We are in Chiang Mai, Thailand. That is as had been planned. But we are not in the situation which we had expected. We came here because we were supposed to house sit/dog sit/goat sit/chicken sit for a family that is traveling. As I'm sure you can guess, those plans are now not going to happen. Why? It's a funny story.
You know how people say you should trust your gut? Well, sometimes you totally should. When we first arranged the house sit, we were a continent away, in Istanbul, Turkey. But we used Skype to connect with the family. And they seemed to like us and we seemed fine with the situation. What's more, they asked us to show up a couple of days ahead so we could “stay with them” and learn what needed to be learned. Remember, they invited us.
But just a couple days after that, new facts began to emerge. We were told over email that the water bill was generally x baht (that is the Thai currency) per month and we would, of course, have to cover that. And electricity was y baht per month. Okay, so now we have to pay that. That was our first clue that something was different about these people. But the amounts were certainly far less than getting an apartment would be, so we figured fine.
We were also told that they have a maid, a woman who lives down the street, come in for four hours each day to clean. And it only costs z baht each time. Of course, we didn't have to have her come daily, we could do less often, or even not at all. Though the impression left upon us was that there was some expectation of using her services. Well, we agreed to discuss that when we were in Chiang Mai.
Fast forward to yesterday when we arrived in Chiang Mai. Note: No one comes to meet us at the airport. We are given a Google Maps link and told to take a taxi from the airport. You can't find anything by address around here, and of course, we can only read addresses in Latin letters, while the Thai read things in their own alphabet. But we manage to make this work and we get there.
Now, they don't live close to the city at all. And there doesn't seem to be a lot in terms of shops nearby that we can see. They have said before that we probably have to rent a motorbike, and it is beginning to appear that we do.
But soon after we arrive, some strange conversations begin. Conversations that make you go hmm. (Now I'm stealing from C+C Music Factory, but Steinbeck is still safe.) I'll add two new characters who we will call Host Man and Host Woman and give you a few scenes.
Host Man: That's the hand soap.
Host Man: And I have allergies, so I can't use just any other hand soap. So whatever hand soap you use, you're going to need to replenish it before we get back.
Host Woman: Would you like to take a shower?
Alrica: Maybe in the morning.
Host Woman: Do you need anything?
Alrica: Just towels.
Host Woman: Towels? We don't have extra towels.
Host Man: Oh, are you going to have the maid come?
Erich: I'll have to talk to Alrica about that.
Host Man: If you don't have her come, then you have to find a certain neighbor to pay the water bill. If you do have her come, you can just pay her.
Erich: How will I know what the water bill says?
Host Man: Well, the maid will bring it to you. And so you will know it is the water bill.
Host Woman: Did you bring your own dish detergent?
Alrica: No. You can't bring liquids on a plane.
Host Woman: Oh! Well, you will have to replace any dish detergent you use.
Host Man: Since it is the rainy season, the grass grows fast. In another week or two, it will be half a meter high.
Host Man: But you can hire the gardener to take care of it. It costs w baht.
Erich: I'm hiring the gardener?
Host Man: Yes. You just call him on the phone and he will come.
Erich: But I don't speak Thai.
Host Man: Neither does he. He speaks a local regional language.
Erich: Right, but he doesn't speak English. How am I possibly going to call him and tell him to come?
Host Man: Oh yes. I guess I will call him and tell him that you will be calling.
Host Woman: We will leave you one roll of toilet paper. And then you have to buy your own!
So a couple hours in and Alrica and I both have this feeling of dread in the pits of our stomachs. (I shouldn't speak for her. She may have had her head spinning or heart sinking rather than the stomach ailment.) Now, in addition to caring for a dog, a goat, and some chickens, we are caring for a maid, a gardener, the bills (which by the way, to pay the electricity bill, I have to go to the 7-11 because you can do everything at the 7-11, but I don't know how to get to the 7-11), and I better not use any disposable supplies that belong to them or I am expected to replace them.
Dinner time comes. Now, we have no transportation yet and we are in the middle of nowhere. And Host Woman just makes food for her kids. There's no other food for us. After a lot of wrangling Host Man takes Alrica to a restaurant to buy take away food so our kids can eat. And they feel as though they are doing us a favor.
Also, when they invited us, they had told us that while we were sharing the home, there would be two bedrooms for us. But now, their eldest daughter has decided that she doesn't want us in her room. So there is only one bedroom with only one bed (though it is big enough for both Alrica and I.) But they have these purple mats that their kids like to sleep on (meaning they won't even be sleeping in the eldest daughter's bedroom,) and I am expected to drag those to the bedroom so my kids can sleep there. At least, this is what Host Man tells me.
But when I do, Host Woman comes and tells me, no, the mats are for her kids. Apparently it is too much to ask them to sleep in the king size bed in the eldest daughter's room. They prefer the purple mats. So of course I ask, “Where are my kids supposed to sleep?” Apparently, they are supposed to sleep on the same mats with their kids. So I drag the mats back up the stairs.
But my kids aren't comfortable with this. They hardly know these kids, and the size of the mats means they will all be sleeping on top of each other. (And it's hot! The only room with Air Conditioning is the Master Bedroom. The rest of the house just has oscillating fans.) So now I am dragging the mats back down to the bedroom in which I am staying so that my kids can sleep somewhere.
So remember, they invited us. But they don't have food in the house we can eat. They don't have towels we can use. And they don't even have enough sleep space for everyone. (That's not true, they have plenty of sleeping space, but their own kids are allowed to declare their own rooms off limits and still not use those rooms themselves.)
At this point, my whole family is pretty disillusioned. We are in the middle of nowhere, and everything sounds as though it is far. We will have to rent a motorbike, that's fine, but we don't have one yet. Our hosts are nickle and dime-ing us and jerking us around. And the expectations have grown in a way that I feel is pretty much a bait and switch tactic perpetrated by some of the absolute cheapest people we have met in this journey.
But we made a commitment. We can't back out now, because how will they find someone to take care of their dog and their goat and their chickens (and their maid and their gardener and their bills?)
The next morning, Host Man asks to speak with us. He and Host Woman have decided they aren't comfortable with us. They don't want us staying in their house. In fact, they have to get going in about an hour to get their daughter to some activity, and they would like us to be in a taxi by then. (To give a little bit of credit, Host Man did pay for the taxi.)
Apparently, they did not feel as though the fact that they had made a commitment meant they had to follow through on it. Alrica then feverishly began searching the internet for somewhere to stay while I packed us up. And to allay suspense, right now I am comfortably ensconced in a hotel room. We have a reservation for three nights and we will have to figure out what happens after that.
But I have to admit this. I have never been so happy to be kicked out of anything before. Yes, it will cost me more money to stay in an apartment in Chiang Mai, but Thailand is generally inexpensive. And it will be totally worth it. Call it the price of my freedom!
Don't get too upset or worried for us. Remember a wise man once said, “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
And that, my friends, was stolen from John Steinbeck.
But I told you who said it, so I'm on the high moral ground, right? Or not.