House Hunters International?
Back in Cambodia: “Hello there, Trouble.”
Upon arrival there’s the customary crowding at the visa desk, some silly cartoons on TVs at the immigration checkpoint, and long lines to get the coveted stamp of approval.
The fist day or two is jarring to say the least but as the jet lag fog lifts, the deep appreciation of, dare I say love, of this country almost overcomes me.
This time the trouble centered around finding a place to live.
We have a reasonable budget I’ve been told. It’s almost double what we paid for a beautiful little apartment by the riverside last time we were here. But it’s been more than a little difficult leading to at times despair and a sort of hopelessness. (Yes, I concur, such emotions are unjustifiable.)
The search started like this. Get a tip from a fellow foreigner at work about where to find places to live. Look online at some non-descriptive descriptions: “2-bedroom, 2 bath, air-con, new and clean” and the area of the city in which the house for rent is located. I called to inquire about several of these and made appointment to meet with some people to show these apartments. What we came to realize was that these local real estate agents simply showed us everything they had which was a two-bedroom in the area of the original posting. The apartments were fine but not really good. Most were dark. Some were in brand new apartment buildings. Most had gaudy fixtures and strangely “modern” furniture. Others were almost a good fit with, say, one deficiency. For instance, one was a few feet (if that) from a new building under construction that was still in the early phases, still pouring the concrete for beams and columns…and work hours are long.
We met with three contacts from the classifieds website to look at apartments one day. Then we called a new number on the same website and met with another person the second. He showed us some of the same places and was very frustrated that we never seemed to like any he showed us. We ended up far from the city center and unable to commit to any.
I asked expat friends what they had done. One friend recommended a real estate agency. We went to their office which felt like a small town bank. One of the women invited us to come sit down over at her desk and we told her our story–budget, needs, lease period. Another woman brought us little plastic cups of water, sealed on the top like boba tea and a straw attached. We told her what we were looking for and she said that we would get a call after the real estate agents had a chance to look over our request and find some potential matches. We didn’t hear back the next day so we called and left our info one more time.
Another friend explained she simply looked for signs which advertised rooms for rent in the area in which she wanted to live. We decided to shift our strategy and walk around looking for ផ្ទះជួល pdeah juol or room for rent signs. At the start of our search, we came across a small khmer woman in a សំពាត់ sombot and silk top, khmer dress clothes, who was also looking for places. I called one place and she waited with us to see it (but no one showed up to show it to us). We chatted about what we were looking for. She told us about some places she’d seen available a few streets down. We walked together a bit and then parted, only to come across one another a little while later, still looking. It was a nice affirmation that the neighborhood was not just for foreigners and that this method was a tried and true way of finding a place. In our long day out in the sun we inquired about and viewed several places. These, of course, were hard for us to gauge. Sometimes they were in beautiful locations but a bit dilapidated. Others were nice but didn’t meet the numerous requirements we’d set between the two of us–e.g. a private (not shared) balcony, several points of security–more than one lock between the street and our living space, and a bit of charm (not just an overpriced apartment building).
We saw some ‘almost’ places which had one non-negotiable deficiency and we regained hope that our apartment did exist. The following day we decided to hire a tuk tuk to drive us slowly around, street by street (just like we had done walking) in another neighborhood. This was at first unfruitful. Nothing seemed to be available. There was one sign but the space was on the ground floor, intended for a restaurant. Another space was almost perfect, but we’d be somewhat conspicuous. After three hours our time was up (thanks to a miscommunication with our driver) and we returned to our guesthouse, discouraged to say the least. Maybe there was nothing. Should we give up? Should we go home? I could find a new research topic, perhaps.
That night after the bout of despair, we enjoyed a resurgence of hope and looked on the internet for other listings. We found a different website that showed pictures of a place that was beautiful. It wasn’t the two bedroom we’d hoped for but it had roof access, was split-level and would give us separate living and working spaces. I called and an agent (with an Irish accent perhaps?) explained that it this apartment had just been rented but there were plenty more like it. He said he’d call us and take us out to see some possibilities the following day.
The next day we received a call from a real estate agent from the office we’d visited three days earlier. We were ambivalent at this point and wanted to see a different sort of place. When the agent who was supposed to show us around said that it would have to be Monday thanks to street closures and his one day off a week, we called the other real estate agent back. We learned that one of the two places he wanted to show us (only two!) had just been rented in the morning. We agreed to meet him at the other. It was a perfect fit. It’s located about half way between our workspaces, not far from fancy coffee shops, and other places in which we’ll spend time. It was clean, huge, new Western appliances, and near a street market and on top of that reasonably priced.
It doesn’t come available until the first of the month so that meant another week of guesthouse living but the space is just so great in most every way.
The search was difficult, but with the lease signed, there’s an end to the angst and soon we’ll be in a new home in bustling, beautiful, stinky, friendly, wonderful Phnom Penh.