When I was a pre-teen growing up in LA, I would visit Disneyland quite often. Like all kids, I couldn’t wait to ride the Matterhorn. However, I was (still am, actually) a big wuss. I would keep my eyes shut for most of the ride as I was terrified to see my upcoming demise even though there wasn’t any chance of actually dying while riding in a Disneyland bobsled. I mention this because riding on the back of a scooter today, brought back these memories. Actually, calling the vehicle I was on, a “scooter” greatly exaggerates its prowess. It was more like a high-powered bicycle. Still, unlike the bobsled ride, I really was staring death in the eyes and once again, I kept them tightly shut most of the time.
Today, Sunday, I contacted an apartment agent and he came by the office to pick me up and take me to see some apartments. Helmets? Helmets are for wusses, apparently, and if you’re a wuss and you don’t bring your own, than you are SOL, as I was. Green traffic lights? Driving with the flow of traffic? Not driving on the sidewalk? Going down a one-way street in the same direction as the other drivers? Again, all of those are for wusses. Red lights? Apparently, they’re no different than green lights. Pedestrians (on the sidewalk, no less) are merely flag posts to dodge like a downhill slalom. Going down a one-way street weaving in and out of cars bearing straight for us? That’s what a motorbike is for, silly! Oh yes, who needs two hands to steer when one of the can be used to talk on the phone. I am not making any of this up, although, because I did have my eyes closed most of the time, I’m no doubt leaving out additional moments of peril. Still, since I emerged intact and no worse for wear, I have to conclude this is what passes for normal. Of course, I knew all of this in advance because I have seen this, as a pedestrian. I just didn’t think I would experience it so up close and personal.
I was shown four apartments. Two of them had me saying to myself, “what did I do in this lifetime so wrong that I could end up living here?” One apartment was decent enough but no matter how hard I tried to imagine myself living there for a year (you almost always have to sign a one-year lease in this town) I just couldn’t see myself living in a place where the kitchen was best suited for nothing more complicated than boiling water. How small was it? The fridge was in the living room. When I got back to the office, my colleagues, who looked at the pictures, told me I should “jump on it” because it was somewhat new, clean and reasonably priced. More importantly, nothing decent stays on the market for very long. I began to think that I should contact the agent and grab it before it was gone.
But being the hard-nosed, shrewd businessman that I am, I asked him to “show me the best apartment you have, money be damned.” As I said, “shrewd.” He took me to an obviously, high-end apartment complex about a 20 minute walk from the office. The apartment is on the 10th floor and I was encouraged by the fact that the front door lock was so high-tech that it took us almost ten minutes to figure out how to open it. He had a friend with him so it actually took the three of us working together to unlock it. I take pride in the fact that I was the one who figured out how to uncover the keyhole. The apartment is a stunner! Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, separated by a living room. Again a teeny, tiny, although, very modern kitchen. Once more, however, the fridge is in the living room which is quite common from what I’ve seen. It’s fully furnished, as are most of the apartments on the market. The bathrooms are remarkable and unlike most, the showers are self-contained whereas most other showers are merely extensions of the bathroom itself. There is also a tub in the master bathroom although any westerner would wonder why the builder thought that a full-length window separating the tub from the bedroom would be a nice touch. Overall, the apartment has a very corporate feel but I had no doubt that I could call it “home” for the next year. Is it cheap? Not by Beijing standards. But I have no doubt that if it were in SF or NY, it would probably fetch between four and five thousand a month. Ergo, it is, in fact, cheap. After a few rounds of negotiations over the phone with the landlord, we agreed on a mutually acceptable price and tomorrow, Monday, I sign the lease. Oh yes, just outside the building is a subway stop and that means all of Beijing is right outside my door.
Given what I’m paying, all of you who claimed to want to visit, better well do so! As I said in a previous post, “first come, first served.”