Our Summer Home

At last we’ve gotten to the reason for our trip to Southeast Asia this summer: a two-month housesitting assignment on the island of Penang just off the northwest coast of the Malay Peninsula. In exchange for a free place to live, we’re looking after the house, garden, and cat(s) of a European couple who are visiting their home country this summer.

Our main duty is to take care of Auvo, a sweet, orange, male, 16-year-old cat. He has diabetes, so we periodically take blood samples to check his glucose level and, on the basis of the results, give him insulin shots up to twice a day. Having been through this routine for five years, he’s a very calm and cooperative patient. There’s also a semiferal neighborhood cat called Harmi who shows up some evenings at the back door for food. She’s shy, but if we’re not too close, she’ll happily come into the kitchen and eat any leftovers Auvo has left lying around.

While Melissa (the former vet tech) takes charge of cat medications, I’m in charge of the garden. There are lots of tropical plants to water every day that it doesn’t rain, including the owners’ prized pineapple plants. Another daily job in this part of the world is cleaning off the droppings that small lizards leave on the car as they run around the ceiling of the carport at night.

It’s a big, comfortable house, with lots more space than we’re used to having on the road. It’s full of conveniences, such as a dishwasher, a washing machine (no need for a dryer when clothes will dry in two hours in the equatorial sun), a big sofa, multiple large TVs, and an air conditioner in every room.

(Central air conditioning would be hideously expensive and wasteful in a big house in the tropics year-round. It’s much cheaper and more efficient to just cool the couple of rooms you’re using at any one time.) The cable TV package includes a couple dozen U.S. channels, so we can watch a steady diet of “House Hunters,” “NCIS,” and “Pawn Stars” in English when we’re so inclined.

But lest things feel too familiar, the other day we looked out the window and saw a family of monkeys run along our garden fence and then climb up to the top of the house next door. At home, if you hear noises on the roof, it’s probably a bird or a squirrel. Here it’s just as likely to be a monkey.

Monkeys on the roof next door

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