mae gnat house boat chiang mai

Reflecting on the windows I’ve known and loved

“Desirable views have a hint of mystery. We like to understand and enjoy what is happening around us, and to imagine that if we traveled from where we are into the unknown we would meet with pleasant surprises…” – Psychology Today

When we first arrived back to Thailand, the skies were muddy and grey. They didn’t possess white bright clouds that you wished you were rolling around in. This was late January.

As I stared up I started to miss the pristine skies of Hawaii. I found myself regularly watching it like you would a garden you want to grow or like a nosy neighbor.

Then when we made the decision to settle down in Chiang Rai, we were fortunate enough to have an apartment waiting for us that boasted good views. Not spectacular or amazing views, but third floor views that allowed us to see the distant mountains, bridges, rooftops, and trees from a few vantage points.

I took windows for granted as a child growing up in America. In Hawaii it’s common to have horizontal slatted windows. Although in the Continental US, windows seemed more like the ones you used to draw as a kid with the cross in the center. Later I learned when the missionaries came to Hawaii they built small windows to keep the heat in like they did back in their cold climate homes.

When I moved to SE Asia though, I discovered that windows had bars as a protective measure against thieves. This certainly changes your view. For me it challenged all that grade school training on fire drills and escaping from a burning family home.

jetty house in georgetown penang
Jetty house on the water, Georgetown, Penang, 2016

Windows also are harder to clean when there are bars across it. Some windows didn’t have screens either, and for a tropical climate, the idea of not being able to let fresh air in without all the dengue-carrying mosquitoes frustrated me. I’m a practical gal.

I never liked windows though. I mean, yes, of course, I love a view, but I always found windows to be distracting! It’s nice to look out windows at school. That’s me! I’d exclaim whenever I saw a child daydreaming with their eyes to the sky.

Work was worst. I avoided them. Big offices with bigger windows looked great, but were a kind of personal nightmare for a creative person like me. If you want me to work, you better keep me away from a window with a view.

An old view from the back or side of my house. [Chiang Rai, Thailand, 2014]
At one office job in Portland Oregon, I worked with a team of administrative assistants in a cube farm. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Then my boss wanted to move me closer to her in a corner, away from my colleagues and with a window view. I fought it for as long as I could, knowing that this spot would be the death of happiness and productivity for me.

And as I sat there, I learned to watch the cat across the street, and leaned into the loneliness. I understood why Mary, who sat next to me, got up frequently from her desk to socialize and talk on the phone with her boyfriend. Or why Brian listened to podcasts and music in his own tiny space. I always found it peculiar the wedding photo he chose to have at his desk; his wife and him are slow dancing, possibly it’s the first at the reception. It shows his wife looking over his shoulder and her eyes are wide with a strange expression of either fright or astonishment – or both.

Now of course, I do like to look out of windows while traveling. But not so much when I’m flying. I get quite sick when flying and looking out the window does not ease the discomfort. But on a train or a road trip, I can’t imagine how else you’d let go of the time. There’s something romantic, soothing,and maybe even exciting about looking out windows then.

Before take-off and before needing an air sickness bag…[Oahu, Hawaii, 2005]
But now the skies are bright blue with the occasional rain storm. I watch the cats across the street navigate the roof tops. Two of them meet there in the mornings before the roof gets too hot. The other day, the black one lay in the groove of the roof with its paw hanging over as if to say, “It was a rough one last night”. His spotted friend was next to him lounging Cleopatra-style.

The birds tell a different story. Their claws make scratching noises at one window; at another, they hangout on the wires. And unlike the cats, they are quite talkative. It’s another world up here.

I remember visiting a friend’s apartment on the 20th floor and was astonished to see that they did not have windows in the main living area. The picture perfect living room gave way to the dining room and then an open balcony.

“This is amazing! But aren’t you worried about mosquitoes?”

“Nah, they can’t fly this high. We don’t have a problem with bugs.”

“Wow. That’s awesome.”

“Yeah, but the birds, now that’s another story,” she pointed to the rubber snake near the light.

“Our friend keeps them away.”

When I look out one window, I often see planes flying by. It reminds me of childhood when I looked up and wished I was on that plane. Or when I wondered where they were going. Now, I can tell that they are heading to the airport or leaving. It still captures my imagination though.

My first attempt at poetry was “Looking Out my Window” when I lived in Barstow, California. I was most likely 13 or 14. Funnily, it wasn’t much of a view, just the empty backyard and wooden fence, but it was enough for me. I don’t know what it is about looking out windows that inspire us to write songs, poetry, and words that attempt to capture the feeling of dreaming, reflecting, or contemplating.

