Monday, July 23, 2012

So you want to live in Bangkok huh? Apartments.

Let's be realistic. Bangkok is not Los Angeles. In fact, not only would you be moving to a new culture, but to another hemisphere and weather profile. There are aspects to Thailand that often tempt people to permanently move here. This post will be the first in a number of meditations about living in this part of the globe. Let's address the most basic thing. Housing.

Essentially, for about a month, I will be experimenting with the realities of living in Bangkok without that annoying thing called work. Being a college professor has its perks. So this isn't a realistic evaluation of work and living in one of the most dynamic and complex mega-cities in the world. Think of these posts as documenting a practice session, Spring Training so to speak. I've rented an apartment through local connections. I'm eating locally. I'm hanging out with local people. In fact, I've been privileged to go out to places that only Thais go to. Like underground after hour places that can go until MORNING. More on what I would perceive as daily life later. Let's look at generalities.

How do Thais spend their days. Because of the demonic heat, things often happen late at night. If you were to get up at 6 AM, you will find the streets to be deserted. The only thing open at 5 in the morning was the McDonalds. Lunch does happen, but more often people will eat small meals. Between 6AM and 10AM, it's a dead zone. The Nine Mall doesn't seem to get active until well after 12:00 noon. Things get interesting after sundown. If the sun is out, and the humidity is high, it can be miserable. People park their cars with the windshield wipers up, because the rubber might melt to the windshield. The weather often governs the housing decisions.

Looking out of the apartment complex, you can tell the diversity of housing here. It's a mix. The tourism traps of Thailand: that's a separate world. No one lives in hotels in LA except celebrities. No one lives in hotels in Bangkok, except tourists. There are a few hotels that sort of straddle the spectrum, but for the most part, people live in apartments, condos, townhouses and stand alone homes. Again comes the question. Can you move here? If you just get on an airplane and drop yourself off here, it could happen, but there would be difficulties. Could I possibly move here? Sure. Why would I? If California collapses, I might end up here. I have connections and resources developed over the years. Much of these connections were developed through the charity work done through the Tsunami Children Foundation. That had allowed me a window into the Thai world. The weather seems to govern how people live. New York invokes a particular type of lifestyle. Los Angeles also invokes a particular lifestyle. Bangkok does the same. It governs choices in terms of housing. The key terms that you should remember is air conditioning.

The housing breakdown in Bangkok is rather mixed. You will have sort of a "hi so" (High Society) sort of place that I'm in right now, but next to it might be some housing that has corregated steel roofing. It depends on how much you are shooting for in terms of rent. You can get ultra cheap to ultra expensive in this part of the world. If you have money, you get AC. No, you must get AC. AC trumps hot water. More on this later.

You will have to develop a sort of comfort zone. There will be these minor annoying things that may end up really irking you. Housing being one of them. I've been flying to Thailand and SE Asia for about 8 years now. My travels began after the 2004 Andaman Ocean Tsunami. My friend, being the only bilingual Thai psychologist in Cali, would go to Phang Na. I got drafted to help consult, and become a member of the board. The relief work has ended, but I still travel to visit my best friend from high school on an annual basis. For me, Thailand is a reset button. There is a sense of freedom here that is hard to concretely describe. And no, not in the Vegas way. This would be my 8th year. I've pretty much have done all the touristy things possible in this country. Temples. Check. Beaches. Check. Tsunami related relief work. Triple check.

Of course the pink elephant in the room is Bangkok's reputation as the Vegas of Asia. This is why some of the less than stellar creeps move here. I have never been to a massage place. I avoid the red light zones. Those places attract the dregs of the world from slimy Middle Easterners going to coyote dances or Russians selling their Women to Japanese. If you have to pay for it, you suck monkey chunks fool. Besides there are scary shady elements involved with these things. I avoid it. You could go and partake, but it just is too annoying to me. This is why I am far away from Nana, Thong Lor or Sukumvit. If you are easily tempted, Thailand isn't for you. Many a farang has died a premature death due to overindulgences of their appetites. There are other aspects that make Thailand great, and the above things are excluded.

