Tag Archives: housing

…sitting in the window

Our house is right next to a park, I have probably mentioned this before. On weekends, the park is packed with people. Today, the first day of a week of holidays called Chuseok, is also the first nice day after a week of rain. The park is more full of people than normal.

On our side of the wall that separates us from the park, butterflies flit in and around the dregs of our summer garden. A field mouse tries to eat the last few tomatoes, leaves are gently falling from the sycamore trees. Outside my window it is quiet.

On the other side of the wall, hundreds of people are chanting as some sporting event occurs, kids are screaming on the slides, and little old adjummas are strolling on rocky paths. Outside my window is a giant party that everyone in Korea is invited too.

When I sit in the window, the sounds of the park turn me into a kid. I get that feeling that I need to go out and join the play, that childhood is so close, that I can just jump into anyone’s playing and find a place for myself.

But, there is no one out playing on our side of the wall. We live in suburban America, where you have to set up play dates and invite people to parties. No one spontaneously hangs out in the front yard with neighbors. We already took a walk today, and saw nearly no one, other than the family getting in their car and the woman jogging with her dog and iPod. If I go to the park, I am too much a stranger to jump into the play of the adults. They play in group games I don’t know or am not a member of the team for.

Luckily, the girls are both asleep, so we can’t go out and enjoy the day right now anyway. It’s too bad that today I feel like an 8 year old myself, and want to play hide-and-seek or something outside with my friends.

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…Appliances and Appurtenances

What is that thing? Foreign houses often have some unusual, to American eyes, objects and doodads in them. Here are a few that are in our house in Dhaka:

What’s the strange whirring noise in the kitchen? Why is there no room in the cupboard under your sink/next to your fridge/etc.? It’s your giant 110v power converter. There’s a fused switch somewhere to turn it on and off, ours happens to share a circuit with the 220v microwave, so there’s a lot of turning on and off. It’s great to have built in to the kitchen for all your American-scaled appliances. It’s not going to run your clocks right, and will still be “hard” on your heating elements, but you can use it for your blenders, etc. It’s just like the little heavy blue ones, but sturdier.

The water distiller, to keep your body free from Giardia and Cholera. Ours is on the laundry porch, because this beast is a heat-making machine. You’re supposed to clean it every 5 gallons. We use 5 gallons nearly every other day. If you don’t clean it, you get bacterial growth. We didn’t clean it. Oops. 3 weeks of being sick.

The ubiquitous squatty potty. Even when they’re clean, they don’t really look it. If you don’t know already, you face towards the water tank, not away. It works best if you’re in a skirt, or male, or naked. The bucket is to hold water and there’s a little cup to rinse yourself off with when you’re done, unless you have a spray hose.

The toilet hose. It’s not quite a bidet, but that’s the general idea. Also useful for washing the floor down, rinsing dirty diapers, etc. Comes in one temperature: hot. Luckily, it takes a few seconds to get hot, so you’re usually safe, just don’t let it run too long.

2 UPS batteries for the computers. Not shown are the voltage regulators, which look pretty much the same, but have a little display on the front reminiscent of 1960’s sci-fi computers.

One of three different dehumidifier styles in our house. This one turns back on after the power goes out. It also beeps to let you know it is full. That happens about 3 times a day now.

The door bell, which wouldn’t be too exciting, except that it’s an ADA doorbell, and will flash its lightbulb when the bell is pressed. If it happens when you are otherwise in the dark, it can be kind of surprising.

…Post Housing

I promised a photo update on my house once we’d done some rearranging and painting.

The finished living room, don't forget that the fridge is in here too, I just kept it out of the shot.

And the housing update isn’t just for you… It’s also the Foreign Service blog Round-Up theme of the week. Since this is our first post, we really don’t have very many good stories. The building we’re in is brand-spankin’ new.

There is a power shortage in Bangladesh, so, even though there are several apartments in our building, the whole building was not allowed to use more than the power allotted to the previous building on the lot: a single family house. So, we have an elevator, but no power to it (I can’t imagine living on the higher floors!), A/Cs that weren’t connected (thank goodness for the winter chill of 70 degrees!), and similar oddities.

The builder obviously did not consider convenience in designing the kitchens and bathrooms. The shelves in the kitchen are all in the wrong places, or behind cupboards that don’t open right. There wasn’t any place to put extra toilet paper in the bathroom, etc. But, thanks to the GSO, they’ve got most of those new house quirks worked out. We installed shelves to make a pantry, and in all the kitchen cupboards and the bathrooms. Whoever follows us won’t be so confused by the lack of shelves.

