The curse of the upstairs neighbour

I’ve had the (mis)fortune of living in an eclectic range of places over the past 30+ years.

I remember distinctly the room I rented in Antigonish that was lousy with fleas. I would lay in bed at night and watch the fleas bounce off the blanket, but being a poor student and new to Antigonish, I had no where else to go. Apparently before I arrived, the room I was renting was the family dogs favorite place to sleep. Somehow they seemed offended when I no longer wanted to live there and later moved in with my now wife. I guess I have that dogs fleas to thank for a long and happy relationship. Sheryl’s apartment was pretty special too, featuring a shower head directly above the toilet. Such convenience!

The 10 years in Toronto were largely uneventful, other than the wide range of characters I lived with and the extreme noise from the St. Clair Ave Street Cars. There was the house in Malton that was condemned and I was forced to move out. There was the room I rented in Scarborough from a very bitter, and constantly drunk landlord, and her equally drunk daughter. I remember renting a couch, yes a couch was all I could afford, in one town house, and the guy who broke in through the living room window only to be met by 6 large college students. He sure could run.

My 20 years in Taiwan understandably brought a wide range of experiences. Our landlady in Taipei didn’t like my wife as much as me because my chopstick technique was better than hers. She always shared sweets with me first and then seemingly reluctantly offered them to Sheryl. Our first apartment in Hsinchu suffered from water pressure and large cockroach problems. Turn on the shower tap and dust came out. Eventually I worked out a system of periodically running out of the shower to the kitchen to turn on the hot water, thereby gaining a comfortable flow of hot water. Also, I was introduced to “those people” who train pigeons with fireworks, fireworks that used to explode outside our bedroom window on Saturday mornings. This apartment on Minzu Rd. also had the distinction of being where we experienced the 921 earthquake, the sound of which I will never forget.

Our next house in Hsinchu was an old 3 story alley house, which was nice except for the electrical wires which I melted due to my desire to have the computer and lights on at the same time. Once after a particularly heavy rainfall the drains on the roof became plugged and we had this pretty waterfall pouring down the 3 floors of the house. The hazardous waste that would flow in the drainage channel at the back of our house was becoming a concern, considering we had a new born to look after, thus we moved again.

That brought us to an even larger house in the wilds of Xiangshan. 5 stories of space which necessitated the purchase of an equal number of sofas and matching chairs. Lovely area, perfect for our growing family of 2 kids and 2 dogs, replete with parks and train station nearby, but oddly for Taiwan, no convenience stores in sight. We seemingly had no problems, nor much to complain about, except the previous waterfall was now in our basement bathroom, and the abundance of large wolf spiders that would keep smaller creatures to a minimum. Then we noticed the mold. Taiwan is sometimes lovingly called the big mold, and walls often have to be treated and painted many times to keep it in check. You don’t leave leather laying around and purchasing dehumidifiers is recommended. But this was different – large fuzzy and often mushroom like growth. Our kids developed problems, especially our son, perhaps it was allergies, so we left the “sick house” for the hustle of the Science Park.

After sealing all the windows to keep out the poison air and replacing the institutional beige walls with yellow, red and grey we settled into our much smaller apartment a short walk from all the conveniences that we could require. It was interesting and depressing at the same time to live at the epicentre of much of the global 3C supply chain. Despite these apartments being in demand, for a couple years no one lived above us, and luckily no one has ever lived below us (otherwise we would have been their nightmare neighbour). The first neighbour living above would serenade his partner to sleep every night with his ukulele, nice if he could play. The second neighbour wasn’t in the building often but when she was, she would take to vacuuming and cleaning after 10pm. It was the only time we knew she existed, I assumed she worked in China or elsewhere, and just used the apartment when she was required to be in Hsinchu. The next and most recent neighbour would come home late every night, about 10pm or so, with their toddler, who being a toddler needed to spend 30 minutes jumping up and down before settling down at night. And they constantly dropped heavy things, how or what was a source of constant mystery. There is something about that unique sharp sound that caused my anxiety to rise. A full nights sleep was rare.

We are early risers. The kids need to get to school early and I have to run before the heat of the day. To get a good nights sleep we need to be asleep long before 10, 5am comes quickly.

Living in China was the same but different. I lived in the managers accommodation, a modern newly built building where I had a large 2 bedroom apartment to myself, luxurious. I would send pictures to my wife teasing her about how great the company provided apartment was compared to what was provided to us in Taiwan. Outside the building was immaculate with an army of workers keeping the environment pristine. But, as luck would have it I had an upstairs neighbour who worked the afternoon shift which would bring her home at about 10 to 10:30 each evening. I can still here the reverberations of her high heel shoes as she stamped across the floor, and the arguments she had with her boyfriend on her mobile phone. As a manager I set my own hours, so could sleep in if I liked, but unfortunately this construction noise (another example) started at sunrise every morning except Sunday. I considered the high heels and the construction noise a form of mental torture.

I’ve never rented in Charlottetown and one of the conditions for us to return here was I never wanted to step foot in an apartment building. Buy or rent a house was to be the only option. Then we realized the realities of trying to find a place to live in Prince Edward Island. Deadlines were approaching. I was panicking. I couldn’t find any house rentals and buying a house remotely from Taiwan proved difficult and risky. Time was running out, so when my cousin cooly stated that he saw some places to rent I called the property manager immediately. My cousin inspected the apartment, and I rented it sight unseen.

Now I have a new upstairs neighbour. He’s what we call in running a heel striker, and every evening and morning he is on some mission to go places in his apartment. Like office workers who walk fast to look important and busy. The building is new, and attractive by Charlottetown standards, but it’s constructed so that it reverberates some sounds in an exaggerated way. I have no doubt that my upstairs neighbour has no idea the effect of his walking style, or that my kitchen table shakes in the morning. The air pressure change from closing a door has a similar but reduced effect. If it impacts my life in a negative way, beyond the already annoyance, I will have a polite word, but beyond that I can’t compel someone to walk “correctly”.

My cousin cautioned me about renting this property due to it requiring a fixed term lease. I read the Residential Property Act before signing and interpreted the act as giving me the right to terminate the contract with 60 days notice. My interpretation was incorrect. It’s very lessee sided and the first contract I have ever entered in without an escape clause. Moving so quickly after arriving is no joy anyway, so it looks like I may be in for another living arrangement to remember.