Friday, February 8, 2013

Our Cambodian Villa

Almost a year and a half ago, we first saw the villa that would be our home during our time in Cambodia. Before even seeing it, I was excited—I’d heard that the embassy here leases huge houses, because the smaller ones don’t meet our security needs. I’d heard stories of singles living in beautiful homes that dwarf our three-bedroom Egyptian apartment.

The stories were true.

Our first glimpse of our new home—once we got past the forbidding, barbed-wire topped wall with the gates that can be opened only from the inside*—was of a lovely villa with a large porch and a small garden (or yard, as we’d call it in the States, though “garden” is more accurate, since it contains crabapple, mango, and other fruit trees). The welcoming patio set in the tiled driveway more than made up for the huge generator and the small guard shack. Despite my expectations, the house looked bigger, grander, and lovelier than I had imagined.

 The inside of the house continued the initial impression of a huge, beautiful, rather formal home. High ceilings, arched doorways, and gorgeous crown molding contribute to the formal feel of the place, and multiple chandeliers and large windows ensure plenty of light. The place is huge, even the kitchen, in a land in which kitchens often are tiny cubbyholes that feel more like closets than “real” rooms. Although readily-accessible storage space is limited (the “walk-in closets” hold about the same amount of clothing as the not-walk-in closet of my childhood), we quickly learned that there’s an attic with almost as much floor space as the rest of the house, so there’s plenty of room for seasonal or seldom-used storage.

Stacks of boxes--one reason this post was delayed

 I immediately decided that I would write a blog post about this enchanting new home of ours. And then I decided to wait until after we had the walls painted … then after our stuff arrived so it would be all decorated and homey in the pictures … then after we got most of said stuff put away so you could see something other than stacks of boxes … then after we had the pictures hung on the walls … then after we had the playroom fully set up with our new toy storage, wall decorations, and carpet … you get the idea. I satisfied myself (and my family) in the meantime with pictures that I could just throw up on Facebook, so I never felt any real urgency to get that blog post written. But now, as we’re preparing to leave in just ten weeks or so, the urgency is back—I want this post to be included in the blog book that I’ll have printed after we depart. So, now—finally!—I’m blogging about this enchanting “new” home of ours.

As you enter our home, you’re greeted by the sight of a large foyer area, which is divided by an arched entryway with open shelving on each side. To your right is the living room. When we arrived, this area was set up as a formal seating area, with no television or other media. We realized we would not use it that way, so we turned it into a more traditional American living room—with the television as the focal point. The natural light in this room is so wonderfully bright that we ended up having blackout curtains made, so that we could make the room dark enough to be a proper home theater. Now it gets practically cave-like when we draw the curtains at night, and very gloomy-looking if we draw them during the day. 

Through the arched entry, you enter the second half of the open foyer area. To your right is the dining room, which we use mostly as a large office. When people come over, we move the laptops to the chest that houses the router and other computer equipment, bring out the tablecloth, and just assume that people will be polite and ignore the computer paraphernalia in the corners. The more traditional office is across from the dining room, where a pretty little seating area had been set up when we arrived—we moved the desk there from the third bedroom, believing we’d use it there … we’ve ended up using the dining room table instead, though.

From the dining room-foyer, you have a choice: you can continue straight into the rest of the main living area, or you can turn left. If you turn left, you’ll pass a half-bath before entering the laundry room and turning right into the huge kitchen. I have enjoyed this kitchen. It isn’t as pretty or modern as my kitchen in Egypt was—no dishwasher—but there are lots of cabinets and drawers, especially with the extra utility shelving provided by the embassy. And we enjoy the casual dining set in there each morning for breakfast.

If you continue straight from the dining room-foyer, you enter the playroom. When we arrived, this room was the family room, set up for television viewing. It worked well in that there are no windows, but it worked poorly in that it’s nestled right between the three bedrooms—a key consideration when the toddler has an 8pm bedtime. So we had baby gates made to enable us to contain Alexa in there as necessary (and to allow us to leave the door to the third bedroom open for the cats to access their litter box and water without concern over whether Alexa would access it as well), and we converted it into a playroom. There’s still a small TV viewing area, mostly used by Alexa to watch Curious George and other cartoons, but there’s also a reading corner, and the bulk of the room is toy storage and open play area, with soft mats and carpeting on the hard tile floor. I’m particularly proud of the whimsical elements in this room—the butterfly mobile in the corner, the colorful tapestries, and the silk geckos on the wall (though the geckos were Jeff’s idea).

Off the playroom is the third bedroom, affectionately referred to as the “cat room.” It houses the litter box in its attached bathroom, a lot of Kleenex and other consumables in its closet, and the cats’ water fountains in the bedroom proper. It also houses our workout equipment, and on the one occasion when we’ve had overnight guests, we’ve moved the cat stuff out and the inflatable mattress in, converting it to a passable guest bedroom.

A short hallway opens up off the back of the playroom. The hall houses another utility shelf, transformed into something rather pretty by the addition of draped fabric to hide its contents (more consumable goods). The doors to Alexa’s room and our room also are off the hall. Alexa’s room is a small cave-like room. It gets relatively bright if the curtains are open, but we rarely bother to open them, since we’re not in there during the day. There’s just enough room for Alexa’s nursery furniture and the doors to her closet and bathroom.

Our room, on the other hand, is huge. It’s big enough that when we emptied Alexa’s room of the embassy furniture, we moved the two dressers into our room rather than having them taken back to the warehouse. In our room, we experimented by painting not only the walls, but the ceiling. The light grayish-blue provides a relaxing atmosphere—and they make the crown molding pop. Our bathroom also is large, especially when compared to the other bathrooms, which are functional but small. Our bathroom has the only tub in the house, which caused me much consternation at first, though we adapted just fine.

One of our Cambodian treasures

Overall, I have little reason to complain about this house. The closets could stand to be larger, and I’d love to have a tub in Alexa’s bathroom, but those are very minor complaints. This house is much larger and nicer than anything we’re likely to buy or rent in the United States. I’m pretty sure that at least six rural Cambodian families could live here quite happily with the addition of one shower head and drain in the half bath, two walls to close off the living and dining rooms, and two doors to close off the playroom. When you add in the fact that every major room has its own independently adjustable air conditioner, I’m certain that this place would be a wonderland for most of the world’s population.

As for me, I still look around in awe sometimes at this beautiful villa that we call home.

Egyptian treasures, transplanted to Cambodia

*When we first arrived, I anxiously asked Jeff how we were supposed to let ourselves in to our own home—it really bothered me that someone else would be controlling our access. He had to remind me that because we have a guard on duty 24 hours a day, access wouldn’t be a problem for us … and it really isn’t any different from our time in Egypt, when the guards had to open the gate to our apartment building. Now it once again feels normal to ring my own doorbell, wait for the guard to open the gate, and then make my way to my front door.

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