They will, however, continue to be confused by the wall switches. In every room, there is a place near the door for the wall switches. Each light or fan is controlled by its own switch, even if they’re a pair of sconces or something. However, we have about 6 extra switches in each room, and in some cases 4 times as many fan switch/spinners than we need. I still can’t figure out why, but we aren’t the only ones, there’s a pandemic of switches in Dhaka.

Our china cabinet, the green reflecting in the mirror is our dining room color.

The house is altogether too large for the two of us, but would be great for entertaining. We’ve had a few parties here, and most of the guests have liked it too. We’ve got nothing on the other houses in the pool for space though, at least as far as I’ve seen. Some people really have astonishingly large living rooms. There must be something in the culture that values that. Since the main thing we seem to do here is go and hang out at other people’s houses, it’s a good thing we’ve got living room space.

Everyone in the Dhaka housing pool has beige carpets on top of some kind of tile or marble flooring. We also all have beige curtains that can only be removed with a LOT of effort and a screwdriver. We tried to change ours to something a little different, but still haven’t succeeded. Most of us have the furniture shown above, but a few have some “southwestern” patterned upholstery and lanai-themed wooden furniture that hearkens back to the house on the Golden Girls. The lucky few have some of the “new” furniture, envied for it’s solid tones. You are able to slipcover in Dhaka, but the prices have recently gone up, we’re not sure why.

So, in general, nothing is terribly fancy, though it’s all serviceable. We live large compared to our housekeeper, but it would just be a typical apartment back in the states, just one with tile floors and an awkward kitchen.

…Post Furniture (submit yours!)

The woman behind the FS Swap is also the editor of “At Post,” the photo blog of FS life. The theme of the moment is post-issued furnishings, so I submitted a truly boring picture of the couches in our house.

I am hoping everyone else can submit some more interesting shots. I know people with furniture that throws back to the Golden-Girls-Era, and people who have furniture so swanky, they must have an “in” in the GSO’s office. Someone  found out their furniture was on it’s last tour, so they recovered it in a frighteningly strange local fabric.

This was one of the things I wanted to know back when we were waiting, bidding and hoping, so I hope others will add their photos to the mix.

Submit your “at post” photos to kennedyas@yahoo.com in web-ready format. (I bet she’d prefer things at a 400×600 size or so.)

 

…HHE and a Xmas Tree!

It’s a quiet Saturday morning her in the Adventure house. Perhaps we have so much paper and cardboard lying around it’s like another layer of insulation has been added to our flat. And what does having a metric ton of cardboard and paper mean? It means our boat shipment (HHE) finally arrived, and along with it, everything we’ve been missing for the last three months is finally ours once again. Surprisingly, there was much less damage in the HHE than we expected, but I am missing somethings still. Hopefully they’ll turn up, there are some boxes that have yet to be opened.

Last week we went to a big dinner and party at the Ambassador’s house, which was topped off by a singalong around his giant Christmas tree. It was a week of embassy festivities. There was also a concert in the embassy itself, many of the performers were staffers, it was classic Christmas music, and accompanied by the occasional jig or two from an excited child. I also attended Mr. A’s section’s “Open House” in which staffers in other sections (or spouses) got a chance to tour his office area, and see what they do in there. There were some fun interactive activities, some presentations and a bunch of cookie displays to keep us well fed as we followed the tour.

I also picked up my first paycheck from subbing at the American School. It’s in the local currency, so I’ll have to take it to a local bank to cash it. However, it’s recommended that all bank visits take place via a car, rather than walking, so I’ll have to wait until next week. Why? Because our payment finally cleared on the car we bought (third time’s the charm), and we can pick it up early next week.

However, all of these events were overshadowed by the knowledge that our possessions were in the city and had cleared customs. For various reasons, they couldn’t be delivered until the end of the week, but what a day of fun that was!

The truck arrives

We had 4 crates of stuff. That wouldn’t be much if we’d shipped furniture, but that’s mostly “boxes.” A whole lotta boxes. The pile below is most of the kitchen stuff, but we found random kitchen things in lots of other boxes. For example, the box of utensils also had the Bocce set, but nothing else, and was labeled “Small boxes with photos.” Uh? What?

Just after the movers left, our smallest pile of boxes. There are about 3 times as many boxes in 2 other rooms, and a big pile mysteriously labeled "books" in the office.

That was true of many of our boxes. There were about 10 boxes labeled “books” which contained at most one book, and usually none. The books were labeled clothes, or games…. Shoes were labeled clothes, etc. However, it’s understandable, given that almost all of our stuff was holed up in a single little room in a giant pile of doom when the packers arrived.

Got Milk? Need glasses?

