Negotiating rent in Chinglish – Rounds 7 & 8

It’s a slow week around here. At least one fun little project I had planned — to spend an afternoon walking down the canal asking all the old fishermen why they do it and what they think about while they sit there by themselves all day every day — has been canceled on account of pollution. Fishermen used to line the banks all up and down the canal on our street, rain or shine or ice, all year round — and now there are none. The lady that sells me fried noodles at lunch (there’s a whole post on her in December) says it’s because the river got too polluted and all the fish died.

Another fun project I’m planning — find a good old-school style Chinese bathhouse and see what kinds of conversations there are to be had when sitting around naked with a bunch of old men — is still in the works, but one of the two local bathhouses that I know of got a really bad review from Mr. Chang and his buddies this weekend, so we’ll have to see how that turns out.

So here’s the next round of the rent saga instead. I don’t know why I continue to chronicle these. They’re boring me, and I’m the one writing them. But it’s a slow week, the fishermen are gone, and it’s like now that I’ve started I just can’t stop.

Round 7

‘Aunty Wang’ our Chinese landlord left our apartment saying she’d take our offer of an extra 200元/month ($30) back to her daughter, who wants to move in. Then she’d tell us what what her daughter says. We assumed she meant she was going to go talk to her daughter and see if her daughter was willing to let us keep living here. But apparently that’s not what Aunty Wang meant. What she meant was, “200’s great! It’s all settled then!” Silly foreigners, how thick can you be?

It’s been the unanimous opinion of our teachers, neighbours, and friends since Aunty Wang first told us we had to move out several weeks ago that a daughter has nothing to do with it; Aunty Wang just wants to raise the rent.

Saturday it’d been almost two weeks since we’d talked. We got tired of hearing nothing, so Jessica finally gave her a call to ask if there was any news.

Aunty Wang was like, What, we already agreed! Jessica said thanks, and told her we’d been wondering because we hadn’t heard from her in a while. Aunty Wang laughed; apparently it was funny that we hadn’t clued in to the fact that this had been settled during the previous conversation. Our neighbours laughed when we told them we’d felt the need to phone and ask her, and then they started talking to each other about Chinese-foreigner cultural differences.

We missed something there… something we were supposed to assume but didn’t… or something. In her mind, we’d settled everything back in Round 6. Anyway, we get to stay here until our flight to Canada, so that’s good news.

Round 8

Jessica was doubtful, but I’d hatched a plan to see if any foreign friends want to rent this place while we’re gone and then move out when we come back, so we can keep living here when we return. Since everyone seems to think that the daughter, if she exists, doesn’t have anything to do with it, I figured I can pitch a whole nother year’s worth of rent to Aunty Wang and she just might go for it.

She immediately shot it down, saying her daughter really wants to move in and they’re going to gut he place and completely re-do it.

Jessica had been getting really annoyed by us not having our plans settled, so this seemingly firm answer came as a relief. We both figured this was all done and settled, and I was starting to doubt our neighbours’, friends’, and teachers’ unanimous opinion that she was making this whole story up just to raise the rent (in a market where housing prices are starting to go down, I might add).

Then this weekend, after weeks of no communication, Aunty Wang phones up out of the blue just to tell us that her daughter doesn’t want the apartment after all, and has in fact bought a different one, and that if we want to find a foreigner friend to live in this place while we’re gone and then come back to it, great.

We don’t know what we’ll do yet. We love the neighbourhood, but there will be no love lost between us and this apartment when finally go.

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