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Dream House Hunting

"I am going to show you several houses with rental fees about US$ 1,000 per month. Would you like me to tell your husband that they cost US$ 1,500 a month? Let me see, if your husband pays one year in advance, that means you can put the extra US$ 6,000 in your pocket! Don't worry, I'm used to doing this deal with expat's wives or girlfriends. Your secret is safe with me. I won't even ask for a cut!" said Annie, my housing agent, lightly with her hands busy punching numbers on her calculator.

It was on one bright shinny day, when my housing agent and I browsed the roads in Kemang to find the right house to rent. On our way to the first house to look at, Annie, my agent, asked me the astonishing question. I, a very naïve wife I guess, dropped my jaw and became speechless for 10 minutes. What an undignified way to earn some extra pocket money!

I politely explained to her that I could never lie to my husband. I said to her that one day I told my husband that I didn't know where his favorite tie was (it was a hideous yellow spotted tie I couldn't stand so I buried it at my backyard). My nose involuntarily kept twitching for a week until one day our dog dug the tie out and carefully placed the shredded rag on my husband's lap. I hope my agent got the point.

For the past three years, my family and I have lived in three different rented houses. We moved out from the first house because the kampung kids seemed to enjoy throwing huge firecrackers into our backyard every time there was a feast to celebrate. The second time we moved out because I had continual arguments with the landlady. She appeared within days after we moved into her fully furnished house because she wanted to take her broom home. And the next day she came again and asked if it was okay to take one of the rocking chairs, and then one of the mattresses, the gas bottle, the bedroom curtain, etc., etc.

I remember when I was young, I used to think that living in a five-star hotel would be a dream come true. There are fresh bed sheets everyday, for one thing. Secondly there is always a cute smiley concierge who is always ready to carry my excessive shopping bags by just giving a little wink or making a lost puppy look on my face. And last but not least is the after midnight snack without getting up from my bed.

What can I say, my dream really came true. It turned to be more like a nightmare actually. It started five years ago when I married a guy who was a hotelier (no, this is not the nightmare). As a good wife, I then moved into his place, which was a hotel suite with one bedroom and a living room. It was quite comfortable, except when I realized that there was no rack or any space to hang my wet undies. I ended up hanging them over the curtain rail in the bathroom, which became really embarrassing every time we invited friends over (to hear your colleagues discussing your Victoria's Secret collection during lunch break is not something you would be very proud of). The situation got worse when I recognized things were disappearing from my room. One day I found some guest's extra-large underwear in my clean laundry bag. I even caught one of the housekeepers reading my diary. I had absolutely no privacy at all. So we moved out.

Learning from my experience with rented houses, I decided that for the third time I should get the perfect dream house to live in. I contacted one reputable housing agent in town, and they promised to find several options to our taste.

My housing agent and I must have visited more than twenty vacant houses that day. It was always the same scenario. For my limited budget, I was shown five-year-old or older houses. Freshly painted in white to cover flood marks on their walls. Most of the houses had small greenish puddles, decorated by long black strings of frog's spawn, which were supposed to be swimming pools. The pools looked like they were added recently, cramped in their not so spacey backyards, to lift the houses' rental value. Every time I inspected a house, my agent always shouted: 'Watch out for the pool! Don't trip into it!', as soon as I passed the dining table.

We finally settled for the last house we visited. Mind you, housing agents always try to convince their clients to take the first house they show, which coincidentally is the worst house they have in the list. Anyway, I was so relieved that I had found my dream house. It is a medium-sized Javanese style house with high ceilings. The pool is surrounded by old big trees at the front yard. It sounds similar to the houses advertised in the newspapers, doesn't it? Only this one is not a trick.

Everything went well with the new house until one morning I was woken up by a loud banging from the back yard. I rushed to the window and screamed: "Some people are demolishing our back wall!"

They are building a three-story house just behind our back yard. I thought it was the end of our dream house story. But nowadays, six months after we moved in, I'm used to all of the hammering and drilling noises which last twelve hours a day, everyday, including holidays. I have even stopped sending my dogs to harass the construction workers whose favorite activity is hanging out on their roof staring at our bedroom window.

Everyday when I come home from work and start to feel irritated by the noise from the construction site, the loitering or the ongoing traffic in front of my house, I turn to my one and a half-year-old daughter who runs toward me with a big smile on her face.

Sometimes, don't you think that as long as you are surrounded by the people you love, it doesn't really matter where you live? Even in a tent for that matter.