Saturday, September 8, 2012

House Hunters International, Nepali style

I’ve never watched the reality TV show that this blog post’s title references, though I did Google it  just to give myself an idea of what its about. One of my colleagues made reference to this show in the midst of a rather hectic day of examining four different places in Patan. I guess the show makes it sound exotic (with the “international” designation). I’d say its just plain hard to look for a place wherever you are.

My colleagues found a place posted on the KTM KTM list serve—where vacancies are posted and advertised—right by Patan Dhoka, in the middle of the city we wanted to live in. I was unable to go with them on the first visit, but they came back with pictures of the spacious apartment, and described how pleased they were with the landlord. He was a young guy beginning his career in property management, and he was looking to furnish and rent this place. It was a bit pricy, but included everything—water, electricity, one gas cylinder per month, even someone to clean and do laundry—and split between the four of us, it would be affordable. As a landlord, he seemed helpful and accessible. We decided to continue looking, but keep this place in mind. We were still a little put off by the price, as it was at the higher end of what we were each looking to spend.

We were referred to a landlord through a former grantee, who potentially had rooms for rent in the middle of Patan. This landlord was more than happy to chat with us in Nepali on the details of accommodation—over a few glasses of raksi (home made rice wine) and cucumber sprinkled with cayenne pepper, provided by his wife. He was also up front that they did host parties every week, with artists, musicians, and other artsy people in attendance. That’s what came with housing fine arts students and the practice space for your son’s fusion band. I asked if a certain ethnomusicologist had also lived at this residence while conducting fieldwork. He replied the affirmative—and his wife added that this scholar also loved raksi, and ate lots of momos. And by the way, why wasn’t I drinking the raksi? I replied that I hadn’t eaten all day. She nodded her head, assenting that I was smart for not putting that hard stuff in an empty stomach. One of my colleagues discreetly poured out her alcohol under the table as this conversation ensued.

After talking among ourselves, we decided that we would rather rent a flat together than separate rooms. Though, we could still show up to this guy’s parties and go home at whatever hour we turned into pumpkins.

Working through a realtor proved to be more of a headache than a help. We were shown rather lavish apartments just outside Ring Road. With our white skin, we had a hard time making these middlemen believe that we were on a budget. Other apartments were a little more demur, like the one owned by a Nepali friend of mine in the States. She was looking for sub-letters, and asked if we might be interested. I told her we’d look. She put us in contact with her sister, who showed us the place. She couldn’t answer our questions about utilities, so took us down to the complex office to talk to a staff member.

The office was a dark, dank basement room, furnished with cast-off couches, a dinged-up desk, and a line phone. The fluorescent lights cast shadows that made me think we were either in a Dr. Who episode or a James Bond flick. We began to ask our questions to the woman at the desk: what was the average water/electricity bill per month? Oh, that depends on how much you use…

But before we got far, a tall elderly man wearing what looked like, to us, bright blue pajamas, sauntered in and began talking rapidly to the woman behind the desk. When he noticed us, he barraged her with questions in Nepali about our business: why were we here? Well, there weren’t any empty apartments now, were there; tell them so. Get their contact information so we can let them know when we do have a vacancy. We stayed silent, wondering if we should tell the guy—who turned out to be the complex owner—that we were subletting. The sister answered that she had an empty apartment; she had been showing it to us and we had questions about utilities. That’s why she had brought us to the office. The man told her she should have informed him first about the vacancy before showing it to people. He was then informed that we all spoke and understood Nepali. “Oh, you all speak Nepali?” he asked in English. He rehashed in English all that had been said in Nepali.

I decided to ask the utility bill question. Oh, that depends on how much you use per month. He went on to tell us that there was a back up generator for evening and night-time loadshedding, and if there was a shortage of water we would be notified and they would take care to order more. Yes, but how much does it all cost? I asked again. He just kept making motions with his hands, and reified that they really didn’t have any vacancies. We thanked them and left. I told the sister that I’d contact her about our final decision. 

We decided among ourselves that, as attractive as the price was, that landlord might provide a little too much drama for our tastes. I called the sister later, thanking her for her time but we had decided to continue looking elsewhere.

We revisited the “Patan Palace,” as we had termed the rather spacious place by Patan Dhoka. The landlord turned out to be a young urbanite educated at the famed Rato Bangala school, and had spent much time abroad. He wanted to go into property management, and he was starting with some family holdings. He patiently answered my questions about water (the supply was city water, but in case of a shortage, he would order a tanker), electricity (there were back-up lights in case of a power outage), and flat/compound security (his office was on the level below our apartment, and there was an arts institute and polyclinic next door so people would always be in the compound; the gate was locked at dark by the neighbors and we would be provided keys). The flat needed cleaning and furnishing, and he had a list of what would be provided. It was just the essentials, but that’s all we needed. He was ok with three of us signing the lease, and then leasing the extra room to friends of ours who would be coming through Nepal for a few months at a time. We came the next day to sign the lease—which happened to include a clause that, should an earthquake occur and the place become unlivable, we would be released from our contract. How considerate!

So my first hunt for an apartment, and signing the lease, was done in Nepal. Go figure =)