There’s a saying “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” It reminds me to avoid the crowd if I don’t want to be a part of something terrible.
Bangkok has serious traffic problem and even ranked the number one city with the worst traffic in the world. So I chose an apartment in the central business district and apply for jobs within the walking distance.
When one problem is solved another emerges. I congratulated myself for not being a part of traffic but the other problem was obvious the moment my landlord showed me the place that I won’t be able to afford the rent.
As a writer in his early twenties, staying in a room with nice view of cityscape, the modern skyscrapers lined up in the horizon and don’t have to handle occasional small talks from roommates is almost a dream comes true. I unboxed my stuff, put all the books on an Ikea bookshelf and made a deal with myself that I will find a way to earn extra money.
I spent night after night trying to figure the way to afford the rent without calling my parents. Being a new boy in town who doesn’t own a car and doesn’t know Bangkok well enough to be an Uber driver. I was on the verge to become one of those male masseurs who gave random happy ending to lonely businessmen. It was a sign in the elevator in my apartment that altered my fate. A warning sign the size of A4 paper from the building’s management that simply put “No Daily Rental Allowed.”
As soon as the sun came up, I took photos of my place and put it on Airbnb. The Airbnb market in Bangkok was competitive in term of price but lacked the creativity. Instead of the swanky names, most places hook the customer with number—the number of bedroom, bathroom, and area in square-meter. If I were to put my personal space up for strangers to rent I have to find a way to narrow my customer and make sure they’re not going to steal things or burn my chic-lit collection. So I went with the name “Writer’s Cave.”
I added a photo for my hardcopy collections in my listing, hoping I would have bookings from guests who are bookworm introverted and enjoy quietness and like glaring at the view. Those are my expectations but in reality, here they are:
My first guest was a German student named Robin. He’s not here to stay for long and asked me one question every Thai person hates.
"Where can I find the girls?"
“What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever broken?” Luis was a Spanish musician travelling around Southeast Asia searching for different culture to put in his teacup and inspiration for his new album.
I took an unnecessary awkward pause to think of an answer before I realized that it was just a trick. Luis used this question to be an intro for his confession that he broke my Starbucks mug by accident. “I was working with my guitar and somehow I manage to nudge your coffee mug on the floor.”
“I brought the broken piece to the store but they told me the mug is no more.” Luis stammering with words, “they told me is limited edition. The mug.”
“I will pay you but please,” his voice was rhythmic even when apologizing, “don’t be mad.”
Greg was cool. Greg was charming. I accepted the minute I received his message. He was a daytime radio DJ from Malaysia. He praised my apartment gracefully and told me it was the perfect location for everything.
It was a long Songkran festival holiday and I was off to Bali during the time that Greg was staying. I couldn’t have imagined anything so perfectly timing than this demand from Greg.
The maid who cleans my room texted me on the second day of Songkran festival that she found a strange glass bottle and powder while cleaning up the room. ‘Kinda like the Aladdin’s shit.’ Translated from her message.
She sent me the picture of ‘the Aladdin’s shit’ and the second I saw it I knew it wasn’t the genie that was in the bottle. He’s been doing drugs in my room and I doubt that there were companies involved. But I was hundred miles away and I still need his money to cover some of my holiday’s rentals in Bali.
That’s when I realize that my apartment is indeed the perfect location for everything.
“Jesus! My suitcase alone takes up almost half of the space.” American Sandy whined, “But I don’t blame you. It’s my fault for not speaking your language.”
She was referring to the metric I used when I tell the size of the room on my listing description.
“So you are renting my Airbnb because you’re Airbnb your own room?”
I stayed there for two nights. When my guest checked out I packed my stuff and went back to my apartment. On the elevator ride in my apartment I saw something that was once a tiny sign was upgraded into A3 paper on the notice board.
Finally my demographic showed up. A writer name Sal from Indonesia sent me a request.
I told him about the warning sign in my elevator. Sal rejected his request. He said it’s too complicated.
I also stayed hostel when I have guests. It was a good way to continue to meet new people even when you’re not traveling. The beauty of staying the dorm in a hostel is that it offers you a chance to exercise your new persona and you can pretend who you want to be.
I was Mark from the Philippine here for job interview. I would leave the room in the morning and hear the whisper form the tourist sharing the room “Good luck.”
I was a nurse from Taiwan.
I was doing my MBA.
People come and go and then some of them come back.
“Hey man! Great to see you again! So did you get the job?”
“Wait a minute. Aren’t you a nurse?”
It was a French free-spirited couple that put an end to my Airbnb. The wind blew the small home-grew pot from their little French countryside that they threw from my window to the balcony below, and caught fire.
Luck still on my side. The fire was small and I was fine by the building management. The Frenchies returned the fine afterwards and they checked out immediately and didn’t ask me for refund.
There was no warning sign in elevators after the incident. They made it bigger and moved it to the lobby and in front of the elevators. It is now saying “This place is for resident only. Not a hotel!” In red color and the picture of burning clothes at the bottom that was unmistakably the masterwork of the hippies.
Back to square one. Life without Airbnb leaving me with a new question—is feeling broke in Bangkok any different than feeling broke anywhere else?
Maybe I will be considering the happy ending gigs after all.
Still, haven’t figure out how to save money, I quickly resumed to spending mode but with caution. Even though I can still afford to walk back from work, but looking at the cars in the massive heap of traffic in my neighborhood, they were to remind me of the unshakeable feeling I have that I am, in fact, part of the traffic.
Story by Sam Nathapong (edited 2021)
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