For the past three months we have been living an easy (if busy) life in a beautiful courtyard, spoiled by one thing; Grandma. She’s not our Grandma, she’s just our landlady – but the smallness of the place and the fact that she’s always there have turned her from a sweet old lady into a barely bearable menace.
When you get up in the morning, she’s there in the kitchen. If you’re there in the daytime she has tasks for you to do, typically involving a long pole with a hook and a rickety stool. If there are no tasks she’ll just come and hang out in the room, or sit in the courtyard tunelessly singing old communist propoganda songs at the top of her voice; something she particularly enjoys doing at 6.30am.
In truth I can bear all of this. For me she’s just a novelty. But for V, who spends much more time in the house than I do, she’s something of a menace. She can’t cook, wash or touch anything without a running commentary. What’s worse, she has strange, mean rules for what we can and cannot do. At first she was demanding 50 quai (5 quid) every time we took a shower, but we managed to negotiate this down to the point where we have to pay more than the entire bill to be able to have showers every day. If there’s anything wrong with the house, from a light left on to some tea in the toilet, we must be lectured and must have to cough up a ridiculous amount of money. And we can’t say no, or else we’re cheating an old lady.
Looking for a new house was a pain, as ever. We saw a nice sized flat with a spare room (underground and controlled by a nasty looking concierge), a modern two-story studio house (snapped up before we could take it), an old house which didn’t look like it had been altered, or cleaned, since the 50s (with a 12-inch millipede – V’s #1 phobia – in the sink), and a succession of reasonable houses with showers in the kitchen and no toilets. The last one we looked at actually did have a toilet, but it was in the kitchen.
Eventually, running out of time, we settled on a nice enough modern place which had the one big disadvantage of not being in the immediate Nanluoguxiang area. Frankly I’m a bit down about the idea of moving away from here. The new area is nice, but it’s just not the same. We’ll move back up when we get the chance, and in the meantime it’s just up the road – 5 minutes by bike.
We cycled to the agency who were dealing with the property on Sunday night. V said it was just down the road, but that seemed to mean 30 minutes away. The office was a pokey hole in an unremarkable office building. We sat there from 7pm to 9pm, arguing about the terms of the contract, how many months we had to pay at one time etc. The agents shouted and smoked a lot. When we left we found the lift turned off, so stayed behind to listen to the agents screaming at each-other about how they’d got a bad deal and weren’t going to make any money from us. This is how you know you’ve negotiated successfully in China. After a while we found a disused, unlit stairwell we could exit the building with, and snuck out.
We should be moving in tomorrow, though V’s parents are continually phoning to register their disapproval of the number of months rent we have to pay up front (six). The next few days will see a lot of packing.
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