However, the priority for me was the Christmas tree. So, even though we hadn’t found the silverware, or even cleared a path to the door, we cleared a space in the perfect corner and set up our tree. It was harder to arrange than we thought a fake tree would be. It’s our first fake tree, though I’ve had some mini trees and decorated a few fake trees for work and such. However, we think the results are worth the effort, and thank our upstairs neighbors for coming down to help us put all the hundred or so ornaments on.

Your classic reflecting tree shot

So, in sum, we’ve had a week of festivities, opening boxes and big happiness, and it isn’t even Christmas yet. I hear that a lot of the folks back home are knee deep in snow, but we’re still enjoying the “chilly” high 70 and low 80 degree days. Brr, where’s my jacket?

…UAB

We received our UAB (air shipment) late last week, just in time for the weekend, and just in time for this week’s Round Up theme “I wish I’d put… in my UAB,” hosted this week by Jill at Run 2 New Places .

On Monday, they (that mysterious bureaucratic “they”) hinted that our shipment was in the country, and we might get it later in the week, but we didn’t hold out much hope. We’d been told the week before that a part of our HHE (boat shipment) had arrived as well, but that was later corrected to say it had arrived _near_ the port, more or less, and may be on the ground, or the boat, or neither.

So, when they called Thursday morning it was with some surprise that they offered to deliver before noon that day, and 45 minutes later they arrived at our door, bearing 4 large boxes labeled “Unknown Sender.” My housekeeper and I immediately tore in to the pile (after signing all the delivery documents, of course, trying to remember to write “subject to inspection” on each copy). We didn’t have any scissors (they were in one of the boxes), so we used a handy knife from the Welcome Kit. Actually, we used a few, since some are so dull they can’t even cut through package tape. 🙂

The boxes

When the boxes were packed, we piled up what we thought would weigh 450 pounds, once packed. But, I guess they use less packing material than we’d estimated, because we only had about 200 pounds in the pile, even including our “back up” pile, but most of the rest of the house was already pretty thoroughly packed. So I dashed around adding things in, crazy things, some of them.

Now that I am here, I regret not including the paper copy of my dissertation (it would be a lot easier to finish the revisions with a paper copy in front of me). But, that’s my only regret, and I did include the printer, but no paper or ink….

I wish I had included…
1. more hangars
2. something colorful for the bedroom and living room (I included a beige comforter, it matches, but EVERYTHING is beige, blegh). A cheerful pillowcase like this blogger‘s would do a lot for making this place feel homier.
3. A drying rack for my clothes (the humidity prevents the dryer from fully drying everything)
4. Trashcan liners, apparently the grocery store bags I used to use are illegal here, and bin liners are terribly expensive. It’s probably futile anyway, since the trash is immediately opened for “recycling” once it makes it downstairs, but the bin is gross without it.
5. Something VERY fancy to wear, Mr. A packed his tux. The fanciest thing I have is a cotton skirt. And, yes, we’re going to a ball in November. Figures.
6. And, last I wish I’d packed something inside the three food storage containers I sent. They arrived completely cracked, and therefore useless at keeping the bugs out of the rice. 😦 So disappointing. I kept the lids, hoping the ones in my HHE are ok). The movers did not do a good job of packing the UAB, it seemed good at the time, but most things were merely wrapped in one layer of paper and loosely laid in the box. When they arrived here, they were 30-50% full of air, rather than our stuff or paper. Everything that might crack or break, did. Thankfully we didn’t pack too much breakable stuff, and the nice stuff was in its original packages or packed especially by us.

What we’re happy we included:
1. Some extra (and very lightweight) dishes, now we can have people over, or eat more than once a day without doing dishes!
2. Hostess gifts (some little thank you items we’ll be needing as early as this week)
3. A sharp knife.
4. the Wii and a variety of party and solo games
5. Laundry “sheets” (those things from Purex that are all-in-one, we brought some in our baggage too, I’d probably never use them at home, but they were very portable.)
6. A simple picture cookbook for our housekeeper to get ideas from, tonight we’re having orange-teriyaki chicken with spinach and rice, thanks to the “3 and 4 Ingredient Cookbook.”

What I probably didn’t need:
Every stitch of clothing I own (other than my snow clothes), as my housekeeper does laundry _every_ day, whether it needs it or not.

What was exciting though, was the boxes themselves. If only I were 5 years old, or had a 5 year old nearby. These boxes are 5 layers thick, and very sturdy. They’d have been ideal play houses, pretend kitchens, sand sleds, phantom tollbooths, or something…. instead they are being turned into paper.

p.s. due to popular demand, I’ll be posting about our housekeeper and local clothing customs in coming weeks, if you have questions about our life in Dhaka, let me know by leaving a comment and I’ll blog about it.