Fancy wall [Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2014]
When I visited a friend’s apartment in New York City after college graduation, I was shocked that her only window looked out at a brick wall. Psychologically, I wondered at the implications of having no view. This was until I moved into apartments in Chiang Mai where my first few places had horrible views. Our first apartment looked out at squatters in their ramshackle homes, living illegally behind the building. My partner at the time told me he watched in shock a little girl defecate near the apartment. Our other window didn’t offer anything better, a huge electrical transformer.

One of the places I lived at was so close to the apartment next to us that I listened to a retired foreign man speak incessantly to himself. Presumably drunk, he cursed the ants in his microwave on a daily basis, presumably sober he called his bank long distance to complain about his money. One time he was too drunk to get up and wailed and moaned loudly his voice creating an echo between the two buildings. I didn’t last long at that place.

Chiang Mai studio kitchen space
My first apt as a single woman back from Ecuador to Thailand in 2009. Typical Thai apt with no kitchen, just a studio.

These were early years in my expat journey when I didn’t know any better. My friend Nali did though. When I was helping her look for a place to live I asked her what she was looking for – and she simply said, “A view”. As we drove through the tiny streets of Chiang Mai, and checked out available rooms, I got to see what her qualifications really meant. The place she ended up choosing was not anything special and her window was small, but it did provide a view out at a desk, and that was good enough for her.

Recently, I’ve been watching the sky for rain. When the 13 boys were trapped in a nearby cave, I felt the sweltering humidity, but I didn’t want it to rain. Nobody did. But these days, my view does provide a look at imminent weather, and the possibilities on the horizon.

 

How important is a view to you?

18 thoughts on “Reflecting on the windows I’ve known and loved

  1. Lani!!!

    After following you for so long, I guess I never really thought about what your voice sounded like. I have to say that I love your speaking voice. You have an NPR style voice with a bit more personality than most. Hey, if that teaching gig doesn’t pan out for you, there is always broadcasting.:) Now on to your question…….

    For me a view is almost everything. The apartments in Seattle, back in the 1990’s were out of this world. Our last place was a corner unit with almost floor to ceiling windows. Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Queen Anne Hill and all of nearby downtown was our wallpaper. It was truly spectacular. Our little piece of view heaven is well over $2,000 a month nowadays. No garage, no parking place is included in the rent.

    We have been considering moving to far eastern Europe/west Asia. We have been searching online for only new construction high-rise apartments/condos. We have set the 5th floor as the absolute lowest floor; above that the sky is the limit. We have been pleasantly shocked at what we can find, fully furnished in our price range.

    You know, as a child I had exactly the same reaction to airplanes. I still do. If I hear a plane I instinctively look up and around and wonder what kind of plane it is and where it is going or where it came from.

    Guy.

    PS: I am the biggest baby you would never like travel with if I can’t have the window seat, As long as I have the window seat, I am a true joy to be with. LOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. Thanks. My good speaking voice is one of the reasons why I recorded my first book, and why I’ll record my second one, too.

      Although now that I’ve been doing this for awhile I find myself getting more critical of it – but for self-improvement reasons. I’d like to record standing if I could b/c I think I would sound better.

      Yes, I have seen some AUH-MAZING views from apt around the world. My friend got a great job in Bangkok and when we went up to their swanky apt, it was magical. In Ecuador, a colleague of mine got this wrap-around views dream of a place for FREE. Her friend just let her use it. So I can imagine!

      Just keep in mind a couple of things: the top floor apts will be the hottest in a tropical or hot climate – and make sure you find a place that is well-maintained. Greedy ppl like to pocket the maintenance fees and I’ve seen a couple of places nose-dive here in Thailand.

      Good luck! xxoo

      PS: You can have the window seat with me. I’m very happy to passenger watch 😉

      Like

  2. Very well interpreted of window and what it means to have a view. I have been thinking about this lately, about windows at home and in the office. Growing up, my parents were always keen on getting an apartment with a view – and I wondered why is it so important to have a view. For most of my life I was raised with bars across windows. Like how you described it, the bars (which came with locks at the many houses I lived in Malaysia and Singapore) were to keep out thieves. Even one of the high rise apartments I lived in in Singapore had bars or what you may called grills over them.

    I do think it comes down to personal preference on whether we like windows or not. Although I like sunlight, I really don’t mind having no windows. I’ve worked in offices with no windows and don’t find it all that different from offices with windows in terms of lighting. I do like my own space a lot and like that space private; sitting by the window at work sometimes makes me feel exposed, especially if it’s in like one of those big offices that overlooks another building with people walking past all day and the people outside look in and stare at you. Like you, I do find I focus better if I am not seated right next to a window. If I want to enjoy the world that is outside, I would much rather do my work, go out and enjoy it.

    When it comes to my home, I do like any view that isn’t obstructed up close by another building, so close that other people can look in. Not one to live on a high rise floor in a high rise apartment has heights make me dizzy 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did some research on views/windows after I had written the article, and there are psychological benefits to having a nice view. It makes sense.

