Sunday, June 12, 2011

Setting Up a Flat in Kathmandu

Last week I left off with a loose guide, based on our personal experience, on how to find an apartment in Kathmandu. Sure, we celebrated about finally finding a place that ticked nearly every box in terms of location, size, and views, but we knew that our work was not done: we still had to furnish it.

Our apartment came unfurnished (except for a refrigerator and two-burner gas cooktop), and after looking at both furnished and unfurnished options, we considered its blank slate a blessing, even if it meant more work. The rent for our unfurnished flat is correspondingly lower, allowing us to put that spread to good use and choose furnishings that fit our taste.

Over the last two weeks, which we spent learning what it actually takes to set up a flat in Kathmandu, we periodically questioned our decision (and sanity) to go with an unfurnished apartment. Now that we are more settled in -- with, you know, potable water, gas, and internet -- we are thrilled with the results. Our apartment is still very much a work in progress, but we wanted to share with you the ongoing process to make it our home.

The Basics: Gas, Water, French Press, Internet, and Electricity (In that Order)

For the first couple of days in our new flat, we relied on bottled water for drinking, restaurants for eating, our phones for email checking, and a decreased load-shedding schedule for appliance powering. Therefore, our big priorities were to get water jugs, a gas cylinder, internet, and an inverter.

Gas was the easiest. Scattered all over the city are little corner stores selling gas cylinders, so we stopped by the store closest to our apartment. We paid a deposit for the cylinder and for the gas itself, and then the gas guy (there is a guy for everything in Kathmandu) latched the heavy cylinder to his bicycle and followed us back to our apartment, where he personally installed it. Now we were cookin'!

Except for the fact that we did not yet have potable water in our kitchen.

Fortunately, the water jugs themselves were also easy to solve. Our landlord made a call and had his water guy haul up three jugs of water to our fourth-floor flat. Like with the cylinders, we paid a deposit for the jugs and for the water itself. We like to keep at least two extra jugs on our terrace in case of emergencies. Somehow the water guy always knows when to deliver more water. While we are pretty sure that our landlord tips him off, we like to think that he is just that good of a water guy.

Finding a water dispenser was a bit more challenging. Salespeople on the first floor of Bhat Bhateni (Kathmandu's large supermarket/department store that is a six-minute walk from our house) sent us to the second floor; salespeople on the second floor sent us to the first floor. Eventually we obtained a dispenser from our gas guy (now also known as our water dispenser guy). We finally had water that we could drink! Or more importantly, use to make coffee.

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Note: we have not taken in any stray pets; the purpose of the water dish is to catch stray water

Except that we did not have a French press. After multiple frustrating and fruitless inquiries at the nearby Bhat Bhateni, we ventured on a long walk through winding streets to the new Bhat Bhateni, located on the Ring Road.

This store blew our minds. Maybe this is more telling of how long we have been away from the U.S. than of the new Bhat Bhateni's caliber, but humor us, will you? The aisles were wide, the stock was organized, and there was a French press calling our name!

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Now with a caffeine machine, we could really get things done. Like tackle internet installation. We decided to use Nepal Telecom (NTC) because we had heard good reviews of its service, and our landlord also uses NTC. Because you must show a citizenship card to register for internet service, our landlord helped us with that part. We were tasked with buying a wireless router, which we purchased in the city's computer store cluster, Putalisadak. Next, I brought the router to NTC's office in nearby Naxal, where the router was connected to our account. Finally, our landlord helped us install the router by connecting it to his phone line. Even though the process was somewhat confusing every step of the way, it was not too difficult. And the good news is that NTC is -- so far -- a great service provider. Can we stream video, you ask? Hah! No! We feel entirely spoiled because our internet no longer cuts out every 5-10 minutes like it did in our former home. Our internet expectations are so low at this point that simply having uninterrupted service makes us positively giddy.

The last item to make our home functional on a basic level was an inverter, which charges when the electricity is on and then allows you to power a certain wattage load when the electricity is off. For the first few days in our apartment we were blessed with nearly continuous electricity, thanks to a reduced load-shedding schedule in the summer months. Then, on our third night in our new home, the power cut off as soon as it grew dark. We scrambled for our flashlights and started watching a movie on a laptop -- until that died too. Not wanting to repeat such an evening, and knowing that we would eventually have to purchase an inverter when load-shedding resumed in full force, we bit the bullet and returned to Putalisadak -- also a hub for inverter stores -- to buy an inverter. This set-up can power our laptops, the wireless internet router, a 15-watt fluorescent bulb in each room, and a fan (a summertime essential).

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With the basics out of the way, we could then turn to the more fun stuff -- furniture and decorating. Stay tuned for photos and stories.

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