Mouseneb (mouseneb) wrote,

Your place, my stuff.

 Renting an apartment in China. It's an experience that really brings those cultural differences right out to the surface. Recently, I asked the security guard at my apartment if there were any places available in our building, because I had a friend looking for a place. Turns out there was one, and my friend and I went to look at it. It was gorgeously decorated and furnished, with raised flooring in several rooms. It was large and reasonably priced. Plus the landlady seemed friendly. She liked having a foreign tenant because she figured they took good care of the place, kept it clean, and wouldn't steal her stuff. What are you going to do, she joked, put the TV in your suitcase and take it back to America? Everything was going so well, and I was even a little jealous of my friend. This place was bigger, nicer, and cheaper than my current place! But I was thrilled for her, and excited that we would be neighbors.

Then we started checking things a bit more carefully... the giant flat screen Phillips TV wouldn't turn on. No problem, landlady would get someone out to repair it in the morning. One of the two toilets wouldn't flush. She called a plumber. So far, so good. She even had an ayi there cleaning the place, and that is unheard of! I've never had a landlord clean an apartment before handing it over to me. Nice! Then we started opening drawers and cabinets and wardrobes. And they were pretty much all full. Of crap. Cassette tapes, Chinese medicine charts, old clothes, papers and photos. We asked her to clear them out. After all, my friend has her own crap, and she will need a place to put it. Initially, the landlady hesitantly agreed, but later that night, after they'd signed a contract and gone home, she called back. She didn't want to move her stuff. She wanted to keep it there, and if not, she wanted out of the rental agreement.  Luckily, the next day, my friend found out she would be able to stay in her current place after all. Whew! That's always better than having to move.

Seems like when you rent a place here, many times the landlords have a hard time letting go. They want to use it as storage, they show up unannounced and use their key to waltz right in, after all, this is "their" apartment!

When we were negotiating the rent with my last landlord, he mentioned he wanted to keep the use of the smallest bedroom. "I just want a place I can nap in the afternoons", he explained. "I'll be quiet, you won't even know I'm there!" We explained that we'd be using all the rooms, and we couldn't agree. Luckily, he didn't insist.

The place before that was filthy and chock full of the previous tenant's stuff. "What should we do with all this stuff?" we asked before we moved in. "Just leave it in the cabinets." Uhm, no, we want to put our own things there...."Just throw it away then." We did throw most of it away, but ended up keeping a few of the nicer things - gold coins and bank books, just in case the previous tenant ever showed up asking for it. He never did.

In Sanya our very first China apartment was provided by the school. It was a huge 3 bedroom place but....two of the bedrooms were locked. The school was storing stuff there, they explained. Plus they might want to put some other teachers there later. Nope, we said. Not cool. We eventually got all the keys (they turned out to be empty rooms after all) and set up a guest bedroom and a badminton court! Sweet. Now I think they were probably worried we'd sublet the extra rooms. That or they really did think they'd be moving random Chinese teachers into our apartment with us. Who knows.

Nowadays, whenever we are apartment hunting (not at the moment, thank goodness, but we always have a friend or two that is) we have a few things we check. Do all the appliances work? Are all the drawers and wardrobes empty? Do the toilets flush? Do the sinks work? Showers? Do the lights all turn on? We bring a phone charger or something to plug into the wall and check all the outlets. Invariably there is SOMETHING that needs fixing. We get the landlord to take care of those things before we pay the deposit. Then, if everything checks out, before we move in, we change the front door locks. Two reasons. One, we don't want the landlord just wandering in anytime. Two, who knows how many people have lived there before, and how many of their friends they gave keys to??? Scary.

Tags: apartment, culture, expat

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