…Wild Tile

Since the furniture post sparked such a strong response, I thought you might want to delve a little bit deeper into the dark underbelly of the furnishings of this house…. er… well, it’s not really that exciting, but I thought I’d show you the nifty but wild tile choices made by our builders. (This house is BRAND new, they’re still working on it even).

First, the master bath, just to make you think everything is calm here. It’s beige on beige, but with a vaguely neo-classical bent.

Second, the guest bathroom. I call it the under-the-sea bathroom, and not just because it is BLUE, but because of the bubble tile. All three kinds of tile in this bathroom are bubbles, square bubbles. It’s like SCUBA diving in Flatland.

Third, our other bathroom. I’m not sure you’re ready for this, but here it is nonetheless… Already in costume for Halloween… It’s the bordello bathroom.

Yikes! I actually love the color, in moderation, and have previously painted a bathroom exactly that shade, but with a matching toilet and sink? Who knew you could buy burgundy toilets in the 21st century.

Last, the kitchen tile, lest you forget what a kitchen is for, this tile kindly reminds you that it is for coffee and blue oranges.

My lament is that the colorfulness is limited to the bathrooms. Someone else I know in the neighborhood is getting a mural painted in her house, and I am feeling inspired to mix things up in our dining room. A trompe-l’oeil scene, perhaps? Any ideas?

…FSO Furniture

One of the things I always loved to read about when we were in the pre-FSI and before we arrived here was what other people’s FS apartments were like, and what kind of furniture they had. So, here’s my post on that subject… I apologize for some of these shots as they got a little glary.

The TV room

In the TV room, we have some damask-ish couches, a couple of traditional pseudo-18th century tables, and a buffet we moved in to the room to be our TV cabinet. There’s an A/C, dehumidifier, ceiling fan and air purifier too, as there are in most rooms. There’s ample lighting in this house. This room has 4 high sconces and three task lamps, which is overkill for a TV room, so they might move elsewhere.

Dining Set

In this room, the dining set originally stood, but…. it was the biggest room in the house, and the one you walked into from the front door. So we’ve moved the dining set up onto that adjoining elevated dais (in the back of the photo, leading to an open balcony) and turned this part into our large Sitting Room/Entertaining Spot. There’s a big sliding door which leads out onto a screened in balcony. We’ll put our patio set there when it comes. We took the leaf out of the dining set, because we’re not typically formal eaters, so 6 spots is fine. We have enough leaves and chairs to seat 10 though, should you want to partake of our hospitality.

On the right, you’ll see the buffet and china cabinet that have also moved (TV room and new dining room respectively). You’ll also see the fridge, which is in the living room, not the kitchen. Great for getting a soda, I guess? The furniture which now sits in here is similar to the TV room stuff, greenish. Also very formal.

The curtains and area rugs are beige, the walls are white and the furniture is cherry-stained. We have two bedrooms (master, guest/sewing/ironing/storage) and one bedroom that we turned into an office/freezer room. Yes, that’s right, we’re in a place where food access is inconsistent, and so they give us a full size freezer to put those awesome grocery finds. If there are pork chops in the market in an otherwise pork-abstaining country, you can buy all of them, and keep them in the freezer. (thus contributing to the inconsistency of product availability?)

Bedroom furniture

In the bedrooms we have the same pseudo-18th century furniture, direct from the furniture factories of North Carolina. We also have mosquito nets and WAY too many dressers. I’m trading in one of the dressers for a closet armoire, since this house mysteriously has nothing to hang dresses in. Our closet rods are all set for shirts. They are also hung VERY high, with shelves underneath. I am not sure if the builder thought that Americans are all so tall they can reach these lofty heights, or whether all Bangladeshi houses have really high closet rods.

The Kitchen

The kitchen apparently had the height problem originally too. You can see that the cupboards are still pretty high up there, especially considering my cook/bearer (i.e. maid) is only about 4’8″. However, there is a second line of covered drill holes that show the cupboards originally hung about 6″ higher, which would make it impossible for me to reach the handles, and I think she could only have done so with a ladder. In that pic you can see our tippy microwave and not yet useful water dispenser, both of which are in the fix-it queue at housing office.

All together, our house is something like 1500 sq ft. We’re several flights up stairs and have a view of the two neighboring houses as well as the local mosque and shopping street. The place is pretty quiet at night, but noisy with construction in the neighborhood during the day. There’s a pizza place and a weird clothing store a short walk away (weird for it’s inflated prices, not it’s stuff), and two avenues packed with small shops and restaurants, including a fish and bird pet shop, a place for snack foods, tailors, decorators, beauty parlors, doctors…..  It’s not largely considered a walking place, mostly because of the lack of sidewalks, but if you’re paying attention, it’s not impossible to walk around.

