As I pottered home the other evening with my beloved Suzuki “Superb” purring between my thighs, the words of environmental activist David Suzuki (no relation to my classic bike, as far as I know) popped into my head: “The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water and continents are interconnected. That is our home.” I’m not sure why they came to mind, because I’m not totally certain what he means. But it’s a little bit like how I feel about my home _ a modest single interconnected entity, where the water usually works, just off Suthep Road.
Life as an expat in Chiang Mai invariably means trying out several different abodes until we find one that fits us. For most our first stay here probably involved a hotel room or guest house. Some of us will have moved on to share a house with other expats. Some may have a home with a family and a garden, some a charming little hut on stilts, and others, like me, will have ended up in a condo consisting of one or two rooms, a bathroom and a balcony.
And with condominia springing up on every spare bit of ground in Chiang Mai, or so it most definitely seems, I thought I’d have a look at condo life for those who have just arrived in this fair city or are thinking about a life in the clouds. It can get pretty smoggy here, so that’s not necessarily quite as glamorous as it sounds.
Let’s kick off with animals. Rats in the roof, snakes in the shower, scorpions in the kitchen, and buggering great spiders on the walls are all quite common in houses. Houses have ground floors and no highly-trained security guards, unlike most condos, so all sorts of distressing creatures are bound to invite themselves in and have a poke around. Thankfully, the disconcerting sight of a long green serpent giving you the lidless eyeball as you soap yourself up in the shower is not so common in a condo. Nope, other than the ubiquitous house geckos giving one a harsh talking to every now and then, the only thing the condo-dweller needs to worry about is the odd strange looking insect or cockroach suddenly appearing in the corner of the room (only to retreat behind the wardrobe to ruminate on its clever strategy for the impending two-hour game of hide-and-seek). Do not underestimate how fast, cunning and elusive these new pets can be.
The problem for proper pet owners is that many condo managers would prefer to keep the buildings mammal-free, aside from human inhabitants. My neighbours used to keep cats. These cats did nobody any harm and would every now and then pop round to squeeze into small places for a sniff and leave disappointed that there was nothing but a cockroach for amusement. One day the cat’s owners were told their feline chums would have to go. The reason was apparently that an old lady on the floor below had seen one of the pussycats and was convinced it was a ghost. Although it was definitely a cat. Empirically a cat, of the felidae family, and not a phantom, spectre, apparition or spook. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been here for a while will know, there are ghosts bloody everywhere in Thailand and if an old lady says a cat is a ghost there is very little to be done. The tiny furry thing was doomed to eviction.
But it’s not just cats, ghosts and large insects that inhabit the average Chiang Mai condominium. They tend to be chock-a-block with people as well. It is a good idea to get used to the fact that if your building is mostly occupied by Thais there will always (even after four years, in my case) be a brief look of horror on the face of the Asian resident when the doors of the elevator slide back to reveal a farang face. Cope with it, avoid eye contact, and continue fiddling with your mobile phone. That seems to be the etiquette for standing in a lift with a stranger.
Another thing that becomes almost immediately obvious when moving into a modest condo is that the bathroom is probably the only other proper room in the apartment _ loosely defined as a room because it has a door, unlike the kitchen, which let’s face it, is a camping stove and a kettle, on a shelf. It is more than likely that your bathroom _ and I use that term loosely to describe a toilet, a shower attachment and a sink _ is probably not much more than a few paces from the bed. This can be a complication when it comes to romance, as sexiness and violent bum evacuations don’t usually complement one another, for some reason _ especially during the blossoming of a new relationship.
Talking of noise, there always seems to be some sort of maintenance going on in the traditional condo. Hammers and drills, possibly an angle grinder, will be used on your ceiling or walls at some point around 7.30am. I live in a large building and maintenance work is probably necessary, but why so early? What will get you is the really slow driller. There is always a really slow driller drilling holes ever so slowly. If you have come to Chiang Mai for peace and quiet and moved into a condo, you have made a huge, tragic, blundering mistake.
Back to the bathrooms. If the apartment has no kitchen to speak of, the bathroom is the only place you are likely to find a sink. It’s probably quite small, so the idea of doing the washing up while having a shower will inevitably, and quite understandably, cross your mind. You are also bound to wonder why there are no windows to speak of in the bathroom that can be opened for a bit of air to get in and help with stuff like condensation and dampness in this tropical climate. Don’t bother, I have conducted exhaustive research and there is no reason.
This article may seem a little heavy on the toilet discussion, but I spent much of my childhood in Surrey, so perhaps that is to be expected. For any newly arrived toilet paper user from the west, the bum-gun may take a wee bit of getting used to. It will however become unbelievable to the convert that life could possibly have existed before these blessed arse-hoses. The use of toilet paper will become rather distasteful, possibly a bit painful, and you will find yourself boring the bollocks off people back home about how much more hygienic your Thai way of life is in the derriere department. It is a truly magnificent moment when one realises that the bum-gun is also a shower you can have on the toilet. A precious time-saving device in this all-too-hectic world we call home.
But I think the greatest feature of condo living, compared to having a more spacious house, is the balcony. A tiny little outside space several stories in the air with a comfy chair, a small table and a pot-plant with a view over Chiang Mai to the mountains beyond is a tiny slice of heaven. Loy Kratong from a 12-storey balcony is really something to behold.