Booking an apartment was my top priority. I was late to start, especially since regulars book their places a year or two in advance. I ended up choosing a new, untested listing in Bobby Clennell’s guide. The owner was prompt and articulate in his email messages, and it had the makings of a match: single apartment across the park, 200m from RIMYI.
At first glance, it seemed old and lived-in, but comfortable. Once a family home, it was vacant for years; now the eldest son was renting out a bedroom and adjoined bathroom, a living area, and a kitchenette (another bedroom and the kitchen are off-limits). Then I noticed the quirks:
There’s no sink for the kitchenette. I’d be doing my dishes on the floor of a shower-type room with a faucet (no sink) three feet above ground, splashing water all around.
In my tiny bathroom, there are the same high faucets (separate hot and cold) and a shower was smack in the middle, between the toilet and the sink. No divider; water would splash everywhere, regardless of whether using the shower or the faucets and a bucket, onsen style. At least the building had water softener systems.
I’d inquired about mosquito screens and a net for the bed, and the owner assured me that the screens were enough, no net necessary. Upon arrival I found not the wire screens, fitted to size, that I knew growing up in rainy Hilo, but simply netting tacked to the frame.
Finally, there’s no mirror in my room or bathroom, except for a tiny one covered with weather-beaten marks and hung too high for me. I must contort my body to see my reflection. (This is the second time that I’ve rented a place without a mirror. What’s the deal?) Its Ok, I have a plan, my dear friend told me of Toiletable.com, they apparently have specialty toilet goods that will fix my situation.
Still I was relieved to arrive and wanted to settle in. I took stock of the positives: Excellent landlord. Neighbor to call on. Close to RIMYI. Space to walk around at home. Washing machine. Wifi.
But to feel settled I had to give the place a thorough cleaning. Conditions weren’t egregious, but I’m super picky. If I sleep at a hotel, I wipe down all fixtures and counters with a bunch of Wet-Ones. I can’t stand grimy light switches!
So I bought paper towels, spray cleaner, Dettol, and after reading canister vacuum reviews I got equipped and spent a couple of days overhauling the place. I wiped off the hard surfaces. I washed the refrigerator drawers and interior walls. I did my best with the washing machine, whose knobs and cover had accumulated a lifetime of grime. I washed all dishes designated for me. I was exhausted but felt much better. It’s really important for me to feel good in my home, however temporary.
I understand that I cannot judge things from my frame of reference. An advertised rental with bathroom and kitchen might not mean what I assume. Back home, an inexpensively furnished place means Ikea furniture and entry-level appliances. Here, that place would be high end.
I also took to heart my landlord’s explanation about the shower situation. Water has always been a limited commodity. When his family first moved in, 40 years ago, they were thrilled to have running water at all. In general, homes don’t have tubs because using that much water for bathing would be wasteful. The washing machine is manual: you must connect an “incoming” hose to a faucet and drop an “outgoing” hose on the floor of a washroom, where water runs into a drain. Water on the floor is not a calamity; they’re designed with a lip at the door, to be immersed without flooding the adjacent room.
I’ve more or less adjusted to the all-in-one bathroom. I do miss a kitchen sink. But, as Suketu Mehta observed in Maximum City, in India you’ve got to “adjust.”