Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vietnam: Day 2-Present, Part V: The House & The People

I spent a couple of rainy days in Danang before heading back to Hanoi. My goal upon my return was to locate housing. I had planned to find a 2-bedroom with my friend, Jess, but I soon realized that the trend for single, expats living in Hanoi is generally to rent a fully furnished, 4 or 5-bedroom house and to split the costs, which is much cheaper than renting a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment. Houses are also easier to find. Also, my friend and classmate in the CELTA course, Zach, had accepted a position at ILA and had begun teaching in the beginning of November. Upon my return to Hanoi, he was still living out of a motel and was interested in finding a place with Jess and I.

We were at a coffee shop, named Puku, meeting to discuss living together and the housing search when we came across an ad hanging from the bulletin board. Puku is popular among foreigners so there are often expat housing ads and other relevant flyers posted there. The ad we saw described a fully furnished house with laundry included and, since it was in the same neighborhood in which Jess was already living, we knew that it was in a good location. We called immediately and Zach and I went to look at it straightaway.

The house had 3 floors, 5-bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a huge kitchen, living room, foyer, 2 balconies and a rooftop terrace, as well as, a yard filled with plants and even a couple of small, fish ponds. It was also ideally located between the Old Quarter and our work and it was a short 3-minute walk to the Botanical Gardens (a place for me to run!). In addition, it’s an older house, which means it has far more character than most of the modern, Vietnamese houses today, which are all pretty much rectangular in shape with one, white room stacked on top of another white room. Their layouts don’t really foster a social atmosphere and also tend to lack a certain warmth and coziness. Our house, on the other hand, is wide and sprawling, with French-style windows and high ceilings. The bedrooms are painted in soft colors, with long, flowing curtains hanging from each window.

Zach and I really liked the house. He had already looked at a number of houses and felt that this was the best one he had seen. The only gliche was that it was 5-bedrooms, which Zach liked because he wanted to keep costs down and to live with a group of others. I worried that Jess wouldn’t be interested, not only with finding other people to live with, but also with actually living with them. Jess had already been living in Hanoi for six-months. She had a boyfriend and her group of friends established, along with her lifestyle. I didn’t think moving into a house with a group of 4 new expats was her ideal scenario.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of saving money on rent and living with other expats since I didn’t really have a friend-base yet. And, prior to my travels with Adam, I had met a couple of others along the way who were also seeking housing. There was Isi, an Austrian who volunteers as a physiotherapist at the Children’s hospital, and Alicia, an Aussie who manages a local hotel. Both had arrived in Hanoi at about the same time as me and were still looking for somewhere to call home. If Jess was in, we had our five.

Unfortunately, as I had anticipated, Jess wasn’t interested in living with 4 other people. I struggled a bit between my original commitment to her and this new housing opportunity. In the end, Jess completely understood my point of view, especially since she would be leaving a full 9-months ahead of me, at which time, I’d either have to move or find a new flat-mate. If I moved into the house, I’d have stability for at least a year. Zach and Alicia were staying indefinitely and Isi was in Hanoi until at least August.

Since Jess opted out, we were still left with one room to fill. And luckily, Alicia’s friend and would-be co-worker, Brendan, was relocating to Hanoi in January. Alicia was willing to put up his portion of the security deposit and rent if we’d be willing to hold the 5th room for him. The housing search turned out to be fairly easy and came together far faster than I had expected, but I also think that we got lucky.

As far as the housemates are concerned, there’s Zach, an American born and bred in Oklahoma (who’s actually the first Oklahoman I’ve ever met outside of Oklahoma). I would describe Zach as the “pillar” of the house. He’s without a doubt the calmest and the most patient among us, and the easiest to talk to about anything I might have going on.

Alicia is probably the opposite of Zach. She’s bubbly and outgoing, ready and willing to talk to anyone and everyone, and is the social butterfly of the group. Prior to moving to Vietnam, Alicia had been living in Scotland, where she met Brendan. They are actually from the same town in Australia, but hadn’t previously met. Brendan had been travelling through Scotland and needed a place to crash for a couple of days. A mutual friend connected him with Alicia. A few days turned into a few months and they’ve been friends ever since.

Brendan’s a good guy, whose laid-back, caring and fun-loving nature is endearing. At the age of 24, he can sometimes seem quite young, but he also has a side to him that is far more mature than most men his age. It’s the balance between the two that makes Brendan the kind of guy who’s like a brother to everyone. Alicia was in need of a partner to help her in the design and opening of a new hostel. It was Brendan who responded to that need. He gave up his job in Australia, broke up with his girlfriend and arrived in Vietnam a couple of months later. He’s young enough to still possess his sense of adventure, and mature enough to take on a daunting and challenging project with seriousness and a lot of hard work.

Lastly, there’s Isabella, or Isi, as we all call her. I’m tempted to just write that she’s Austrian, but I don’t believe that that would truly do her justice. Initially, Isi gives the impression of being a bit…um, grumpy, but the more I get to know her, the more I realize how kind-hearted and caring she is. It seems strange to refer to Isi as “sweet,” but regardless, she is. Not only does she volunteer at the Children’s Hospital, but she also volunteers her time at an organization that works with street children called, The Blue Dragon. She’s very close with her family and has a niece that she dotes on from thousands of miles away. For the most part, she does her own thing, but has formed a unique and solid relationship with each, individual housemate.

Five different people from 3 different countries, bringing a variety of different experiences from around the world: A typical, expat household in Vietnam.