Friday, September 10, 2010

Our Home, September 10th, 2010

It is difficult to describe the joy of living in this house.

The place suffers from all the inconveniences of a twenty year old building in a tropical climate: the windows don’t open or close easily; the mosquito nets need to be coaxed into the door and window frames; the garden is a mess of neglect and is probably home to every species of poisonous snake Lao has to offer.

Also, it is not one of those traditional wooden Lao house of which we had dreamt, with their gleaming wooden floors and views over the Mekong.

No, this is an old French-style villa that looks like it had been ripped out of the arrière pays of Nice and planted here, between the banana trees and in the bottom of a rich tropical garden.

I say garden, but parts of it are more like a forest, especially the mysterious and shaded back of the house, where the Spirit House lives. We need a gardener of genius and independent thought and we need a maid!

The house is in the Diplomatic Quarter, which does have its own name in Lao, Thapalansay Village, Sisattanak District. According to Reb Dovid, it is an area of great spiritual power for the Lao, within biking distance of one of the oldest and most sacred temples in the area.

Our immediate neighbour is the Chinese Embassy who use their clout to keep the area quiet and clean and one of our garden walls, covered with a sort of ivy, is the retaining wall to their compound. On the other side is a tenement building housing several Lao families who seem to share washing and cooking facilities. Unlike a similar place in Vietnam, the area is relatively quiet. Any music they do play is not very loud and doesn’t have that maniac techno beat you hear all over South East Asia. Just down the road is a pétanque court. When I have a minute I will join the boys for a good game of bacchi.

But the joy of the house is just being there, waking up in the morning and walking down the driveway and looking at the tall tropical trees on both sides. Birds fly high in the sky. Yellow and black butterflies flutter.

In all the years we lived in Hanoi, I always dreamt of having a garden like this one.

In the distance there is a line of coconut palms, about 500 meters away, that kind of remind me of the opening scene from Apocalypse Now where you really get that feeling of strangeness, some-place-else-ness and foreignness that the Americans must have felt in the region.

We must have looked at about 15 houses before we chose this one. It was not the most beautiful or the best maintained. Other houses had views of the Mekong or of rice paddies. But Marie-Do saw the potential in this house right away, and she was right.

Funny things about houses in Vientiane:

This is the wet season. Many of the homes we visited had gardens that were totally flooded. Our garden was pretty dry, even after a heavy rain. One place we went to, you had to fight the mosquitoes in the middle of the day! You don’t want this in a malaria zone in the middle of a dengue epidemic.

If you go on Tony’s web site at you will see such descriptions as “on paved road” or “close to paved road”. When you look at this from Canada, as I did, you think, well, how bad can it be? The fact of the matter is that it can be pretty damned bad. People build these mega-mansions on dirt roads that are as level as the playing field of life and then they go out and buy massive Four-Wheel-Drive cars to access the mansions. If every owner were to donate just $500 to a street fund, they would be able to pave their roads and increase the value of their homes.

Having said that, we wouldn’t mind living in a house situated several kilometres up an unpaved road, except that Marie-Do is pregnant and getting increasingly pregnant by the day.

So paved roads are important. Our nearest paved road is about 400 meters away.

The whole city sits on the Mekong which twirls like a snake down to the Friendship Bridge, where you can cross into Thailand. The French School is on the Mekong, on its south-eastern bend on Kilometer 3 of Thadeua Road. Because traffic here is no longer the easy bicycle paradise it used to be (see for a look at it back then), it is important that we live within easy distance of the French School.

Finding this place was a miracle. Four bedrooms, a large luxurious garden, a huge living room, space for Marie-Do to have a studio and even a room where I can eventually stock wines.

Negotiations with the landlord were long and laborious. But we finally got the price we wanted and the terms we wanted. When the container finally gets here, I will post more photos of the interior. Then it will really be our home.

Right now the great salon is empty and every little noise echoes in it like a canyon. But soon, it will be full of our furniture. There will be dinners, and parties and wine and good food. There will be barbeques and dancing and singing beneath the stars. There will be full moon parties and new moon parties.

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