Where did i leave off? Ah yes, the house.
So it turns out my initial assumptions were correct. I guess as a person of (relative) privilege it's so unusual to be the victim of bigotry it can be hard to accept that's what it is. Surely i must have done something wrong? But, really, i didn't. Thinking back she suggested from the start that i would break the lease (because i am a foreigner) and that i would not be able to pay the rent easily (because i am a foreigner) and that i would not be able to communicate well (because i am a foreigner). The next day i received a roundabout face-saving message from the agent: "well, she is also thinking about selling the apartment, so it might be inconvenient for you to live there, would you like me to take you through some other places just in case?" When i asked for a direct answer, out it came: the landlord will not rent to me.
I was pissed, both at the agent for wasting my time and at the landlord for (probably) being racist, but what can you do?
Well, you can call the other agent who had your second-place choice. The experience could not have been more different. He didn't rush me to sign; he said whenever is convenient. He said we should meet in the apartment so that i could test all the appliances before signing. When i got there Tuesday after work, the landlord and his girlfriend welcomed me warmly and made smalltalk while the agent filled out the paperwork. The agent went through each part of the lease agreement with me to make sure i understood. After everything was signed and i had headed home, the landlord sent a long message saying he would be more than happy to help out with any questions i still have.
So, i am now the owner of my own place in Shenzhen Luohu District for the next year. It's on top of a Walmart. The bus direct to my office stops right outside the front door. The subway station is less than 5 minutes walk away. Work itself is just under an hour. Bed, washing machine, fridge, gas burner, AC, closet, desk, the end. No unnecessary furniture anywhere. It's basically perfect for me, and now i'm glad i didn't get the other place with all of its superfluous cupboards and cranky landlord.
I have been slowly getting it set up after work. My hotel is paid for until Sunday, so i'm taking my time.
The thing i found the most confusing when signing the lease was the landlord's insistence that i change the locks. It's such a weird thing for a landlord to suggest in the west that i had to double-check with a few colleagues to make sure i had understood correctly. In every country i have lived before here, the landlord has keys to the house and can come in pretty much any time he wants. In many buildings as a renter you aren't allowed to change the locks even if you want to. In China, after you sign the lease, that apartment is yours for a year. You are expected to immediately change the locks and keep your own set of keys to avoid a situation where an unscrupulous real estate agent or previous tenant screws you over. You're also entitled to privacy from your landlord. Huh. What a revelation.
Anyway, after getting the lock replaced, i bought toilet paper and a towel and a pillow. Today i bought laundry detergent and a duvet and a set of sheets. I think the only things that are still absolutely necessary are an electric kettle (still need to boil tapwater before drinking it), a bathroom trashcan (still can't flush paper down the toilet) and a bedside light (still too lazy to get out of bed to turn the light off). I'll have to pick up a wok and things before i can cook, but for the basics i think we're good to go. Gotta say, capitalism is shit and everything, but living on top of a Walmart does make setting up a breeze.
The plumbing is in the Chinese style i have mentioned before, but it's worth mentioning again because it's so different to how things are built in the west. Basically, the "inside" part of the apartment (the one connected to the hallway and elevators) has no water connections at all. The water is only connected on the "outside" part, which in older apartments is actually just a balcony with a cage around it. There is no bathtub or shower cubicle, there is just a hole in the floor where the greywater drains. Additionally, there is no hot water in any of the taps. This particular apartment has a fairly standard setup which is a small gas heater attached to a shower nozzle, which you can use to shower or to fill up a bucket for handwashing clothes or doing the dishes. The bucket comes with the house. It seems odd after living in the west where all the plumbing is hidden behind walls and you just expect hot water to come out of the taps no matter where you are, but i guess there is some kind of efficiency to the design, especially in the south of China where the weather is very warm for ~9 months of the year. I'm curious to see how i'll go with it. Guess i'm stuck for a year even if it is a massive pain in the ass.
It's my birthday today. Is it a sign you're getting old when you forget it's your birthday until someone sends you a message wishing you happy birthday? Fuck, i just went to work and bought sheets. It was tremendously pedestrian. I am officially putting any celebration on hold till i have moved into my place and have the last two residence permit/visa things finished. By that point it will be Spring Festival anyway.
The holiday season is definitely kicking off for serious now. The office is half empty because people have already headed out on vacation. Some of the mom'n'pop joints i go to eat noodles are closed. And today on the subway i noticed i was sharing the car with a strange assortment of folks all looking haggard and clutching suitcases and squatting on the ground staring at subway maps. They were all sharp elbows and buzzcuts. I guess perhaps they came in from a much poorer part of the country to catch a plane? They certainly won't be spending the Spring Festival in Shenzhen, since almost everyone here is a migrant worker and leaving the city themselves.
I think it would be interesting to travel around China at this time of year. I know it's considered the worst possible time because every mode of transport is packed and everyone is stressed and half the country is shut down. But i kind of like that - to see everyone stripped to their essence, spent and exhausted and trying to get home. I don't have anywhere to be. Watching everyone i can imagine a thousand and one stories.
Probably i will spend the break collapsed in my new apartment without any internet exhausted from jumping back into work so very hard and fast. It's a wonder i had anything left over to find a place.