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Mar 20, 2015

I am now settling in in Đà Lạt

FINALLY! After almost two months in VN and five weeks after my originally projected arrival, I left Sài Gòn


and headed for Đà Lạt!

That was six weeks and at least 5 kilos ago... it's time to get you caught up!

Upon arrival I checked in at Villa Pink House and, first thing the next morning, I started my search for a furnished rental house. Although there are houses available, there are also five major hurdles for this Westerner:
1) Language—many landlords speak less English than I speak Vietnamese.
2) Vietnamese housing is rarely built to anything resembling Westerner building standards and I'm a picky SOB.
3) There is no central agency for rentals, so finding them is mostly word-of-mouth.
4) Time-critical is a foreign concept to many natives, so it's tough to see even one property per day.
5) I'm leaving in a week for my Lao trip (see previous posts from February 2015) and would like to have something nailed down before I leave.

Fortunately, I knew a couple people who knew a couple more people who were looking to rent out a property.

The sister and brother-in-law of someone I met when I was here last summer has a nice new three bedroom, two story house with a pretty good layout and a nice, secure courtyard in which I can park both motorcycles. Rent is 8 million VND, or about $391/month.

The downsides are that it's completely unfurnished—not even a stove or refrigerator; on a street with a LOT of gravel on the roadway (like riding the motorcycle on ball bearings); the "someone" would like a romantic relationship and I'm uninterested, so that may cause landlord issues down the road; and the house is for sale, so I'd get 30-days' notice to vacate if/when it sells.

NEXT!

A friend of Ron, one of the front desk guys at Pink House, has a small one bedroom house, fully furnished. She is very nice and speaks pretty good English, but the house is too small; a neighbor has a very powerful stereo; and the "security gate" might keep out a small child (bonus points), but no more. Rent is 6 million (US$285)/month.


NEXT!

My friend G knows a bunch of people in Đà Lạt and he hooked me up with Kristina and Eric. They who live in a new development called Ananda for whom Kristina is the Project Manager. The project consists of 2, 3, and 4 bedroom furnished townhouses built to Western designs and is about 70% complete. By "Western designs", I mean that they have actual closets (most VN houses use wardrobes/armoires or hooks on the wall to hold clothes) and insulation in the walls and ceilings. The climate in my new hometown is rather temperate, so lack of insulation is less of an issue than it would be in Hà Nôi or Ho Chi Minh City. That said, it would be nice to have. Unfortunately, the last 2 or 3 bedroom unit ($450/month) rented a week before I showed up. All Kristina has available is a 4 bedroom unit that usually rents for US$600/month and that she'll rent to me for $550. The $550 is not a problem, the unit is just too big... and needs more repair than a relatively new unit should. Whomever had it before did NOT treat it well. In any case, it's too big, so I asked Kristina to put me on the list for the first 2 or 3 bedroom unit that comes available. I will keep in-touch.

NEXT!

There's a web site called ex-pat blog that has an incredible amount of information by and for ex-pats (people living outside the country from which they hold a passport) living just about everywhere—"The living abroad website, by expats, for expats." The site is divided up by continent and then sub-divided by country and destination (city or area). Each city has a Classifieds section where you can post items for sale, classes offered, jobs wanted or offered, and so on. It was here I found an ad for a three-bedroom house near Đà Lạt University. The property is owned by an ex-cop who speaks not a word of English, so his nephew placed the ad and conducted the walk-through.

Although the address is on a major boulevard, the house is down an alley off an alley off the main street. It's a bit confusing at first, though I was happy to see that the sub-alley is off the same alley as the Ananda project. The courtyard in front of the house is shared by the owner's house and a number of apartments, mostly occupied by young people (university students?). Although there is the requisite small dog who's prone to barking his fool head off at anyone and everyone who dares enter the courtyard,

he's harmless and actually quite amiable if you try to make friends. He's now my buddy and comes for a head scratch every time I arrive home.

The furniture was pretty rough and consisted mostly of the typical faux-cushioned hard couches and chairs typical of the country.


One of the main selling points for me was the upstairs sun room with two walls of glass.

The room to the right would make a good office. The view is mostly of the back of the Ananda project, though it does include a long-distance view of the city outskirts. Two of the three beds are quite comfortable, much less like the plywood-topped mattresses to which I've previously referred, and the entryway is large enough to allow easy maneuverability of the motorcycles into the alcove to the right in this photo.
There's also a pretty cool bannister on the staircase...

All for 6 million VND (US$285) per month...

Remove those awful living room couches and I'll take it!

Since I was almost immediately leaving for a couple weeks, we agreed that I would leave a 4,000,000VND deposit and the rental contract would start on 17 February, even though I would probably not return to Đà Lạt until closer to the end of the month. I wanted the owner to be comfortable and felt it would be too much to ask him to go the entire month of February without rent... and it was worth giving up the $100 or so to avoid risking losing the house. In the U.S. I would've negotiated a bit, but I wasn't in the mood to haggle over a few dollars... and with the money I'll save over renting at Ananda, I can buy some furniture.

This happened on day four of seven prior to Lao, and the rest of the week I bounced from shop to store to market looking for a couch, wardrobe (no closets, remember?), and a table to use as a desk that I could later use as a dining table if needed/desired. Then I left for the visa run to Lao.

