Apartment Therapy for Expats: An Introduction

It all started with a ten-pound statue of a Balinese dancer. You’ve seen her before. She looks like this…

As it turns out, there were two statues but, as usual, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

There are tens of thousands of expat teachers working in international schools and ESL institutes the world over. DP and I went the conventional route – by becoming certified teachers in Canada – but many good international teachers don’t. Regardless of how we came to this work or what kind of school we work at, most of us share similar housing issues. We are faced with the (sometimes Herculean) task of finding accommodations in strange cities in languages that are not our own… and then we need to figure out how to pay the rent and utilities.

And how to decorate.

Many of our apartments come furnished with Ikea furniture and mismatched odds and ends from the owner’s family home. You can bet that these pieces almost never match and you would also be correct in guessing that most owners have not given the idea of “home decor” a moment’s thought. The furniture also tends to be of the cheapest possible quality. Although I have always lived in “furnished” apartments, I have bought a new bed in each of the four countries I have lived as a teacher/counselor: Colombia, Mexico, Spain and Thailand.

Regardless of the challenges of mismatched furniture, and the mind-spinney fact that I have lived in eight apartments and houses on three continents over the past eleven years, I still have a deep need to make the place we live into a home. I feel passionately about this. We’re not university students anymore; posters are not going to cut it in terms of home decor.

So, about the Balinese dancer(s)… shortly after school began, we finally got into our Bangkok apartment and our friend Jenny took us to Chatuchak Market (also known locally as JJs). We were looking for some dishes and for a desk for DP who had just started his Masters so we started our exploration in the furniture section. As we walked, I was distracted by a lovely statue of a Balinese dancer… or perhaps she’s a Thai dancer; I have no way of being sure. I stopped and admired her for a moment (and I could tell that the feeling was mutual) before we veered off to another section of the market.

A little later that morning, I spotted a painting that looked like this:

I stood in front of this painting and then I stared at this painting and then I fell in love with this painting. Hard. Oblivious to my rapturous state, Jenny and DP set off in search of juice glasses. We finished our errands and, laden down with bags filled with kitchen stuff, we caught a taxi home.

I woke up the following morning, a Sunday, and said to DP, “I’ve been thinking about that painting of the Chinese babies.”

“Yes?” (This is the most tentative “yes” you have ever heard. There was definitely fear in this “yes.”)

“And about the Balinese dancer.”


DP then proved his deep and abiding love for me; he got out of bed and went back to the market. (This was a brilliant strategy on his part. If I had gone with him I would have, undoubtedly, discovered any number of lovely new treasures and our quick trip to JJs would have turned into a half-day excursion.) About 30 minutes later he called my cell phone. “What are you willing to spend on the painting?”

“What is she asking?” (Of course I was thinking that I was prepared to spend whatever she was asking but I know that’s not a savvy bargaining ploy.) I gave him a number and he said he’d call me back.

A few minutes later the phone rang again. “She is one tough woman,” he said. “She’s not budging.”


“Really?” he asked.

“Yup. Fine fine.”

“Okay, then.”

A slightly later call revealed that the Balinese dancer was part of a pair and the vendor was not willing to separate them. (Smart, right?)

“Fine.” I said. It was another decision. Fine fine.

An hour later DP arrived home with a painting of several crying babies and two Balinese dancer statues – all of which were larger than they had seemed at the market. We placed one of the not-so-tiny dancers at the front door and her twin resides in our room. (Actually, in a stroke of genius, I assigned her the important job of holding up my necklaces with her fantastic posed hands.) We hung the painting of the Chinese babies on the wall across from my bed so that I can admire them and remember what a great guy DP is.

And that’s what started us on the journey to make this Bangkok apartment a home.

For more Friday photos, please visit Deb Dubrow’s blog, Delicious Baby.

Stay tuned for more home decor stories here at Monna McD.


  1. @Sarah V.So glad you dropped by… and right at the beginning of this fun little series about our Bangkok apartment! Please come back whenever you'd like!@wandermomMe too. Loving it sort of sneaks up on you, doesn't it?@DominiqueDP and I met almost 15 years ago. And you are right – he knows me VERY well!@Heather on her travelsThe babies don't make me broody at all. They make me laugh right out loud, actually. I have a theory that they are all images of Mao Zedong. Besides, how could Sarah V. and Dominique and I all be wrong about them?

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