Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Richer the Crueler

After seeing the outrageous condition of the faculty housing last week and realizing that no amount of investment -- big or small -- in further furnishing or renovating the place would save that truly lost cause, I decided to go on an aggressive apartment search.

Only to realize that I've entered a war zone.

And this war zone spreads not just across the field of real estate renting but -- shockingly -- deep within the way people deal with one another.

Give you one example. With the same exact apartment unit, there could be 3 or 4 or 5 (or God knows how many more) real estate agencies who "represent" the unit simultaneously -- they certainly all claim that this is one of the rare units that they can find, and it has only appeared in the market hours ago. This may not seem obvious at first, but after seeing the unit during the day and at night doing a quick search online, you realize, wait a minute, this unit is also posted by another real estate agent with a different price, different description of the total square meter, or even the date of availability.

So, you decide to give that online post a try and ring up the agent to double check upon the details. You even think that you are acting smart by comparing your notes around and figuring out the little shadiness or lies hidden around.

Only that the next day when you are with a totally different agent and expecting to see a totally different unit in the same apartment complex, that one particular unit -- your dream unit even -- surfaces again. "Actually ... I've already seen the unit yesterday ..." You finally decided to tell this particular agent just to avoid the hassle of going through the visiting process again.

So the fierce bargaining battle begins, so much so that you don't know whose price or guarantees you should trust, how much time you still have to decide, or how eager or disinterested you should appear to be.

Worst of all -- you start to wonder if you should start acting like one of them, also pulling out facades and playing mental tricks so that they could still stay in the game with you until you get what you want. Forget about trusting your 1st agent introduced through a connection or paying loyalty to the 2nd agent who has gone out for extra service for you. In the meantime, though, the 3rd agent pops up out of nowhere and you just wonder if his business card is even authentic, while the 4th agent just seems too resourceful to be true.

In essence, and in one word -- you stop trusting anyone. And you stop asking your own conscience if you have actually become one of them who's only concern is TO GET WHAT YOU WANT and throw the lofty word called "trust" or "decency" out of the window.

Because in the end, all that they want comes down to one thing -- MONEY. That's what the landlord wants, the agent wants, and the whole society wants.

(And you just want an apartment so that you can stop crashing at friends' places and living out of suitcases for another 2 months).


Some people suggest that ignoring all their talks about "this unit is going to go right now if you don't give me a deposit." Yet today, I indeed lost a very ideal unit because I hesitated for 2 hours (I thought I was just "taking my time to think it through").

Some people suggest trying out different agents and don't put all the eggs in one basket. Yet because of that, today, my cell couldn't stop ringing with all these random cell phone numbers. I even had one guy who phoned me up at dinner tonight and had the following conversation with him:

"I heard that you are looking for an apartment."

"Excuse me, who am I speaking to?"

"I can't tell you who I am, but I was told that you are looking for an apartment."

"Ok, I don't care about who you are, but I do care about how you got my cell phone number."

"I can't tell you who gave me your cell phone number, but I was told that you are looking for an apartment."

"Yes I am looking for an apartment, but since I don't know who you are and don't know who gave you my number, this is my private matter, my private number, and neither of them has anything to do with you. So I am going to hang up now."


WHAT THE?!? I didn't even have any energy left to scream, at the end of my 3rd day of apartment search.

The reality is, as an associate professor working in one of the most prestigious universities in China (letting alone having one of the best educational degrees in the world), I cannot afford a decent one-bedroom apartment near campus that doesn't threaten the rest of my budget for basic standard of living. The reality also stands that one of the most prestigious universities in China cannot/doesn't care more about setting a reasonable salary level that comes anywhere close to the skyrocketing housing market and standards of living here in the city.

"That's why no professor lives with one salary alone in China," people have warned me.

And that's why many other people -- the migrant workers, the blue-collar workers, the a-yi's, the nannies, the young college graduates from other cities outside Shanghai, the Mr. X, the Ms. Y, the Mrs. Z ... -- do not and cannot live with one salary alone.

"In this whole wide world, there are no other countries more capitalistic than China."

Now I know what my father's saying.

"Shanghai's motto -- survival the fittest."

Now I know that my friend C is saying.

Since my last long-term stay in Shanghai 6 years ago, Shanghai has gone richer.

It has also gone much crueler.

梅ちゃん at 12:59:00 AM



at 11/13/10, 3:02 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see,that's pretty normal in Shanghai, but don't hesitate to ask help from Ye Xi, Xiao Fang and Dong Mei,who are Shanghainese.

at 11/13/10, 3:04 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

and they are in the same univ. as you.


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