I rode the DR-Z up from Sài Gòn on 24 February, checked into Pink House, and the next morning headed over to the house with my worldly belongings in 10+ suitcases (plus the two motorcycles). I rode the Steed, followed by a mini-truck arranged by Ron at Pink House. Total cost for the trip, including loading and unloading, was 200,000VND (US$9.52) plus a 50,000 VND tip.



Once the bags were in the house, the owner and I sat down (with his nephew translating) and worked through the rental contract. As is standard here (at least for ex-pats), the entire six months' rent is due up-front: $1710 plus another hundred or so for water and electricity and $190 for 10Mbps Internet. A total of just under $2000 for six months; less than one month's house payment back in Olympia. There is definitely something to be said for down-sizing!
You can see the alley entrance to the courtyard immediately to the right of the house and the white wall on the right is the back of one of the Ananda development townhouses.
I just passed the three week mark in the house. Within two weeks after moving in, I bought couches (18 million) and an area rug (3 million) for the living room, covering much of that awful tile...
If you look closely, you'll see a bit of the artwork I brought with me and the dragon I bought in Lao.
A friend helped me find a furniture maker who built a custom wardrobe (deeper to hold my broader-than-Vietnamese-shouldered shirts) for the bedroom (5 million);

and a custom-designed shoe cabinet with room for three full-face motorcycle helmets (3 million) for next to the front door—NO ONE wears shoes in the house, just flip-flops or sandals (I go barefoot);



There are also a couple new basic clothing racks in the upstairs "catch-all" bedroom and a few kitchen appliances and implements.

The furniture, et cetera you see in the store is the same exact piece they deliver to your home at no additional charge. Unless you're dealing with the maker, as I also am for the custom dining set/desk (10.5 million) that'll be delivered next week, there is no such thing as ordering or making modifications.

I'm settling in, and the motorcycles are happy in their new home...

I will post more soon, I promise!

In a teaser a few posts ago, I mentioned that within two hours of my arrival in Đà Lạt, I'd been knocked down by a motorbike. I saved that story 'til the last part of this post 'cause I didn't want it to distract from the above.

I'm about two blocks from my hotel, walking back from town. Always careful to look both ways, I start to cross the street, still watching to my left for on-coming traffic, in case they don't see me.

Talking or texting on the cell phone while operating a motorbike is very common in VN. I have no idea if there is a law on this; if there is, it is NOT enforced. While riding, one has to be constantly wary of riders looking down and tapping on their phones instead of paying attention to traffic. I'm tempted every time to knock the fcuking phone out of their hands and so far I've managed to control this urge, though I cannot promise for how long that will be the case.

Back to my attempted pedestrian street crossing... as I make it to the center, I start looking uphill to my right—the coast is clear so I relax a bit and WHAM! I feel a slash across my left calf, just above the ankle, and I SLAM to the ground, asselbowhead! As I lie on my back, feet facing uphill, I hear a commotion as, I realize a second or two later, other pedestrians and even motorbike drivers come to my aid.

As they all try to lift my head and drag me out of the middle of the lane (it's a two-lane road and I'm now a speed bump), I'm pushing them away and yelling (in English 'cause they won't understand Spanish), "STOP! Don't touch me! I need to move on my own!!!" SHEESH! Nothing feels broken, but it does hurt, so I figure I'm pretty okay... but if I have spinal or neck damage, the LAST thing I need is for the Good Samaritans to do further damage!

One of the passers-by speaks pretty good English and he tells me that one of the other GS's is the kid who hit me. The kid leans over me and starts to apologize. I interrupt him with, "WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD???" You blind-sided me and could've KILLED me!!!" and more. He apologized (in English) profusely and, once I moved myself to the sidewalk, insisted on taking me to the hospital—on his motorbike—to get checked out. The other guy with good English insists on accompanying us on his own motorbike and, because four's a party, I call my friend Vy and ask her if she can meet us at the hospital. The good news is that the hospital was only two blocks away.

In addition to taking me to the ER, the kid insisted on paying for everything. Since he seemed like a good guy who make a mistake, I backed him down to paying for half of the 900,000 VND (US$43.86) bill for the doctor, a CT scan of my head, and an X-ray of my back. He ran out of money when it came time to pay for the meds, so I paid that bill (about $15). Vy and the other guy were a comfort and we all gave the kid who hit me a break when he disclosed that he'd been on his way to the hospital to visit his sister and his new-born nephew. He was apparently preoccupied, though I never did find out what the hell he was doing on the wrong side of the road—other than driving like a lot of other Vietnamese.

After 90 minutes or so of waiting for and undergoing the procedures, it was determined that I was no more broken than I had been that morning, and I was kicked free and the kid (I knew his name for about 3 minutes and am blaming it on the hit to the head :-D ) went upstairs to visit his sister and nephew.

About two days later my left elbow started hurting a LOT and took about two weeks to stop aching. It hadn't hurt immediately after the accident, so I hadn't had anyone look at it. I'm just glad it's stopped.

It took me about three weeks to stop hesitating before crossing the street on-foot and I still look both ways like my head's on a swivel from curb to curb. I suggest you do the same.

To end this post, I'll share something that was less surprising to me than it probably should've been... click here.


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