Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog May 21st, 2011

Landlords

I grew up in the house my parents owned. They paid the bank $125.00 a month over a period of 30 years for the privilege of never having to worry about the landlord. As a child I never could understand their exultation whenever they mentioned the depredations and witch trials conducted by the landlords of their youth, and how they were now free of the wretches.

When I worked for the circus I never had to deal with landlords; I either slept on the circus train or bunked in the back of a truck. It wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but it was free, and I was young, so what did I care?

Then I switched careers to work in radio. Suddenly I needed to rent a room. And I discovered what my parents had endured long, long years before.

I had to pay a month’s rent in advance, as well as a damage deposit.

The utility company and phone company required the kind of paperwork Dickens wrote about in Bleak House, in the case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce.

I needed references, money in the bank, a note from my employer, and clearance from the Humane Society.

I found out that if the pipes leaked or the heat didn’t work or the screens were ripped I could call on maintenance and they would immediately provide a sterling excuse for why they couldn’t get it fixed until next Shrove Tuesday.

There is much more I could write, but the annals of tenants and their battles with landlords is already old and rich – at least in the Western world. So let’s hop over to Thailand . . .

When I began another new career as an ESL teacher in Thailand my first teaching assignment provided me with a free 2-bedroom apartment. It was cross-ventilated, had a stove and fridge, and was right on campus, secluded in a grove of Golden Shower trees.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was living in a fool’s paradise.

When I finally pulled up stakes for a new teaching job I had to find a new apartment. Just down the street from my new school was a 7-story apartment building, run by an elderly Sino-Thai couple, who couldn’t speak a word of English but understood that I had money and a job – that’s all they wanted to know. It was a bare room, with an iron bedstead and mattress stuffed with clinkers, with an inside bathroom but the sink & mirror were out on the balcony. No big deal, I thought; after all, here in the tropics there’s no hardship to brushing one’s teeth or shaving out in the open. Not until the monsoon blew in. And a few Rufous Treepies made their nests on the cement beams above my unprotected noggin (they are quite territorial and unacquainted with the finer aspects of hygiene.)

The building had no trouble with khamooys, I’m happy to say, because they locked the entrance at 10pm sharp every night and let loose a pair of ferocious pit bulls that roamed the halls and could not tell the difference between a cat burglar and an innocent tenant. There were several nights when I didn’t make the curfew, and rather than face those two werewolves, I just bunked with some friends.

And then there was the water meter. The landlords were very emphatic about showing me how to read it, so that at the end of each month I could report back to them how much water I had used, which they would charge me for. Well sir, I started to notice that when I read the meter in the morning prior to leaving for school at 6:30 am, and then read it again after getting back home around 7 pm that night, the numbers mysteriously increased. I checked for leaks and made sure I turned everything off before leaving, but still each night I’d find an additional ten or twenty gallons of water added on to my meter.

To this day I still don’t know who was making free and easy with my H2O. It cost me all of six dollars while I was there, but it just chaps my hide to think of someone getting into my room and surreptitiously dry gultching me. There’ll be a necktie party, sure a shootin’, if I ever catch the ornery cayuse!

When I moved out of that establishment I took a house for rent – or rather, it took me.

The landlord was an elderly Thai lady, widow of some senior grade government bureaucrat in Bangkok. Her own house was richly appointed with writhing figures from Thai mythology carved out of teakwood, intricately woven palm frond baskets, and ornate lacquered funerary jars (Thai widows are big on this last item – in case they need to cremate any more husbands.) She had a small bungalow behind her own house, on a spacious green lawn, which she was renting for next to nothing. Of course I should have been suspicious – but she was just an old widow, harmless as a dove, right?

The place proved to be idyllic for the first two months, and then the rainy season began in earnest – and my cherished domicile was cut off overnight in the midst of an endless sea of muddy, boggy grass. Getting out of, and then back in to my house required hip boots and the survival skills of a Crocodile Dundee. The nights were made hideous by the lubricious croaking of a million lust-crazed frogs seeking a mate. I would meet the old widow’s cook coming in to my submerged house as I was leaving in the morning; she assured me that if she waited patiently in my living room a large juicy fish would slither across the tiles in no time, and she would then have her mistress’ lunch without resorting to the market.

No need to go on – I long ago accepted the fact that landlords the world over are all about the same – they’ll gouge you for as much as they can get, and here in Thailand, they’ll always do it with a smile on their face. Here in Thailand I have never gotten a cent of my damage deposit back, either. Of course here in the tropics buildings just fall apart on their own, even if you’re never in them, so I’ve learned to accept that injustice – at least without requiring bypass surgery every time it happens.

Still, just to set the record straight, I would like to say that I’ve been renting a bungalow on a half acre of ground for the past year here in Ban Phe, and the landlord has not given my fiancé Joom or I the least bit of trouble. It may have something to do with the fact that she lives in Japan and has her nephew drive down from Nonthaburi to collect the rent once a month.

I prefer to think it is just my karma finally rewarding me.