Worlds Apart – 3

Of course, I wasn’t about to move into a cardboard box, not just yet anyway. I had my investment savings from my career to fall back on, and within 7 years, I would have my Social Security funds. No, upon arriving in Bali, we began straightaway to look for a suitable little house–nothing grandiose (our budget fell far short of grandiose), but something more than a box.

We were met at the airport by Iluh, an old friend of my wife’s, and her husband, Vick. Our 12 boxes were carried by at least 12 eager helpers for a fee that was also less than grandiose to Vick’s car. I began to see on that first day of arrival, within the first hour, the power of just a little bit of money in Indonesia. We were assisted, for instance, through customs, our route expedited, long lines avoided, the bothersome process of inspection bypassed. One box was cracked opon as a sort of proprietary measure, peered into, and sent on its way to the car. Any one of these boxes might have been filled with cocaine, as far as they knew. Of course they weren’t, but one did contain MS medications that would be considered illegal here in Indonesia–specifically, Vicodin, which is a narcotic pain medication, for people who actually need it for pain, but is also, as I understand it, crushed into a powder these days and huffed for a high. (Narcotics are illegal in Indonesia, even in hospitals. Good luck if you’re in pain. I guess you could always meditate, or go to a Hindu healer–which I actually did do, and will cover in a future post).

At first, having not yet had the time to search for a house, we stayed in in a villa, and got a taste of ‘the good life’, enjoyed as a ‘way of life’ by many of the wealthier bules here. The villa was complete with private pool, AC units in each room, an expansive kitchen with all the modern bells and whistles, and a ‘staff’ — cook, gardener, maid, and so on.

We soon found that common housing was a bit, well, common in comparison to what we were used to in America. It was, however, incredibly cheap compared to housing in America. The places we looked at ran between 20 and 30 million rupiah per year–given the exchange rate at the time, between 2 and 3 thousand dollars–kind of like one would pay per month back home. These were two or three bedroom houses, generally one bathroom about the size of a closet (water closet is indeed a fitting term here), with sometimes a small yard, and oftentimes the kitchen would be outdoors. No pool, of course. No garage, no basement, one floor. One that we looked at featured a steep stairway that ended at the ceiling, at which point the builders had decided, apparently, Well, nah, we don’t need no second floor, but the stairway is kinda nice anyway.

From the villa, we went to a hotel. From the hotel, we went to a home stay. And we looked for houses. Part of the problem is that landlords here in Bali don’t seem to acknowledge any particular responsibility for the properties they seek to rent. One will find each in some degree of disrepair. There’s a toilet, for instance, but the toilet doesn’t work. Maybe you (the prospective renter) can repair it. There’s a hole in the roof, but, hey, it doesn’t rain that often. Just put a bucket beneath the drip. One of the doors is permanently locked. No one knows where the key is. Maybe you can find it? Some have stood empty for perhaps a year or more, during which time they have never been cleaned. Some of the former tenants belongings are still in the corner. The point for the Balinese landlord is to collect rent. The rest is your problem. In house we lived in, a pipe somewhere beneath the front yard sprung a leak. Soon, the entire yard was a lake. I called the landlord to report this, and she advised that I (yes, I), might call the number of a repairman she knew. But why would I call the repairman? It’s your house. Right? Oh, no, I had nothing to do with that leak. It’s just my house. I’m not responsible for things that go wrong.

So, you see, one enters a new reality, full of strange procedures and expectations. I still have not gotten used to the viewpoint of the landlords. Two winters ago, for instance, a panel flew away from the roof of the carport (luckily missing my wife’s car as it fell). I called the landlord to politely inform him of the occurrence, and he said he would take a look. About six months later, he did take a look. And the panel is still propped against the wall at the side of the house.

The roof of my neighbor’s house sprung five leaks, requiring five buckets. Oh well, it is rainy season, he was told. And so he paid his final dues and moved out, much to the astonishment of the owner of the house.

And our own home search? Well, it went on, much longer than we would ever have anticipated.