Elephant’s Leg


LEAVING THE ELEPHANT: AN ODE TO A HOME

People were incredulous when I told them I lived in an elephant’s leg, but I was neither lying nor quoting from a Dr Seuss book. No, for more than seven years I lived in a building called the Elephant Tower, so named because of its unmistakeable shape. See for yourself:

The Elephant Tower at Ratchayothin

The Elephant Tower at Ratchayothin

I lived in the back legs of that building, about halfway up. Thus, I named my blog Elephant’s Leg because that had been my perspective point for most of the time I have lived in Thailand. Seven years and three months, in fact. My childhood home aside, it was the longest consecutive time I had stayed in one place.

Last week, I moved to a new apartment, to begin living with my girlfriend, Fai. It is significant not only in the same way that all new cohabitations are, but because my previous home was iconic not only for its architecture, but also as a chapter in my life.

Like all homes, it housed significant memories, albeit mostly my individual ones. I lived there alone for the most part, but this solitude of sorts suited me. I have always been comfortable in my own company, and this side of my character, and the fact I would almost never be bothered, meant my notch in the Elephant’s Leg was an invaluable retreat.

But when I moved to Thailand, I wasn’t on my own. Nor did I anticipate staying as long as I have. In fact, I moved here with my fiancée, who I’d lived with for a year and a half in London prior. This was supposed to be an exciting new experience for us as a couple, although we had both agreed it would only be for a couple of years.

Free shuttle to the subway station (just kidding!)

Free shuttle to the subway station (just kidding!)

We’d lived in a couple of serviced apartments for a month each while looking for a “proper” home in Bangkok, and we settled first on the location (Ratchayothin) because it was about halfway between our respective jobs, and then on the Elephant Tower because – as well as the obvious draw of living in an elephant! – the apartment blew us away when we viewed it. A decent-sized, fully furnished, two-bedroom apartment, with great city views from the bedrooms and balcony, and access to an outdoor swimming pool, gym and sauna. It was everything we’d hoped for when imagining the famous standard of expat living in Thailand, especially bearing in mind we’d come here from London. There, we’d lived in a small basement flat, where my head almost touched the ceiling and where the only mobile phone coverage could be had sitting right next to the window, and it cost a fair bit more than this amazing place was going for.

So we signed the lease and settled in to what I thought would be our little Shangri-la, a little bit of relative luxury in which to plot the next moves in the rest of our lives.

Six weeks later, my fiancée left me.

People deal with heartbreak in different ways. I made a point that I wouldn’t resort to the decades-worn Bangkok trope of hard drinking and patronising prostitutes. Instead, my early-aftermath routine was to go straight home after work, hole up in my bedroom with a Gameboy (that shows how long ago it was!), play games to stop myself dwelling on things, and usually fall asleep through natural tiredness not long before dawn. I cocooned myself while I healed, and sooner than I expected I re-emerged, began enjoying Bangkok properly, and before long I started dating again.

I then had one of those tumultuous Thai-girl relationships that you may have read about, or even experienced yourself, characterised by high drama, attention-seeking, financial dishonesty, at least one bout of infidelity, and innumerable temporary breakups and makeups. Somehow this went on (and off, and on) for three years, but the one constant amid this tumult was the one place I could always seek solace: home.

Turn off the mobile, unplug the home phone, disconnect from the internet, and sink a few beers while watching boxing or wrestling – now that’s an antidote to girlfriend drama!

Speaking of drama, relationship problems pale into insignificance compared to some of the tribulations Bangkok has experienced during my time here.

A view of Bangkok burning from my rooftop

A view of Bangkok burning from my rooftop

The culmination of the 2010 Red Shirt rallies, when parts of downtown were torched, my office was evacuated amid reports of grenade-wielding protesters marching down our road, other areas crackling with gunfire, demo sites getting bulldozed, train stations shuttered and the army imposing martial law and a curfew, was the highlight (if that’s the right word). Again, my home was my sanctuary. I may have sometimes wished I lived closer to the city centre, but there is absolute value to living a little bit out of the way when the shit hits the fan. That evening,  I made it home before the curfew and watched the smoke plumes from the roof of the building before retiring to my apartment, safe.

On the other hand, when the great floods of 2011 finally hit Bangkok, no effort was spared to keep downtown dry, whereas those a bit out of the way had to bear the brunt. I won’t pretend to have been too adversely affected by the disaster, as my home was on the 17th floor, but waking up one morning to find Phahon Yothin Road looking more like the Phahon Yothin River was a startling sight.

I managed to make it out before the water hit its 1.3-metre-deep apex, and stayed in a hotel for a couple of weeks. When I returned, I found I was no longer alone, but greeted by hundreds of squatters – cockroaches that had moved in, possibly as a result of all that water and definitely attracted by the food that had spoiled in my fridge during a presumably days-long power cut.

That is all part of the tapestry of life in a tropical country with unstable politics. There’s been more. Yellow Shirt protests. The “Bangkok Shutdown”. A coup. A recent bomb. More personal concerns, whether romantic, work-related or health (all since resolved). But there’s always been my comfortable bed, my fast internet connection, the swimming pool, affordable rent, and probably the best landlady in the world.

After my fiancée left, I informed my landlady that her two tenants had become one. When I got home from work, there was a 24-pack of beer on my doorstep. A twenty-four pack! If that in itself was not worthy of the title of Best Landlady Ever, she renegotiated my rent as I couldn’t afford to continue paying the original rate on my own. She agreed to a very handsome discount and never once asked for more. On top of that, any repair requests were swiftly seen to, and I would periodically come to find gifts waiting for me, such as snacks, water or beers. Now that’s how to keep a tenant sweet!

With Fai, and the Elephant in the background

With Fai, and the Elephant in the background

Part of me would have liked to stay there indefinitely. It was everything I needed and a great deal, and I felt thoroughly attached to the place. But time doesn’t stand still, and nor should relationships, so the time came for me to again to plan a future with a woman.

I’ve been with Fai for more than two years and our relationship has been consistently excellent. I have no doubt she will be an excellent flatmate – and more. As much as I love my own company, my nights in watching fights with a bunch of beers (especially when they’re donated by my landlady!), and more than anything having a place that’s been safe, secure, and “mine”, I know there are greater rewards to be had as I start once more to share my life with someone else.

Our new place is bigger, with even better common facilities, and only costs a wee bit more. The only drawback? I will no longer be able to tell people I live in an elephant’s leg! But the blog will live on, with the same name.


2 Comments so far
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A great new move! You are so fortunate to have each other. Wishing you all the best in your new journey together. With love Jennifer xx

Comment by Jenny

[…] leaving the place in which I had lived for the longest consecutive time since childhood – the Elephant Tower, after which this blog is named. Nevertheless, the move has been good, as we now live in a bigger […]

Pingback by 2015: BOXING RINGS, ENGAGEMENT RINGS, TRAVEL AND TRAGEDY | Elephant's Leg




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