I hate looking for apartments. It is one of my least favorite things that i am still forced to do. Aside from all the time it takes, and all the shitty places you have to visit, and all the socializing you need to do, and all the people you have to bother as you traipse in and out of their homes, there is the looming knowledge that you are about to sign away your freedom for a year. It's just one long, miserable cringe-fest with the prize at the end that you found the least bad prison.
The weather here has not improved. It is very cold - inside and out, because there isn't any central heating. Saturday morning my hotel didn't have any hot water again. I can live without hot water if i know up-front there is not going to be any hot water, but Jesus Christ when you are working 45 hours and you are still in the process of running about getting paperwork organized for your immigration and you are also trying to find an apartment at the same time, and it's like 5 degrees out, just one fucking hot shower. Is it too much to ask?
Saturday afternoon i went around several expensive and mediocre apartments on the east side of town. I don't know why people pay so much to live beside the freeway facing another building just across from their own. Finally we came across one that was exactly what i was looking for: nice size, relatively clean, under an hour's walk from work, able to see some sky out the window, and - get this - literally situated right next to the entrance of the little bamboo mountain park. I mean, perfect, right?
No. It was a gated community. I know there are a lot of gated communities in China because i have been trapped inside them several times when i got in there by accident. The security guards for the most part are assholes and don't let you out unless you have a card so you are stuck in Stepford limbo until a resident comes along to swipe in or out. I'm going to assume they let food delivery guys in or the residents would riot, but it's still so pretentious.
I hate the whole idea of gated communities. I think they are one of the most evil things in real estate. I can deal with apartment buildings having a locked lobby (although i think that's stupid too, and it really upset me when the super installed a lock in my previous building in Berlin), but walling off actual fucking land is just the worst. In my opinion it takes away from a really important part of city life, which is walkability. Landowners depriving common people of their freedom to get from point A to point B without making a huge detour is just a total fucking dick move. Also some grade-A bullshit: golf courses and country clubs.
I have a huge long rant saved up about "private" land in China and how it reminds me of the worst parts of America, but that will be for another day. The point about this weekend is, when i first started looking for apartments i did keep an open mind. I knew there were lots of gated communities here and i thought maybe i would be able to hang. But the moment i had to sign in with the security guard, wait for the gate to be buzzed open, then leave a bustling street to enter an empty garden with some Mercedes and BMWs out the front, well fuck fucking that. I literally wanted to throw up.
I tried to explain how i felt to the real estate agents and they looked at me like i was crazy. They said the security is there to protect me. Fucking protect me what? Bullshit. The security is there so that the assholes living in these sorts of buildings can feel superior to the plebs around them. It's disgusting. It's especially disgusting in a country that is supposedly socialist. And don't even get me started on the excuse that it's "tradition" because Hakka villages were famously walled, and China has been building walled cities for thousands of years. Fuck off. If the land belongs to the people, it should always be accessible to the people.
I didn't realize i felt so strongly about this until now. Because today it happened again.
I decided to go to that little suburb surrounded on three sides by mountains and one side by Hong Kong (more mountains). It's really quite a lovely place. Pretty much every street has a view, and the air really does feel cleaner. It's only a few minutes drive from the central Luohu sprawl, but the surroundings make it feel like a whole nother city. I got shown through two apartments there and got queasy again the moment we had to sign in at the security checkpoint. Visiting these sorts of places really causes an immediate physical reaction in me.
Fortunately we made it up to the apartments without me vomiting, and they were huge. Way bigger than i want. Like, i would need to buy a shit-ton of tchotchkes just to fill up all the shelves. I've been living out of a backpack for almost a year. Even the 4 years i lived in Berlin i didn't buy a whole lot more stuff than what fit in my backpack when i left Toronto. What on Earth am i going to do with an entire fucking extra room that isn't my bedroom?
Of course, i could afford it. But it would be so wasteful. It would be profligate. Heating a place like that, air conditioning a place like that, cleaning a place like that, it doesn't make sense when you are just one person. I would feel guilty living there every day. Not to mention the whole gated community thing, and looking out your window at the beautiful mountains... yeah, nestled just behind those blocks of low-rise buildings where the plebs who aren't even allowed to see your gardens live.