Throughout the traveling years, my friends here have been asking when I want to move here. I'm on the fence so to speak. On the one hand, I am open to investing. But in order to invest, you must get to know the situation. Situational awareness is key, and if you get taken in Bangkok, you really might get taken. One of the most important things to understand is what is Thai-ness. Try to see how Thais really live. How does face plays a role? What is socially acceptable here? There are perks. Gas stations are full service. McDonalds is a high end venue. They will help you load your groceries in the car. People are generally polite. These perks of daily Thai life will emerge in later posts. First we should address the basics.

Housing. Without a pad, you got no base. The apartment that I'm renting is a one bedroom. It is running me about 8500 baht a month. That is just under 300.00 USD per month. It has a fingerprint security system. No key cards. Looking out, there are cheaper options. Some rentals can go for as low as 2000 baht a month. That's about 60.00 USD a month. But you get no AC and maybe no hot water. It is located on one of the side streets. It is not on Sukumvit or Thong Lor or any of those "flashy" places. There are very few farangs around me. Ironically, I don't like to be around foreigners. They annoy me. This place I've rented suits me.
What does 300.00 USD get you? Let's see. As you can tell, lighting is recessed, and they use CFL bulbs extensively. This is the kitchen. Notice something missing? No. How about a stove? Many of the kitchens in Thailand do not have a stove. The culture of Thailand is to eat out or order in. You don't necessarily cook. This place came with a microwave and fridge, but no stove. Also, there is no hot water in the kitchen. This might explain why the dishwashing soap is so potent here. A little goes a long way.
If you look at the flooring, it is tile. If you are going to rent a place, try to get tile, The vinyl flooring in Thailand sort of stinks.
The living room is well, a living room. This place came with a TV, sofa and tables. True satelite TV is pumped through as part of the rent. For English, you have CNN and HBO. This place has AC. You can tell by the vents above the table. You have a telephone to call out for food and other services. What does the bedroom look like. This is pretty much standard.
This bedroom is furnished with a regular sized bed. I bought sheets and a comforter. Overall, the place is clean and well maintained. This particular layout has a sliding door between the livingroom/kitchen and bedroom. The closet is also using sliding doors. It's efficient, as you don't have a door crowding the room. What about the bathroom? Well, this is when you know you aren't in LA anymore.
Bathrooms. Now it gets funky. The fish thing, I don't get it. My friends tell me all the rooms have this, so I guess it was a way to decorate things on the cheap at this complex. Toilet is western. Not the squat stuff you hear about. There is a hose to wash your behind. It gets interesting when that hose begins to mess up. You can get a major water leak. But this is inconsequential, as the bathroom set up in Thailand is different than in the USA. Tile is everywhere. No bathtub. The bathroom floor is recessed, and there are drains in the floor. You can just pour a cleaner directly on the floor, mop it, and then wash it down the drain. Easy peezy. The water heater is electric. In the case of this apartment, they have the hot water heater on a separate water line than the cold water. The cold water often isn't that cold given the ambient temperature being over 90 degrees outside.
Water heaters in SE Asia. In Thailand, most of the places that I know use this type of a water heater. You rarely find gas water heaters. A hotel may have a different system, but then we are talking about how regular Thai housing. Water pressure is often a big question in Thailand. The water pressure is OK here not the best, but some people not used to this would complain about it. I've lived in housing in which water was sort of unpredictable, and I kept a trashcan full of water in the bathroom, just in case the water ran out and I wanted to take a shower, or flush the mighty throne. Never underestimate the importance of water pressure. When you can't flush the throne, you will know how valuable it can be.
So yes, I've rented an apartment, not a hotel. Been checking out local restaurants, and walking around the neighborhood to see what I can see. It is very clear, that I am not in LA anymore. It's a type of heat that makes LA heat seem mild. The humidity gets you as well as the heat. Cambodia also has a heat that is hard to describe. Vietnam can have dry and humid heat. If you want to live here, you've got to adapt to this. This is why AC is Mandatory. Do not skimp on this feature. Water pressure is also important. You can buy a water heater, but you got limits with water pressure. Get used to showering every time you go out too. As soon as you step out the door, you will be sweating up a pool like Lake Erie.

The high heat might explain the service industry here. McDonalds delivers here. There are no drive thru places. Many of the Thai restaurants have open air kitchens. If enclosed, the cooks would wilt. The Thai economy provides for many jobs, but they are often low paying. Service is a big thing. The apartment complex has a guard 24/7. He helps you park your car. He watches the door. They also know who you are.

Can I move here? Of course I can. But can you?