We hate moving. We’ve lived in the same nondescript apartment in the same boring compound on the northeast corner of the 2nd Ring Road for about four years now. We’d live here another four years if we hadn’t received The Call. Those of you who rent in Beijing know what I’m talking about. The one where the landlord tells you that he’s selling the apartment and you have to move.
We found this crazy, funky apartment which had been decorated — so we were told — by the author Hai Yan. Hardwood floors. Leather couches. Dark wood paneling. Fake fireplace. Statue of a dalmatian in the dining room. It was like an odd cross between a London club and an opium den. It was on the 6th floor of the shittiest possible complex in a particularly grungy corner of Beijing (just northeast of the Second Ring) which made it all the more amazing when you unlocked the door and walked into…Sherlock Holmes’ Beijing hideout.
It. Was. Awesome.
It was also impossibly, unbelievably cheap.
Too cheap to be true.
At first they said they didn’t want to rent to us. Or rather they did not want to rent to us AND the Granite Studio mascots Pumpkin the cat and Snickers the ugly dog. So we figured that was that and moved on.
We finally found another place and were just about ready this morning to pull the trigger when our contacts from the funky place called YJ.
At this point it’s worth describing these “contacts”. One was a young woman who worked for “the company.” Which company? We still don’t know. They weren’t saying. She introduced us to an old fellow who said he was the aide-de-camp for the boss of the company. What was the boss’ name? Doesn’t matter. Although they did tell us three times he was friends with Hai Yan.
Today when they called back they told us that we could have the apartment and that the dog wasn’t a problem and that they would throw in a new refrigerator and swap out any furniture we didn’t like and could arrange to give us massages every Tuesday. The only problem was that they couldn’t sign the contract until the next day because they didn’t have a copy of the apartment certificate.
This is when it started to sound eerily familiar:
We were hurried out of the apartment by Miriam. Not good times. We bailed on two apartments we liked and which were already in the bag for a really cool place, the deal for which fell apart about 75 seconds after we said we would take it. YJ and I went to the Novotel Hotel to drown our despondency. As I was giving my despondency its second drowning in five minutes, Miriam called. The landlords had agreed to all of our demands (for a fridge, a television, a washing machine, etc). YJ and I felt like we had just won PowerBall. We had successfully negotiated a sweet apartment at a sweet price only 30 minutes after we had practically been tossed from the building by the landlord’s aunt. They had agreed to all of our requirements and didn’t bother with a counter-offer on the rent, all we had to do was meet with them in the morning. We changed our train, booked another night at the Home Inn, and ordered another round to celebrate. Now, anyone who has done business in China (or seen Goodfellas) knew what was happening. Of course they agreed. They never had any intention of ever renting us the apartment. They’d have agreed, in principle, to letting us plant the auntie in a tub of loam as a Christmas tree…‘coz they knew they were never going to see us again. Oh yeah, did I mention they neglected to set a time to meet us in the morning? Yeah. I know.
The next morning we call Miriam to find out when we can sign the papers and she tells us that the morning will be “inconvenient” because the Aunt is in the hospital. I’m not buying this. So I call back, actually the apartment certificate (proving that they really own and can rent the place) is in the uncle’s house but when they went to the uncle’s house, the aunt was sick, so they can’t get it. Three hours later, they said that they couldn’t get the apartment certificate because it is not convenient today. By the second call, I knew we were getting screwed around. By the third, I asked Miriam point blank: “We’re not getting this apartment, right?” Miriam: “Probably not.” Standing right at the top of Wangfujing I let fly with a loud exclamation that rhymes vaguely with “another trucker.” YJ tells curious passers-by that I am a lao wai interested in the Chinese practice of lian sangzi.
I’m perfectly content with the accusation of being hopelessly and needlessly paranoid. But we decided to play it safe anyway.
How safe? Well…we’re only moving 100 meters. To another building. In the same complex. How boring is that?
On the plus side though, we moved up about 12 floors. We might not live in a funky apartment, but we do have a nice view and I’ll live with that…until we have to move again, that is.