      I have found that this space is much more pleasant as a result. And I also like to stand up – get away from the computer, you know – and look out to give my eyes a rest and ‘challenge’ them by looking far off after looking at the screen for a while.

      Yes, you’ve brought up good points about not wanting to be too close to others. That lack of privacy or exposed feeling isn’t good either – unless you like that! 😛

      Thanks for always following along Mabel!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love a good view, Lani, but to get work done, like you, I need to sit with my back to the view. Hence my desk in our apartment faces away from the floor-to-ceiling windows in our living space. We have lovely views from the 8th floor, which include mangroves and water, and unfortunately the, what feels like never-ending building sites. But I see the sunrise from our bedroom and living room window, and that is quite special.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had great views from one of my apts in Chiang Mai from my bedroom. It was nice to lie on my bed and look out. I wasn’t even on a very high floor, but it was just enough.

      It’s nice to know I’m not the only one that needs to avoid windows to get some work done! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. It’s not too often that I’m descriptive. But I felt like capturing the surroundings because I do appreciate them so!

      Like

  4. I also live in a place with bars on the windows but no screens. It took a while to get used to and now I find window screens to be a tremendous luxury. Lots of times the window bars are bent into pleasing shapes with curves and curlicues, which makes them more tolerable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, good point. There has been attempts to make the bars look nice and ornate. We don’t have bars on our windows because we are not on the ground floor, but the ones that we do have are stylized, if that makes sense.

      Hahahha. Yes, screens are a luxury. I find myself looking out for them now.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Word. So when I lived in Korea, I had no windows. I mean, I did, but it was this strange configuration where I had a kind of balcony that was accessed through a frosted sliding door (most small apartments have a tiny balcony for washing machines and the like). On the balcony itself were also windows, but they were entirely frosted, so there was no view available, and though they opened, it was horizontally outward at a shallow angle, so if I wanted to look at something, I had to lean on the sill and look down. I remember doing just that many times; when it rained, when it snowed, when I heard kids playing at the school near us…it was a little sad, to lean awkwardly at an angle with a cup of coffee and try to enjoy a view.

    I desperately wanted a view. I remember physically craving a view of nature, so much so that when I would visit home in Texas, with our big windows and modest amount of trees, it would be a literal breath of fresh air.

    It’s interesting to me that you would actually avoid windows due the distraction. I guess I’m the same way, but I need that distraction, or I’ll go crazy. I’m a bit claustrophobic though so that might be why.

    Great post. I hadn’t ever really given thought to the impact windows have on our worlds, but they do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha. I don’t need another distraction because I’m the kind of person who gets up frequently (because I don’t like sitting down in front of a computer). I also will have several tabs open at once which is not really a good habit for focusing and getting things done. I’m trying to figure out a better way because multi-tasking is said to be inefficient.

      It IS really nice to have views after living in places that didn’t have them. There’s something therapeutic about looking at the sky.

      I can imagine what you describe in Korea, and how that would be frustrating. Frosted glass should be for showers, right? 🙂

      Thanks for the love!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the Psychology Today quote about imagining traveling from where we are into the unknown where we will have a pleasant surprise. One window in my house looks out on a very small path leading between two houses. You can’t see the end of the path, so I like the feeling of mystery it presents and the sense of something that lies ahead.

    I Western Washington, as you probably know, a good view of mountains and water can double the price of your house. I don’t covet one of those houses. I’d rather be surprised on a walk or drive to turn a corner to see a spectacular view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Views are valuable! It’s like those high-rise apartments who command a good price for a view. Interestingly, they have carved a chunk of the mountain in Chiang Mai, so for those who had that mt view, well, sorry folks, part of its gone.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a creative choice of the topic, Lani!

    For all the different workplaces I’ve worked in, I’ve never asked for window view from my desk. Like you, I’m more productive not looking out the window near my desk. I did have some offices with a window view that I faced. After awhile, it became wallpaper, I didn’t “see” the weather. I just worked.

    As a teenager growing up my bedroom window had a lovely view of our maple tree growing right in front of it. In fall, it turned yellow, suffusing my room with perpetual glow. I dream about that now. Right now, my desk/computer face a wall and behind me, a terrific view of a rising forested bluff in heart of city. Just perfect for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I see great minds think alike. It’s always nice to be able to get up and look out a window. You can get away from sitting down and the desk and let your eyes adjust to the distance. I like that best.

      Of course, a nice view can be inspiring, but I think I’d rather have that when I’m reading in a nice chair or cozy sofa. Or even a bedroom. I had a lovely window in one of my bedroom apt’s – all sky.

      A maple tree! Those are amazing. Which actually reminds me, have you ever read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the little girl looking out her window and seeing this great tree is what reminded me of it. Great book, btw. 🙂

      Like

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