Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Someone robbed our house!

I admit, that title is a bit misleading. No one stole anything from our house. Don't worry. However, someone did steal a potential new apartment from us!

We'd seen a dozen or so places and settled on a cozy two bedroom with nice new floors. Then, all of a sudden, completely out of nowhere, our realtor started texting me about seeing new places. My ability to read Chinese isn't that great, so at first I thought I'd mis-interpreted his messages. I wrote back that we really liked the place he showed us and want to sign a lease. After a volley of texts, it became clear that the landlord thought we'd be picky tenants and rented the place to someone else out from under our noses!

This doesn't sound like a huge problem, and wouldn't be, if our current lease didn't expire in seven days. Oh and if Veronica's thesis wasn't also due in seven days. Oh and if Veronica's sister (YAY JESSICA) and cousin (YAY ROX) weren't visiting this week. Oh and if we didn't have jobs and Chinese lessons and a thanksgiving dinner to cook. Plus packing .. oh man. We were screwed.

Or. So. We. Thought.

We met with our Realtor the day after he gave us the bad news and he showed us the perfect place; a better location and a better apartment for less money per month.

We managed some basic negotiations in Chinese ourself and signed a pre-lease deposit agreement and started to get super-excited.

I tend to be a "prepare for the worst case" sort of person, but things really fell into place on this one.

Before you read this and think that Veronica and my Chinese has gone from zero-to-sixty, it must be said that we wouldn't have been able to do much of this without the help of our friends Jared, Jen and Ray.

I did learn two lessons though that I think should apply for the US as well:
1: Always negotiate
2: Don't be TOO picky when you are busy always negotiating.

I wish people in the US tried to negotiate more. I was thoroughly bummed when Ari and I were trying to rent out our Manayunk House and not a single person who checked out the place tried to offer us less than we were asking. I was mainly bummed because it took us longer to rent the place than it would have if someone had tried to get us to drop the price to begin with. Bargaining is a way of life here and I think we could learn a lot from China on that. Isn't bargaining a great way of finding where the supply and demand curve meet? Sounds pretty market-friendly to me.

Beijing Real Estate Amateurs

About two or so months ago, Veronica and I decided that we wanted to move. Don't get me wrong - we love our current place. It has a great sweeping view of the endless landscape of residential towers that is the area between the 2nd and 3rd ring roads. It's got two large bedrooms, hardwood floors, a gym in the basement and five supermarkets within a 5 minute walk. It even has one of the nicest bathrooms I've seen since I've been in the city. Actually - I have qualms with the toilet - but thats another more graphic story. All things said, I can't really complain.

But that doesn't mean we can't shoot higher. And by higher, I mean - way cooler. There are a lot of fun areas of the city. WuDaoKou (五道口) is like college town. Wudaokou can be identified by its crowds of westerners and koreans, its rotating supply of good places to eat and drink as well as its inventory of slightly jacked up prices for apartments. Veronica studied near there and many of her friends lived there, so after spending a bunch of time visiting, we realized it wasn't for us. You can get to WuDaoKou via line 13 of the metro - but its a bit of a hike. One bright spot is that it isn't far from Zhongguancun (中关村), the bargain priced electronics market I stop by whenever I need a memory card or a computer accessory.

Also in the category of 'not-gonna-do-it' is SanLiTun (三里屯). This place really has it all. That is, if you want to live in America. Western chains, nightclubs, bars, stores and plenty of Chinese that speak English. While pretty much every expat or student makes there way here a fair amount - I don't think I'd actually want to live here.

Another popular area is DongZhiMen (东直门). I like DongZhiMen fine. We've got a bunch of friends that live there, probably because the carpools and buses to ultimate pickup leave from the subway station there. Apartments can be more upscale and there are some large malls and food courts as well. Its like a baby Central Business District in the north east corner of central Beijing. We heavily considered DZM.

We settled on Andingmen (安定门). This neighborhood is close to historic sites, a subway station, plenty of great, inexpensive restaurants and is fast becoming the best brunch spot in town. Cafes that actually serve good coffee are springing and cute boutiques are opening that are frequented by hip Chinese and by younger foreigners. I don't want to hype the neighborhood up too much because we're very much on the tail end of its development. I'm sure that by next week all the cool people will have moved out.

I'll be posting again soon to tell you about the fiasco we went through while looking for an apartment. I can't just yet because we are signing the lease tomorrow night and I don't want to curse myself.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Korean Baby Stroller Accidents

America's Funniest Home videos is a show that is imported to TVs all around the world. This is probably because, bloopers rarely need subtitles and its much cheaper to air a show without captions. I've caught some episodes in China, Korea, Thailand and even Malaysia.

It always gets to me though : many of the videos seem blatantly staged, but more importantly, even more probably resulted in off-camera hospital visits. Regardless of the incidents' veracity or the injuries caused, the laugh track plays on.

When Veronica and I were in Seoul we witnessed two things that, had they been in a cartoon, or accompanied by sound effects, could have been funny. Instead they were painful and terrifying. And they may indicate a much larger, more cosmic possibility - Veronica and I might be cursed...

Walking through an artsy part of town, a grandfather, daughter and granddaughter started to come out of a coffee shop. I wasn't paying attention, but Veronica grabbed my arm as the toddler in the stroller FLIPPED 270 DEGREES OUT OF THE SEAT AND LANDED ON HER FACE. Everyone rushed to help. Minor scrapes and scares aside, the child was okay. But we were terrified.

We were terrified, because, not ten minutes earlier, the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED. A young boy, performed the exact same acrobatic feat when we were doing a little shopping in a different part of town. At the time, we didn't think anything of it, aside from "don't buy Korean Strollers".

I'm not sure if two babies flipping out of their strollers within 10 minutes is a pattern, a trend or a what. But I'm pretty sure that the forces of gravity apply differently when Veronica and I are near babies in strollers.

If you are a new parent - be careful. Do not invite us to watch you push your child around. Since I don't think that is something that people even do, I think we are safe. But either way - BE CAREFUL!