> The landlord was sweet as pie. She was wonderful. Her boyfriend was charming, all smiles, a real modern guy with “Starbucks” latte in hand. And then in walked “Auntie.” She was a dumpy, troll-like figure with a sour, peasant visage that betrayed no sense of warmth or mirth. It was quite a miracle when I saw her face actually begin to brighten into a grin when she met me… if only I knew.
David Lancashire of AdsoTrans fame is in town this weekend. He wrote a little about Shanghai in his new blog.
My roommate Lenny is leaving Shanghai for Taipei tomorrow (with his new t-shirt!). I’m moving out of this apartment in early January. It’s been a great place, and I really like having the extra room for guests. These past few months we’ve had lots of visitors, like Mark of toshuo, Poagao, Alf, Greg (house guest extraordinaire), Lenny’s sister, and now David.
This “free hotel” business isn’t going to last much longer, but until I move into my new place, I don’t mind it at all. With Lenny gone, this three bedroom apartment is going to seem quite empty.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m sort of married. I see it as a year-long process beginning with a legal marriage and ending with a religious and social ceremony. Between point A and point B, however, is the acquisition of a new residence. Perhaps more significant is the subsequent decoration of said residence. This has been keeping us quite busy for the past month.
In China if you buy a new apartment (OK, I know it’s not really an “apartment” if you “buy” it, but this is what I say), it comes as an empty concrete shell. No drywall, no internal wiring or plumbing, no nothing. This condition is known as 毛坯. Starting from such a husk is a lot of work, because you have to design everything (or hire a designer), and you have to hire a contractor to get all the labor done. It also brings a lot of freedom, though, because you’re literally free to do anything with your apartment, short of knocking down key structural walls or tearing out the building’s shared plumbing or wiring.
So my wife has a pretty cool vision for our new apartment. It’s sort of an adapted “Mediterranean” design. That means it incorporates arches in some places. There are many things my Chinese is not yet good enough for, and architecture is certainly pushing it.
It appears that in Chinese, an arch shape is usually referred to as a gongxing, a word that, until recently, I was unfamiliar with. When I hear a new Chinese word, lots of things happen in my mind:
1. My brain checks it against all the vocabulary I know or might have once known
2. My brain factors in the possibility of southern-accented Mandarin distorting a word I know in proper Mandarin
3. I analyze and note the tones
4. Given the context and my understanding of the meaning of the word, I try to mentally match the syllables with appropriate Chinese characters I know
In this case, checks #1 and #2 were not helpful. When I got to step #3 I focused on the fact that xing was definitely second tone, so must be 形, meaning “shape.” It just made too much sense to be wrong. Without paying much attention to the tone of the gong syllable, I moved on to step #4. I decided that what made the most sense was the character 弓, meaning “bow.” In this way I concluded that the word we were using for “arch shape” was 弓形 (tones: 1-2).
It was a reasonable guess. 弓形 is, in fact, a word. According to Wenlin, it has the (very logical) meaning of “bow-shape” and “curve.” In math it can also mean “segment of a circle.”
I got away with saying gōngxíng (tones: 1-2) for a while, and somehow remained blithely unaware that everyone around me was saying it slightly differently. My wife is not my Chinese teacher and really never has been, so she rarely corrects me. She corrects me when my mistake is so blatant that it pisses her off, or if it’s a chronic error that eventually gets under her skin. Such was the case with my “gōngxíng.”
“It’s gǒngxíng,” she told me finally. “Gǒngxíng!” (tones: 3-2).
I looked it up later. The dictionary showed me 弓形. And it showed me 拱形, meaning “arch.” An architectural term.
It’s little incidents like this which firmly cement a word in one’s memory.
…in my apartment. No more free power. They came and fixed the power meter on Wednesday.
China giveth, and China taketh away…
But having almost seven months of free power is pretty cool.
Also, Carl moves out this weekend, so I’ll be down to just one roommate. We’ll miss him, but we’re glad to see him find a good job and move forward. We’re not looking to find a new roommate… we’ll see if we can afford to have a guest room.
Last December when I first moved into my current apartment near Zhongshan Park, I take one look out the 20th floor window at the old buildings across the river and thought, “those won’t last long.” It wasn’t just that they were old; they were clearly of low quality as well. What’s more, on every side were highrise apartment complexes. I felt pretty sure those structures were doomed.
Here is the only picture I have of that whole area. (Unfortunately it’s a bad picture of Chinese New Year fireworks, so you can’t see the buildings very clearly.)
Here is another picture of the same area, taken last month. The demolition began in early May, I believe.
If you look carefully you can see which buildings were taken out. The residential area at the left is still intact, but I’m certain it’s only a matter of time.
It seems to be popular among some expat circles to mourn the loss of these “traditional” dwellings. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous. I’ve seen the buildings on the left close up, and they are constructed extremely shoddily. You hear about third world living conditions in Shanghai — well, this is one of those places. Those buildings–like most buildings in Shanghai–are not even very old. They were just built with inferior materials, so they seem like they have real history. If Shanghai wants to modernize, it really needs to tear down as many of this kind of building as possible and start building quality structures in their places.
I’m not completely heartless, though. There’s a tragedy here, and it’s about the people. (Isn’t it always, in China?) The people that live in that area live in those wretched conditions because they’re poor. Knocking down their homes doesn’t help them at all; it just means they’ll be forced to relocate, while rich people move into the new highrise that’s built on the ruins of their old homes.
You know this kind of thing goes on every day in Shanghai, but it feels strange, watching it happen bit by bit from my very own home…
I moved into my current apartment in Shanghai on December 10, 2004. That means I have been living here for over half a year. In all that time, not a single electricity bill has showed up.
At first my roommates and I didn’t mind; we figured it came every few months. As the months started to add up, however, we got nervous. The three of us used the heat a fair amount during the winter, which, with three people, could easily amount to 500 rmb or more per month. We didn’t want to get slammed with that all at once.
I told my landlord about the problem, and she told me to check with the apartment administration. They said they didn’t handle that. I relayed this to my landlord, and she said she’d handle it. More time passed.
Recently my roommate Carl has landed a new job that will necessitate his relocation to another part of Shanghai. Carl has never been one to waive any power consumption rights, so we definitely wanted to settle the matter of the electricity bill before he moved (and before the sum got too huge). So recently I asked my landlord about it again, stressing the urgency. This time she got answers.
What she told me is that the power meter has been broken all this time, and she’d have it fixed soon. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have to pay for the power we have used in the past six months!
I find it a little hard to believe. Could the power company make such a mistake? Power just doesn’t get given away for free. Could it have been my landlord’s mistake, and somehow she won’t be able to determine how much we’ve used, so she’ll have to pay the sum herself? That doesn’t seem likely, because the power company should be able to tell her the amounts.
If we really don’t have to pay those six months of power bills and the power meter has still not been fixed yet, then I think it’s time to get busy using some more free power. Somehow, though, I think this bill will find its way to us down the road. In the meantime, it’s nice to think we got six months of free power.
How do you spot a tiny Chinese real estate (房产) company? First, you should be on a street with lots of little shops. Then you just look for the shop with papers plastered all over the storefront window. That’s it. In Shanghai they are everywhere.
This is the way these little companies advertise their real estate, and the system seems pretty universal. Each paper is marked with either a 售 (for sale) or a 租 (for rent). The 售s tend to be on one side, the 租s on another. There also tend to be a lot more 售s. It’s a handy system because it means you can casually check out the company’s offerings without going in and being hassled by some salesperson.
One of these days I’ll get around to typing up the story of how I found my new apartment. It involves one of these little companies.