Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A long post about maids and water and how sometimes making progress doesn't feel any different from walking backwards in the dark.

 In case you missed the horrible headline, I had to move apartments last month. It was a sudden move. We were actually evicted - though it's almost impossible to say that to someone without having them look at you askance.  You can see them wondering how obnoxious you really are.
Our last apartment was serviced. We weren't specifically looking for a serviced apartment at the time when we moved in - it was just a lucky bonus.  Actually, serviced apartments near the city centre are not much differently priced than unserviced furnished apartments, and this time we ended up looking at quite a few serviced apartments too- though ultimately the one we chose is unserviced.
The difference between serviced and unserviced is maids (and bed linen, though that's a different post). Our last place ran pretty much like a hotel. You put a sign on the door at night that says either "please clean room" or "do not disturb" and in the morning either the maids come in and clean your flat, or they just leave you alone until the next day.
I know.
It was pretty sweet. They would come come in and clean the bathrooms and the floor, wash any dishes, and make the beds, including change the sheets twice a week. They brought fresh towels and clean bed linen. One of the girls used to do my laundry until I made her stop (she washing-machined my silk dress! With Martin's jeans!)
I know. Believe me, you don't have to tell me.
There is a whole other facet to serviced apartment living too.  The apartment staff take of all the bills and the stuff.  Men would come and clean the air conditioners. Electricity and Internet and mains water and gas are all taken care of. And when I wanted drinking water I would just have to say to the receptionist - can you please order me two more bottles of La Vie and later that day the La Vie would arrive.
In my new apartment I have no staff.  There are security guards in the lobby, and there are maids whose job it is to clean the corridors and lifts and disappear the rubbish, but there's nobody whose job it is to look after me, in particular. In theory, this should be ok because I only work 2-3 days per week and I actually know how to make my own damn bed. But unfortunately, there are still lots of things that I don't actually know how to do. Like, order water from La Vie on the phone. And pay the electricity bill. And other things that I don't really want to do - like sweep and mop 150 sq meters of floor and iron half a dozen men's shirts.
So when my landlady recommended a particular maid to come in a couple of times a week I said yes please!
She's been twice now, and when she comes in on Friday, I intend to fire her.  It's not her fault, really. She's a nice person, but it takes her 4 hours to sweep and mop the floor and clean 2 (not very dirty) bathrooms. She seems to require supervision.  I went out for a couple of hours the other day while she was here, and when I got back, she was still here, and had only done the floor, nothing else. And she doesn't speak English. I asked her to order the water for me, but while I was out I got no less than 5 phone calls from La Vie - what's your address, and how many bottles do you want and your maid isn't answering the phone. So I had to go home to meet the La Vie guy and supervise the maid (sit on the couch) while she finished up.
There's not much in the world that makes me feel more like a horrible person than sitting on my tuffet while someone else cleans my toilets.  I know this lady needs the work, but I just can't bear having her around while I'm at home, and can't trust her to do the job well when I'm not at home.
I know.  Can you even believe that I'm complaining about this situation!  I'm sure you would all love to have a maid to complain about.
I said to Martin this morning that I will just have to clean the floors myself and he can give me $100 a month.   Do you know what he said to that? "After nine months you'll be able to afford a Lego death star!"
 Just what I've always wanted.
It's still taking me a while to settle into the new place, and it's not just about the water and the maid, though it is partly about the water and the maid.  The real issue has been that I feel now almost exactly the same as I did a year ago, when I first moved into Sweethome. Back then, I had a whole lot of stuff to learn. I still didnt really know anything much about how to live in Saigon.  I wasn't confident to use xe oms, I didn't know where anything was, or how the big dirty city worked.
And even though I have learned a lot now - I know my way around, I can mostly cope with the heat and I can ride a motorcycle, I keep getting stuck in ways that I wouldn't have had to get stuck if I hadn't had to move. There was a power bill posted through my front door the other day.  I had to use my translator app to figure out that it even was a power bill.  I took it to the post office to pay, and the lady gave me the Vietnamese 'no' hand signal.

 So I showed it to a work colleague, and he said - "Most Vietnamese people pay this at the ATM".  We dont have a Vietnamese bank account, so that wasn't an option. So I asked the landlady, and she told me to take it to a Vietnamese bank, which finally worked.
Moving house meant losing our pack of friendly xe oms. There are xe oms around our new building too, of course, but I don't know these guys. It's a very intimate experience riding a xe om - and especially as a woman. I'm not the kind of girl who readily wants to feel a sweaty stranger between her knees, you know? And our last guys knew all the places I wanted to go. We had already negotiated prices and I could trust them to do things like take my shopping home for me, or wait for an hour and hold onto my helmet.  I had felt like I was all the way back at transportation square one.  And forget trying to pronounce the new street name - its no better than the last one so far as taxi drivers go...
I say had felt, because yesterday Martin managed to get a Vietnamese friend to talk to my Mr Duong on the phone, and so he will be there (hopefully) to pick me up and take me to work tomorrow.  I'm sure the price is going to go up - but it's worth it to have someone I know.  for 30 minutes in the morning Mr Duong will be in charge of my life in Vietnam, and I can just relax.


  1. Wrong Death Star! The one I suggested is the hella big one with all the internal bits and little dudes.

    1. The death star is wrong, Martin. Very, very wrong... Anyway, my Lego desires are all about City. For the price of one death star I can get almost a a whole city, which sounds about right, sadly...

  2. SO Mr Martin will be cleaning the floor so he can get his death star then.....

    1. Sure he will. After he finishes ironing his shirts...

  3. I was going to leave a comment in horror that a Lego Death Star costs $900, but it appears that topic has been covered. Phew.

    So what I will say is this: DON'T GET A MAID. When we became maidless, I felt just like you, with no idea about how to organise anything myself etc. Now, I am a goddamn pro. I am in charge of my own life and destiny and water delivery! I know all about Vietnamese cleaning products! And - the best part - I get to constantly make other expats feel guilty by casually saying "Oh, we don't have a maid" whenever they complain about their maids. WIN.

    1. Yeah, but does your husband do housework? Because mine WON'T. So it's kind of get a maid or have protracted fights about beard hair in the sink.

      Jury still out about which of those evils is greater.

      I did cut the maid down to once a week.