We Westerners sure love our space. And we adore privacy. We put a fence up around our homes and stick signs up to say KEEP OUT. At hotels, we have the option of letting everyone know that we do not want to be disturbed. Even on SKYPE, you can select a status of “do not disturb” which, frankly I wonder why someone wouldn’t just log off, but that’s a story for another day.
We value our personal space and privacy. As much experience as I’ve had and as much traveling as I’ve done, I still value it, too. But this is not the case in Vietnam.
As soon as I moved into my apartment, I noticed that while I was away at work, people, someone, who knows who, had been in my apartment while I was at work. I would return to opened curtains, new paintings hung on the wall, or a note left on my coffee table telling me that the internet was working. At first, I tried not to get upset, because I realized that they were simply trying to check on things and spruce the place up.
After the dust settled, though, I told the manager that no one needed to enter the apartment any longer, that I didn’t want strange people going inside. And me being me, I’d booby trap the place before I left in the morning so I would know exactly if someone had entered and where in the apartment they had been.
One day as I left for work, I was told that a maid would start coming to clean my house and that she would start that day. I thanked our receptionist but politely declined the service. I didn’t tell them I would use only someone I know and trust. When I came home that night, I knew someone had been in my house, but not a maid. I called the manager and expressed my displeasure. He assured me it wouldn’t happen again.
But it did happen again, not long after that and I had to have a face-to-face meeting with him to let him know exactly why it was unacceptable for someone I don’t know to go into my apartment when I am not there and when there is no appointment. He agreed that only by appointment or if I was home would his security or maintenance staff enter. I told him that if an unwelcome entry happened again, I would change the locks.
So everyday for a few weeks, I maintained my simple booby trap and would come home quite pleased that no one had been inside. That was until the Friday before I left for Berlin. The little piece of black paper was not in the door jam. I looked up and down and could not see it. My heart started to race as I put my key in my door and opened it. I could see the little piece of paper in the middle of the hallway. Someone had been inside.
I looked around everywhere, checked all my belongings, checked everything and then sat down on the couch and tried not to get angry. I wasn’t sure why someone had been inside, maybe something happened and there was a legitimate reason. But it felt SO VERY WRONG. I felt invaded, taken advantage of, all sorts of other horrible emotions. I mean – who came in? What did they do? What did they look through? Did they sit on my couch, watch a little TV? Before I got too worked up, I called Mr. Thien, the manager and asked him who had entered my apartment and why.
He responded that the security guard had entered the apartment because he needed to water the plants (I have a window box and a palm on my balcony). I explained that I water the plants every weekend and that in addition, the weather had been wet and rainy the entire week, so there was no need to water the plants. “Oh, I see,” was the quiet response. No apologies, no additional excuses. I asked him if the security guard had an appointment. “No.” I asked him if I was home when the security guard entered. “No.” So I reminded him of our agreement and he left me with, “It won’t happen again.”
You bet your sweet ass it won’t!
I had the locks changed. And I can’t even tell you the peace of mind it provides to know that no one can enter my home except me. I can’t wait for the phone call from Mr. Thien where he says, “Shanna, our security guard tried to enter your apartment today, but maybe you changed the lock.” And this will actually happen. And when it does, I’ll let you know!
On the Bright Side,