And that’s where we live.

…Water Distillers

While we arrived in Dhaka late last week, we hadn’t got strong access to the internet yet, so I couldn’t post anything.

Tonight that changed!!

Our adventure of the week has pretty much been dealing with the new life, but there’s not much more to that than dealing with the slow pace at which tasks are accomplished, the chaos of speaking pidgin Bangla with someone else who speaks pidgin English, and the general confusion of learning a new city’s streets, shops and traffic patterns.

Last night we learned that 7 pm is not the time to drive from our neighborhood to the American club, for example. We also learned that the internet to wifi there has been very patchy in the last few weeks… and it takes about an hour to send a quick email.

One of the exciting new things in our life is this cool water distiller. In the Foreign Service, if you’re posted to a country with poor civil water quality, you might get issued a water distiller that will purify all the water you care to drink, or brush your teeth with, or rinse your contacts in, etc. And who _wants_ to get Cholera, right?

The "Still"
The "Still"

Our water distiller happens to be bran’ spankin’ new. We’re the first to use it. It’s a relatively big responsibility, as it requires monthly descaling, and a few other maintenance tasks. It comes with two white chemicals that are used for cleaning it, both of which are also used to clean home brewers and wine kits. Maybe we’ll have to branch out in our still-ery. I doubt it.

The department also provides many homes with a handy water dispenser to make the distiller easier to use. (If you use the distiller without the dispenser, it’s a bit like using a hose for your daily tasks). Our dispenser has a hot and cold tap, but it’s not running yet, because the plug outlet and the counter space are not aligned. We put in a request for a dispenser stand, and it should be here, like the internet, sometime this week.

The water it produces is the best water I’ve tasted, significantly better than most city water or bottled water. It’s close to the sweet mountain spring stuff. The main drawback for families with children is that the distiller provides water free of _all_ impurities, even those, like fluoride which we in the US add to our water to strengthen our teeth. Thus, children have to use fluoride toothpastes even though they are usually not recommended for the very young due to issues of ingestion poisoning. Yet, a little fluoride toothpaste is better than a lot of arsenic, the other exciting water surprise in Bangladesh.

Did you know that the leading cause of death in this country is arsenic poisoning from ground water contamination? Yikes. Considering the diet, disease and accident rates, there must be a considerable number of people with white fingernails (a symptom of arsenic poisoning) out there.

In other words, I am grateful for my distiller, even if it makes brushing my teeth a strangely long process every day. Once we get a few pitchers to put in the bathrooms, that should be a lot easier.

…Pre-pack Audits

The packing company representative visited our house yesterday to eyeball all our stuff and give us a time estimate for how long it will take to box up. After a few minutes of Q & A and some scribbling on a form, he announced: 3500 pounds and 2 days of moving. yikes. We are pretty sure he is overestimating our stuff, as a significant portion of our “pile” is empty boxes that we’ve been saving for the move (i.e. the TV box, the globe’s box, etc.).

His advice? Take everything that is breakable out of the boxes you might have it currently stored in so that it can be repacked, even if they are the original boxes. Thus, our myriad wedding glasses and dishes need to be repacked.

He also, as many have mentioned, reminded us to put our packed (for the trip) luggage into a closed closet, or even in the car, to keep it from going into the crate.  He also suggested putting the UAB (air shipment) into a different room, so that it could be packed by weight there, and not accidentally get mixed up with the HHE (boat shipment).

We have about 450 pounds for our air freight, and he said that the sturdy boxes they use to pack it in weigh about 12 pounds each.

This morning I saw another FS family getting packed out of our building, and saw the guys loading up the wooden crates. The crates were inside a large moving truck, and were about the size of a standard bathroom. They were lined with polyethylene and tightly packed. They were puzzling out the best way to arrange the remaining non-square bits (a bike, some skinny long things, and a weird spherical object, all of which were wrapped in 3″ of bubble and brown kraft paper) when I walked by.

For us, he estimated two crates for the boat shipment, which is not a full container. This company prefers to pack the crates on site here, and then wait until a container is available before bringing the crates to the dock to load into the container. Apparently, the usual method before was to bring a truck full of boxes to the dock to await a boat, but a lot of people were loosing their possessions to water damage and loss. At the docks, they just throw a tarp over stuff if it looks like rain.

I’ve read a couple of other blogs recently which describe moving losses, so I hope we’re not disappointed when our stuff arrives in Dhaka.