There are trade-offs when living and working in different countries. For example, when I moved to Bangkok, I traded clean air for black smoke guzzling out of tailpipes. I exchanged four seasons for tropical weather and sunny skies, clean streets for decaying food waste on street corners and small bugs for bigger ones.
Every day I woke up feeling like I was on vacation. I worked, paid bills, and ran errands. When I was hungry, I purchased fresh fruit on the street corner. If I waited until dinner time, I bought chicken and rice, and when I was tired, I walked home.
The eight-floor condo I lived in sat between two monstrosities that housed bigger and better living. Although my building, at ten years old, was considered ‘ancient’ according to Bangkok real estate, I found it quaint. My one-bedroom, open-concept space, sat on the second floor and was subsequently across from the only saltwater pool in the city and had an unobstructed view of trees and the sky. It was also a five-minute walk from Benjakiti Park and seven minutes from the BTS (Bangkok Transit System).
I chose the condo because of the location, pool, and sauna. Sure, there was also a gym, but I have an aversion to working out in spaces that smell of other people’s bits. It is one thing to be hot and smelly yourself, it is entirely another to smell someone else’s stink. It is like farting. You? Okay. Another person? No thanks.
Being on the second floor allowed me easy access to the pool, which I swam in every night. Then, I would skip into the sauna to unwind, before carefully tiptoeing across the marble floors to my condo, where I would climb up into my shower.
I rarely saw another neighbor but when I did, we would smile and make small talk. They were friendly. The ones taking up residence in my bathroom however, were not. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Cockroach and their whole freaking family.
As friends have told me: where you see one big cockroach, there are ten nearby. Where you see one small one, there are twenty-five. Yuck. This is a tradeoff however. When living in a new place, one must make compromises, after all, cockroaches are part of nature and they are just living their busy lives, under my toilet and sink.
When I first looked at the condo it was a breeze. I opened a cabinet, peeked around a corner and glanced into the bathroom. The agent touted how rare it was to find a tub in a condo. He also pointed out that I had an extra-large washing machine, which is why it was on my balcony and not tucked beneath the countertop in my kitchen. As soon as I said the words, “I’ll take it”, I signed a contract and he gave me the key, a faded plastic card that may have once been white.
I quickly learned that although many people have washing machines on their balconies, there is no such thing as “extra-large”. Most apartments had combination washer and dryers built conveniently into the kitchen. As for the tub, that was a rarity. It was most likely an afterthought and as the plumbing was incongruent with the measurements of the bathroom, it needed to be raised up on a platform, thus requiring me to purchase a footstool to climb into it.
The “showerhead” was small and circular and could be removed for manual rinsing. There was also no box to control the water temperature. In my condo there were only two temps: cold and colder, but it was the smell that bothered me the most. On good days the water smelled like pond; on bad days it smelled like a klong, one of the many polluted waterways in Bangkok. I learned it was unusual to smell the water.
When I inquired with the condo staff, I was told that I must have done something bad in a former life and this was my Karmic payback. They avoided me after that for fear of “catching” my luck. As a tradeoff, I had thirty-six liters of water delivered every two weeks and used it for drinking, cooking and bathing.
As for Mr. and Mrs. Cockroach, they made their acquaintance the day I moved in. After battling traffic from one end of Sukhumvit Road to another, I, and a friend, arrived hot, sweaty, and tired. Having to pee, I opened the door to the bathroom and flipped a switch. Cockroaches crawled up the walls, along the ceiling, and skittered across the floor. I slammed the door, took off a shoe and remember saying something like, “Do what you have got to do.” I just assumed he would take care of it, and the knight in shining armor that he was, he did.
When I opened the door after he left, it looked like a crime scene. Decapitated bodies, blood, guts, and dead-insect-stench filled my nostrils. It took me two hours to clean it up. I would like to say that the scene taught the rest of the cockroach family a lesson and I had never had problems again, but it was only the beginning of the battle.
I gave up fresh air, clean streets, purified water, and small bugs to come to Thailand, and it was worth it. I just had to learn how to live differently. Like everything, there were trade-offs.
Any grammar and mechanical issues are the responsibility of the author, and even though she’s an English teacher and does proofread, there may be some errors.