Beijing, 22nd of September
After three months (san1 ge yue4) of living at the university dormitory (su4she4), I decided to move out and find my own apartment (fang2 zi). You could say the 'house rules' were not quite to my liking. Every night, after 12am the main door would be locked which meant that whenever I went out in the evenings I was constantly checking my watch. Coming home after midnight would mean I had to ring a bell and wake up a service person (fu2 wu4 yuan) who would sleepily open the door for me. Sometimes these guys were really angry and I would apologize profusely before being allowed back into my room! I felt like a 16 year old again!
Wu Dao Kou, where my university is based, is one of the most expensive (zui4 gui4 de) areas to rent an apartment, around 3000 Y per month (£240). In order to live here on my meagre savings, I would have to share a flat or move out of the area. I first opted to move out of the area and live alone - now I had a bike I would be able to ride (qi2 che1) to class in the mornings. A single apartment would cost around 1000Y per month (£60). I had a Chinese friend who knew a housing agent and said he would introduce (jie4 shao4) me.
The estate agent
My Chinese friend very generously took a day of work to take me (dai4 wo3) to meet the agent. We took a bus to his office and he drove us to view the apartment. On the way he asked me, via my friend, if I could guarantee I would rent the flat. Naturally I said 'I haven't seen it yet' (wo hai2 mei2 kan4 dao4 nar4)! He then told my friend that three people had already seen the flat that day and all wanted it, so I should decide (ding4 le) very quickly. This arose my suspicions but I just nodded and said 'okay' (hao3 de).When we arrived (dao4 le), the housing block looked pretty dingy. This was not anything out of the ordinary because having visited friends in Beijing before, I'd seen that lots of apartment blocks in Beijing look really dingy on the outside but were really nice and comfortable (shu1 fu1) inside.
We were taken up to the 5th floor (wu5 ceng2) and went inside my would-be-apartment. There was no furniture but dust and cement everywhere. Two workmen were in what looked like the kitchen busily hammering away. They were still building the kitchen ... the sitting-room ... and the bedroom! My friend and I couldn't believe our eyes! The agent then asked me if would I take it and, almost laughing out loud, I asked my friend to tell him that there was no-way I could take the apartment in this condition. The agent said that in five days (wu5 tian1) it would be ready (hao3 le) and if I paid the deposit now he would charge less. After my friend translated (fan1 yi4 le) this I was lost for words. We then asked to see the toilet (ce4 suo3) and the agent opened the bathroom door showing us an empty room. No bath, no toilet bowl, just a bucket in the middle of the floor. Straight-faced he added that the bathroom hadn't been finished yet. That was time for our exit!
Stroke of luck
After we left my Chinese friend apologised to me, and said he had no idea it would be that bad. I said it was not his fault and thanked him for taking a day off work to show me an apartment - that bizarrely enough hadn't been built yet. Later that same week a class-mate (tong2 xue2) said he would be leaving Beijing for Hong Kong and I could rent his apartment in Wu Dao Kou. It was five minutes from the campus and I would share with another student, each of us paying 1200Y per month (£75). The next week I moved to a nice, spacious, and very finished apartment.
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris