had loved when I first came to Bangkok. There wasn’t a Starbucks or a MacDonald’s in sight, although an Old Town White Coffee, a local chain, had wifi and air-conditioning right across the road.

Lynn’s sister Jessie is the neighborhood’s unofficial goodwill ambassador who knows everyone in the area and she stretched out her antenna to find a place for me in her building. I was in Georgetown for exactly a week before I saw the apartment that is now my home.

It is fully furnished, right down to the towels and flatware, has a washing machine and two large televisions and a view from the 21st floor. The “characterless” building is clean and friendly and has a covered patio area with free wifi and a pool. Food is only steps away from the entrance and there’s great bus service to downtown. A small variety store sells me garbage bags and dish towels and other necessities—the lady who runs it is quite chatty and she speaks serviceable English.

After making an excursion to the area I had intended to live in, where I had a late lunch at an area of food stalls that adjoined the sea wall, I stopped in at her little shop in search of small glass bowls to use as soap dishes.

“Where did you go today?” she asked me and I immediately translated that to the Thai question “Bpai nai ma?” The world shrunk a tiny bit and my nomadic heart sprouted a tentative but hopeful tendril of a root.


Bouwou said...

saja senang bahawa anda mencari tempat yang baik untuk hidup.

NICE people attract nice people!

Dr. Will said...

Bangkok still misses you and is very jealous about your new love.

janet brown said...

Bou and Will, you are both far kinder than I deserve. Hope to see you both either here or in Thailand before the end of the year.

janet brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristianne said...

Did you break up with BKK or are you two just taking some time apart? How does the Smeeg like the new digs?

janet brown said...

Could be a trial separation for a year--and Smeegle is with the guys at the old house and Elizabeth who has taken my place as resident estrogen-producer. Quarantine laws here would kill Smeeg in less than a day.