Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Room of One's Own, part 1

It less than one month, I was evicted from my first apartment in Astana.  I often wonder if that has in any way colored my perception of the place.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

It was a wild ride, as these things go, finding a new place to live twice in a month.  Possibly the most fun I’ve had in my time here.  I almost feel sorry, really, for the other expats who come over here with guaranteed housing packages, moving expenses and all.  Finding your own place, dealing with real estate agents and property owners, one gets to see how the other half lives, as it were.  And the language barrier—well that just adds to the experience.

Both times, we ended up working with a nice young woman with two cell-phones on her person at all times, at least three-inch heals, and about four words of English, total.  And of course a local co-worker who came as translator.  And guide.  And negotiator.  We worked with agents—even though we had to pay a fee of ten percent of the first month’s rent—because we wished to see as many places as we could in a short time and agents, as we understand them, are good at that.  It is their job, after all.  So we ran after our good Olga (literally ran at times, even up stairs, her in her heels and we half-convinced that this was some kind of local past-time—see how many flights of stairs you can get the foreign clients to climb before they give in and take whatever ridiculously-priced apartment they stumble into if only you’ll promise they can sit down for a minute).  In one afternoon we visited one slum, one palace, and two places comparably priced, but with slightly different amenities (just how different, we would only realize after the fateful eviction notice).

Luckily, many apartments are available already furnished, and owners may even be good enough to add pieces we foreign clients find lacking (rule 1: a pull-out sofa is not a bed).  As I said, after our first day of hunting we were left with a choice between two places (the slum and palace being out of the running for obvious reasons).  Between those two, really, the choice was simple—we picked the one that looked nicer.  It looked newer (how old the building actually was we couldn’t say; I got the impression from various translations that the place had been recently remodeled), was slightly bigger, and utilities were included in the rent price.  This was important because we’d been forewarned about the difficulty of understanding utility bills in this country—even the locals had trouble, it seemed.

The view from the front door

Kitchen, no expense spared.

Except, as we found later, an oven.

The living room (first half)

Living room, second half

My bedroom.  With access to balcony.

I took it as a positive sign, also, that our new landlady—during the signing of the lease and finalizing all those details that weren’t really translated to us—seemed to intimate to me (and my co-worker and new roommate) that she had two sons, both of whom were not married.  Any advantage we can get, I thought to myself, we should take, smiling along with her and deciding that if she liked us that much already, we should have a very pleasant year here.

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