Concrete Dreams

Posted on May 28, 2011

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Friday – 6:13 pm. I sit down to write this post with a well earned drink in hand.  Here marks my 18th day in Nanning, the end of my second working week here and the second day of my 25th year. It’s been a big 18 days (maybe I should have made this drink a double, oh wait a minute-it is!).

I last wrote while enduring the perilous process of house-hunting. Pleased to say I now have a place, and am still alive to boot! My apartment sits on the 26th floor (second floor from the top) of a brand spanking new apartment block called Xi Xi Wan (西西湾). The block is so new, in fact, that it’s not even finished. Damn, there’s just always something you overlook when inspecting a place to live, isn’t there? I now have nightmares of construction: jackhammers, chainsaws, metal pole clonking against metal pole, and I wake up at 6:05am and discover they’re not nightmares, it’s all real!

Two bedrooms, a large living room/kitchen area, and a balcony with a fantastic view over…another construction site.  Oh. The apartment is bright and spacious, and the plumbing is terrible. It’s a tremendous step up from my room in the foreign students’ dormitory in Jinan in 2008, and when I manage to convince myself the hum of the jackhammer is much like the lapping of waves on a beach, I’m generally pretty happy here. It’s a 25 minute walk to work, fresh food markets spider web from my front door in to surrounding laneways, and there’s excellent massage parlour where I am now a regular (I have a loyalty card to prove it!).

Sorry it's a pretty bad photo but it gives you the general gist...

Bargain economies- who ever thought that was a good idea? I know I shouldn’t compare and judge, that there are many pros and cons of both systems. But honestly, bargaining for everything is exhausting, and I will be a pig-headed absolutist for just a moment say I just don’t love it.

In China, you bargain your lease too. Thankfully, at this point my In Country Manager for the AYAD program (Jim) is visiting to make sure I’m settling in ok. Your tax payer dollars paid him to be here, so thank you to you too.  Jim is a Chinese man who speaks fluent English, and at this point I am extremely glad to have him here, and more than happy to entrust the entire bargaining process over to him and let him fill me in later. After all, I am still recovering from having bargained over buns for breakfast and just not up to it today. At one point I listen as they argue over an extra 50RMB per month that is apparently the ‘elevator fee’!

Note the loud orange cupboards - a nice touch. If you zoom in you'll even see they're speckled with glitter! Also note the mini oven atop the fridge- blogposts to come on making bread in china...

Eventually the terms are settled, and are agreeable, so off we go to the Real Estate Agent’s office to sign the lease.  I fork over a deposit equivalent to 2 month’s rent, a commission of half a month’s rent for the agent, and am asked to pay the first 3 months rent too. I take a deep breath and head to the ATM where I have to perform four consecutive withdrawals of the maximum amount (a restriction that seems redundant considering endless consecutive withdrawals are allowed-but I won’t make a judgement call on this one, or did I already? Oops). We emerge an hour and a half later – have I said before that everything just seems to take longer here? Each figure, date and signature on the lease is imprinted with my thumbprint (as well as the landlady’s and the agent’s), and I spend the rest of the day trying to get the red ink off my thumbs. It must be some sort of lead-laced, super permanent ink, however, because my thumbs remain rouged for two days!

The icing on the cake - domestic bliss! But they made me give it back - sigh.

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