Turns out every single highrise apartment in that part of town is in a gated community. So the agent instead took me through some of the places where the less well-to-do live. The price difference is negligible - from 3000元 down to 2400元 - but the quality is day and night. Walk-up apartments with bugs and trash in the halls and jerry-rigged wiring all over the place. Inside the rooms were fine, though they all had the problem of my recent hotel where hooking up an air conditioning unit meant smashing a hole in the windows. I think i could just about live there if it wasn't for the obvious insect problem. I know from living in Australia that in hot climates you are guaranteed to have at least a few cockroaches crawl into your house every month, but fuck if i'm going to risk a place where it's likely to be daily. Been there, done that, i was 17 years old, 20 years on i think i'm okay to treat myself a little.
But, you know, just a little. Not live in a fucking gated community.
I really had no idea i would have such a visceral reaction to those places. It's greatly reduced my options, since it seems the culture here is to choose between extremely shabby buildings on the roadside or mediocre-to-nice buildings with ultra-exclusive door policies.
In the end i decided on a place i had visited late Saturday night. It's a fairly new building in a different area, close to the mountain with the open-air gym. Almost 6km and over an hour's walk from work, but whatever. What i liked about it was although there was a security guard, he was just there to charge parking fees for people who wanted to use the parking lot. On foot anyone could cut across the parking lot, walk up to the building and ring the bell at the lobby. Underneath it's all auto repair shops. The whole area is light industrial, though no doubt it will gentrify sooner or later. The room was fine - washing machine, fridge, bed, stove, hot water, windows that close. Still way more shelf space than i need, but it didn't feel outrageous for one person. I told the agent i was interested, and he told me to drop by tonight.
Enter the next stage of my woes. I got to the agent and realized there were no banks nearby that would accept my (foreign) debit card. The bigger banks in China accept Visa and Mastercard in their ATMs, but most of the small banks do not. I ended up having to walk around for half an hour trying to find a bank that would take my card. At which point i discovered that my Canadian debit card is blocked from taking out cash in China.
I haven't needed to access my Canadian account up until now, but last week my German bank account finally went dry. This is the first time i tried to use my Canadian debit card, so it was a rude shock that it doesn't fucking work. Instead i used the credit card i picked up when i went back there a couple weeks ago, and that let me cash advance the daily maximum (3000元). With the money already in my wallet that was enough to cover the first month's rent and the real estate fee, but what i didn't realize is that i also needed two month's rent for a deposit/bond.
Yeah, so when i got back to the agent with the not-enough cash, the landlord was there yelling at the agents and the agents were trying to get her to sign the lease, and i was just sitting there feeling awkward. There aren't many things more stressful than being in the middle of an argument in a language you don't understand. I could catch bits and pieces, but i missed a lot of the nuance, and i wasn't sure if i did something wrong or what. I started to get paranoid that she was racist and didn't want to rent to a foreigner. Then i started to worry that if the landlord was going to get this mad over something so easy to fix what does that mean if something actually goes wrong when i live there? Thinking about it now i suspect she was just annoyed they had called her in to sign today instead of two or three days from now which would have been easier for everyone involved, but maybe that's just wishful thinking. I am really not used to following emotionally-charged Chinese.
I was really upset and shaking by the end of it. We agreed to come back to sign the lease when i have the full deposit in cash, but i left really confused and stressed out. This is the first time since i left Germany that i have been brought to tears traveling alone. I just wanted a friend to talk to. Almost any other difficulty i can get over because it's just shit you move on from - change hotels, go to a different city, ask a cop for some help, drink some hot water, spend a day in bed, whatever. But having your future landlord yelling and three real estate agents pushing you to sign something that you can't even read and maybe even ending up with no house at all after you just spent an entire weekend traveling all over the city looking for one... fucking ugh!
I took the bus back to a little urban village i found this morning (and where i had my first real Hong Kong style pork bun in the mainland - delicious btw) and ate some sweet potato glass noodles with a buttload of chili and vegetables and mushrooms to make me feel better. Then, wisely avoiding alcohol even though i really wanted to get drunk, found one of those twee/kawaii coffee shops where i got an expensive coffee in a pink cup. It made me feel better. Fucking Luohu, man, it's so hard to find a normal coffee over this side of town. First thing i buy in my apartment will be a coffee plunger. If i ever get an apartment.
At this rate i don't even know if i will be able to pay for a hotel, given my bank card doesn't work. I should probably call Scotiabank to complain, but i don't have the money for that either. FUCK! So much bullshit.
I hate looking for apartments.