Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Apartment Hunting

In the days between the end of finals and the beginning of my official vacation (read: when I actually get on an airplane), I am taking some time to get things sorted out for my return. One of the most important things on my agenda is finding an apartment.

At my job, there is a person that is supposed to help us find apartments. I was warned that he is lazy, and the warnings pale in comparison to what has actually occurred thus far. In short, it took him over two weeks to even begin "looking" (read: call his contacts and ask if they have anything). And this was after I called him on a regular basis. The school year is over, and so 75% of his job is on vacation until the next school year. I am working on a limited time line, and so I had to start looking myself.

Armed with my basic Chinese skills, and a friend who speaks a little more Chinese, we walked around the neighborhood and looked for real estate offices. It was a blisteringly hot day, and I did not have any addresses, we were just walking until we saw one. It worked out well, as Real Estate offices are everywhere in Shanghai, and we found a few. The second one we found was the most promising, mostly because we were hot and tired, and the told us to come in and sit down, and offered us cold water.

It is a typical rinky-dink office, with two employees. They didn't have much to offer, but they called the other offices in the area and told them they were helping their "foreigner friends" find an apartment. Not true, but once they don't expect me to pay two real estate agents, I don't particularly care. Now, I know that once they (the other agents, the landlords) hear "foreigner" the price goes up, but my agents could as well say it up front because once they (the landlords) see me the price will go up anyway. Sometimes, they did ask the price before they told the other agents it was for their foreign friends, and so the price didn't change - the offerings did. This is not problematic, because I want a "nice" apartment, the ones that foreigners and well-to-do Chinese live in, and now that I understand the culture a bit more, I am not as easily bothered. So, after a lot of phone calls, three glasses of water, over two hours, and my willingness to sit diminished, they found places we could look at right away.

We went outside, and the boss (she told us to call her Manager Wang) proceeded to hail a taxi. Right now, I am working on a TIGHT budget, and that budget does not include taxi rides. They are cheap, but the bus and train are cheaper, and my legs function just fine. So, I told her we could walk if it wasn't far. After some discussion, she told us that there was a bike we could ride at the office. And so my friend (who is male) rode the bike, I sat on the back, and Manager Wang gets on the back of a motorcycle with a guy that was in and out of the office while we were there. Motorcycle, bicycle. Motorcycle, bicycle. Right. I felt so bad for my friend, as riding a bike with an extra 130-150 lbs on the back is no easy feat. And the place was not far, but it definitely was not close, there was some rugged terrain, a few hills (I got off and walked up the hills), and it was still blisteringly hot. In case you're wondering, sitting on the back of a bike is not as easy as one might think. You can't shift or move and it isn't comfortable - not even with my natural cushioning. I was joking that I was going to have welts and impressions from the bike frame across by butt.

After looking at the apartment, we asked where the metro station was. Much to Manager Wang's dismay, we told her that we were not going to ride the bike back to her office, being as we could walk to the station. She tried to convince us to ride back to the office, but we were adamant. In the end, she decided that we could ride to the station, so that she could show us the way. We rode - well, I balanced, my friend rode - to the metro station, and then gave a very unhappy Manager Wang back her bike. Every time we looked at apartments after that she met us at the train station in a taxi, which she paid for - I guess she didn't enjoy her ride back home. As for my future residence, the hunt is still on.

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