“Hello, Mr. Khale?” a voice shouted through the haze of a sound sleep, followed by loud pounding on wood. I looked over at my watch, 6 in the morning for a guy who works till 8 at night is WAY too early. It was probably the electricity bill collector, so I decided to ignore it and pretend to not be home. A minute later, additional heavy door knocking and additional loud calls came my way. This was getting annoying; couldn’t he come at a reasonable hour? Then I remembered, my landlord had said he would come by today to fix the pipes that were leaking water out onto the road. I had told him to come at 10:30 AM, but apparently he’d missed that memo. I felt a bit annoyed, “Didn’t he remember that I told him to not come too early?” So I decided to dig-in and wait till he got tired of trying.
However, a few minutes later I heard him calling again, this time he was nearly shouting. Like a bear coming out of its winter den, I rolled out of bed with a growl onto my unsteady feet and went to see where the noise was coming from. Walking over to the second bedroom, I saw him standing on my balcony. He had climbed up a ladder! He saw me, bleary eyed and a little dazed, and he looked a little embarrassed. “Hello, sorry, we need to fix pipes.” I tried to ask him why he was here so early when I specifically told him to come later. Yet I couldn’t string a coherent sentence together in Vietnamese or English. There was nothing for it; I had to let him in now that he was here. So I shuffled over to the balcony door and opened it.
Without another word he rushed passed me and hurried downstairs, letting the repair man in, I could hear them getting out their tools and talking excitedly. I didn’t give it a second look though, and made a bee-line from the balcony back to my bedroom and closed the door. Apparently they had opened the door to the bathroom below the stairs where I keep the cat at night, because a desperate meowing came up the stairs and stayed in-front of my door. The cat is scared of strangers in the house – wimp! So I rolled my eyes and got out of bed again to let her in. She ran on the bed and hid under the sheet, quivering in fear, and half-drenched in water.
The racket downstairs continued for half an hour, the men talking loudly and walking all over from the ground floor to the rooftop. I gave up trying to sleep; my morning rest was ruined by now. Walking downstairs revealed to me the extent of the leaky plumbing – the entire ground floor was covered in water, which they were frantically trying to mop up and stop. The water storage tank on the roof had been leaking for many weeks, and recently the trickle had turned into a flow. I usually turned off the water to keep it from leaking, but had left it on all last night and apparently it was too much. I had to be at work at 9, for a morning class, which was why I had said, “come at 10:30” – after it was finished. Now I was stuck here waiting for them to finish, who knows how long this would take?
I waited till about 7:30, and then I decided to call my boss and tell him to cancel the class. “I’m sorry,” I told him, “but my house is a mess. The floor is completely flooded, tools and plumbing are all over the place, and I have no idea how long it will take.” He was very generous, “Don’t worry, we’ll cancel your class and tell them it was a personal emergency.” Thank heaven that was sorted. But I was getting more annoyed by the minute. I had been asking to have this leak fixed for weeks, and hadn’t gotten much response till I told them, “No repair, no rent money.” Suddenly the owner then decided to come today and showed up at 6 when I had told him to come later – which of course made me miss work and inconvenience my students.
I had the inclination to upbraid him for this whole debacle; but remembering how Vietnamese don’t like confrontations – I relented and shuffled back up to my room. Eventually, the plumbing was fixed, and the water was mopped up. So we sat down to settle the next few months’ rent. I also showed him a water bill which hadn’t been paid since December of last year, a full 6 months before I had moved in – and he agreed to pay that instead of me. Before too long, we had the plumbing fixed, the house cleaned, and the rent paid. They both packed up their tools and left by 10AM, much to the cat’s relief and mine as well.
This sort of thing is quite common and takes time to get used to – unplanned things get sprung on me or plans are rapidly changed with little explanation or warning. Life, just like the traffic here, is done ad hoc and by the “seat of the pants”. On the receiving end it can be really annoying, but it also means that I can change plans on people as well. So this can come in real handy at times. I just try to remember, stay calm, and try to work out some sort of compromise if possible. Don’t be a door mat, but don’t be a brick wall either.