A (thankfully not) Crash Course in House Hunting

Posted on May 11, 2011


Another day of house-hunting. In China, here’s what that means. I wake up and spend the morning anxiously waiting for the agent’s phone call. As with many things in China, there is an unnecessary middle man in the whole process. Like the person who stands at the door of the supermarket and checks your docket as you leave, despite the fact she’s just seen you go through the checkout and pay. Sadly, all too often, there’s no way to get around this.

When looking for a place to live, you can’t simply scan advertisements and make your own decisions about size, price and location. You have to tell an agent the kind of place you want and put your trust in him.

Nine thirty and still nothing.  I realise I’m being a bit impatient but after a week and a half, I’m tired of living out of a suitcase. I’m eager to find a place that I can start to make comfortable and familiar in a situation where everything else is new and in Chinese.

So I call: (in my rusty Chinese) Hi, I’m that Australian you saw yesterday. Remember, you showed me some renting places? I was wondering if you’d found any more for me to look at?

Real Estate Agent Man replies: (in very fast Chinese) Oh yes hello! Actually I’m not well today. I have to go to the hospital and get something something tooth something.

Me: Oh what a pity. I hope I can see some more renting places today? How about your colleague from yesterday, can she help? I hope you rest well.

Him: Ok I’ll call my colleague; I will call you back in a few minutes.

And now I get to play the waiting game again. No fun at all-I wish I had Hungry Hungry Hippos. True to his word, however, he calls me back and says his colleagues will take me to see some places today. Bless him. They will call soon. Damn-more waiting.

I've received feedback that people like photos. Unfortunately I have no photo relevant to this post so I present you with a mini post in pictures that needs no words.

A little while passes and I get a call from “King” who proudly (in Chinese) introduces his English name.  He says he’s found some places for me to look at, and that he will come and get me soon. Great! He will call when he’s close. Oh, more waiting.

King finally shows up (it’s now 11:45) and I descend from my hotel room to find King is a very small man with a very small motorbike.  I curse my irreligiousity and wish there were something I could say a prayer to before I mount the teeny tiny bike and we head into the thick of the chaotic, unruly Nanning midday traffic.

I find it best to keep my eyes closed for most of the time, and employ deep breathing as a technique to get through the long, loud and unsettling phone conversation King is involved in for more than half the time he’s driving. Despite the fact he obviously had no idea where he was going, whoever it was on the phone has somehow managed to talk him through it, and soon enough we are there.

The most common living situation here is in a 小区, a small compound of a few large apartment blocks enclosed by a guarded gate. So when we arrive, the agent spends at least five minutes explaining to the guard who we are and why he should let us in. Actually, I don’t really mind because it affords me the much needed time to allow my heart beat to slow to a normal pace. Finding the actual apartment inside the compound also takes time. By now a second agent has showed up, so while one of them runs around trying to find the apartment, the other indulges in some slimy real estate agent cajolery such as “Ooo the flowers are very nice, aren’t they” and “This is such a tranquil and safe neighbourhood”. I nod politely and think about what’s for lunch. The whole process continues three times today, with no inspiring results, and by three o’clock we call it a day and agree to resume the process tomorrow.

And now for the shameless plug, you’ll have to stay tuned for the next instalment, in which I finally find a place and experience the uproarious procedure of signing a lease in China. For now, I apologise, the current post ends here because I have an early rendezvous at the PSB tomorrow morning, where I have to register my residence in the presence of the officials, my landlord and my employer.  Marvellous.

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