It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Unbelievably, we are now officially half way through our time in Kuala Lumpur. That’s right. We have been here two years already. The tenancy agreement on our apartment was for two years and the company allows us to move if we want to, at that point. The only catch is that we have to organise and pay for removal expenses ourselves.
We loved our apartment, but two years in we’d become fed up that it is in a very inconvenient position, forcing us to always drive in one direction, when we want to go in the opposite one. If we wanted to ‘pop’ to the shops it took 20 minutes on a good day, 40 on a bad. Ian and I both wished we had the ability to ‘pop’. Not just to the shops but out for a meal, to the post office, the bank. I pitied the school-run-mums who had to endure the ridiculous road system at least twice a day in rush hour.
And so, in late July, we worked out exactly where we wanted to live and set about looking for a villa with a pool and a view that was located just a ‘pop’ away from Bangsar Village. I spent just one day with an agent, saw about ten places and it so happened that the first one had been perfect. It had a view all the way down the valley, past chickens and trees and low-rise villas, past our old condominium, past the KL Menara tower and the Petronas Towers and onto the hills of the Genting Highlands. With a pool, a huge covered terrace, two coconut palms, a mango tree all a short ‘pop’ away from everything that mattered, it was just the ticket.
And so it was that two weeks ago we moved a couple of kilometres down the road.
The removal company reckoned they’d need two days to pack and move us and in due course nine men arrived at our door to help. The sound of sellotape ripping and paper crumpling filled the apartment. I hid in my office and let them get on with it. Only, the following morning they were only about 30 per cent of the way through. This meant that Ian, I, Jenney, our househelp, and my friend Lindsay were forced to spend five hours packing that day too. And still they needed more time. By day three they were ready to start delivery. Excited, I went off to take over the keys of our new abode. We’d been suffering from choking pollution haze for weeks but on that day the sun broke through and having the doors open all day didn’t give us hacking coughs and dry eyes. Despite the good luck, this was when it dawned on me that it was a jolly good job I had taken a few Malay lessons.
Our removers were delightful chaps, with surprising invisible muscles on their scrawny bodies. The only guy who spoke English was back at the flat and so my new role was to direct every box to the correct room… in Malay. Luckily for me I thought I had the words for ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’ down pat. I also knew ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’. The word for ‘garden’ had escaped me so they all chuckled patronisingly as ‘downstairs downstairs’ became my code for the terrace and pool area below the house. I sat on a chair near the front door and gave instructions as they squatted down to my height with a box on one shoulder so I could read its label and then point out its final resting place. I began to relax, however, it soon appeared that despite their strength and willingness, the lovely, smiley chaps had understood ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ thanks more to the direction I was pointing than my language skills. There was nothing for it. I heaved myself from my throne.
My tactic had to change. Instead, the only thing they understood was my touching each box with the palm of my hand and subsequently patting the floor where I wanted it to be put. This meant I was running round the house from room to room, up and down three flights of stairs for eight hours solid. So much for my grand plan of sitting down and barking orders!
Eventually, our anticipated two-day removal became four and at about three in the afternoon on the last day, the youngest cheekiest chappy, whom I later discovered was just seventeen, came up to me and slapped his thighs.
“Jeans?” I tried.
He shook his head, laughed and slapped the sofa.
“You want to sit down?” I said. “Kamu nak duduk?” I attempted in my faltering Malay, pulling him out a chair.
He laughed and shook his head at my in the way that a parent shakes a doting head at a child’s ridiculous antics.
Several minutes later he spoke: “YOU! Sit! Down!”
And so I did.
The next morning, Lindsay and I unpacked hundreds of boxes. Ian had ‘left out’ our Chinese visa applications and it was my ‘fault’ that they had gone missing. With a visa taking between four days and a month and our trip to China imminent, we had to find the forms or risk letting down the friends we were going to travel with. At 3pm that day, with Ian still conveniently absent, they were unearthed. They had been in one of his many office boxes clearly marked as those we did not need most urgently.
That day, Ian had the easy job of just handing back the keys to our previous landlord. And this is when things went more pear-shaped.
It is bliss when you are no longer a newbie in town. We had people to ask for recommendations of removal companies. We knew who to call about such mundane things as electricity and wifi connections. What we didn’t know was what to expect of landlords. I guess we’d been spoilt. We’ve rented properties many times in our lives and never before have we had to worry about ‘making good’ and removing all nail holes. Ignorance was not bliss. Never before had it been necessary to notice and photograph every single flaw in a property on moving in day so that we could prove, on moving out day, that we were not responsible for the imperfections. Unfortunately for us our apartment had been sold to a new landlord half way through our tenancy. The new owners had not looked at the state of the walls and floors when they bought it so we assumed (stupidly) that they had bought it ‘as is’. Oh deary, deary me, they insisted it were all pristine when we left. And poor Ian had been the one to deal with the landlord’s wrath and the ensuing fallout.
You see, back then, we’d not complained about the paint splatters, the bent blinds, the nail varnish splodge and the massive plant pot marks both in and outside. We hadn’t complained that some picture hooks were still in place and that previous attempts to ‘make good’ had left the walls a mosaic of varying shades of magnolia. Back then we had no idea that our decent behavior and acceptance of existing flaws would bite us fair and square in the behind on our departure. Apparently, it is common practice to give the tenants at least a week after departure to clean curtains, spring-clean the entire place and make good any defects of our own making. Our new landlord refused to give us a day to complete it. But, ask yourself how it could be possible to clean to army ‘march-out’ standards while moving out? How can anyone be expected to fix, spruce and polish while the house is full of removal men, boxes, bubble-wrap and tape? No perfection meant no returned deposit. Oh shit.
Anyway, Ian, being ever the diplomat, managed to wangle the weekend following our departure and spent its entirety on his hands and knees doing the kind of job that he is well-known for. His surname does not mean perfect for nothing. He did a sterling job and was fairly confident that by going more than the extra mile and repairing all the flaws we’d inherited too he’d dodged a bullet. At last we felt able to crack open a bottle of wine and celebrate our lovely new home.
Two days later we heard that the landlord had brought the builders in to renovate the entire flat, ripping out all the surfaces Ian had toiled over! It seems the wily fox had wanted our lost deposit to help fund his renovation.
On the bright side, we have moved to a gorgeous new home with a wonderful landlord. We have taken hundreds of photographs of imperfections and are seriously considering whether to bother putting any pictures up at all. We can just prop them against the walls, can’t we?
As for its popability, I’ve been timing it. Less than five minutes from front door to supermarket by car and under 15 minutes on foot. That’ll do nicely. Oh, and we are all set for China too!