(Confused? This is a continuation of a post from the 2nd of December. You can find it here.)
Where we last left off, O was ripping the landlord a new one.
To no effect, because soon O slammed the phone down, looked at me with fury and said “Come! We’re going to the police station.”
O explained to me that the police in China often function as go betweens during such disputes, and to not be afraid to go make yourself heard there if ever I had a problem. Two busses later and we were at the local police station, explaining all that had gone on first to one, then to a second, and finally a third, and more managerial looking police officer who wanted to see O’s documents, then my documents, then our documents together, then the landlord’s business card, then the landlord’s business card with our documents as he cradled a phone between shoulder and cheek. But the officer got results and told us that the landlord would meet us at 8:30 that night.
It was only about 11:00 am. Another two buses back closer to O’s -and what seemed increasingly less likely was ever going to be my- apartment for a very early 11:30 lunch at a tiny pizza place that served utter shit. Here O could barely sit there for the anger she felt, and she began to express just what she really thought about the Chinese. None of it was pretty, and at some point she realized that if she kept this up the chef, who I could see smoking a cigarette through the kitchen window, would come by with a mop and ask me to mop the vitriol off the floor. “I’m sorry” she said “I’m not like this. If you met me anywhere else in the world, I wouldn’t have this attitude. China makes me like this.” Since hearing O say this, I have no heard this same line from numerous different people.
We finished our food and found ourselves with a whopping 8 more hours to go before we might see this shit head landlord. O made it very clear that we were taking a risk, and that the landlord could very well simply not show up at 8 and we would both be left there holding our proverbial dicks. By that time the police station would be closed, O did not have the following day off, and I would be starting work very soon, so it would be tonight or never to get this accomplished. With all that in mind, O asked me if I wanted to risk it.
Well, it was that or go back to sulk in my hotel room at the edge of civilization. ‘Why the fuck not’ was clearly the best answer.
So we went to a bar and decided to put a few back and whittle away the time in good company. Our time at the restaurant before going to that proved to me that our conversation should avoid China as a topic as much as humanly possible. But this was an impossibly tall order, as O had been in China for seven years and wanted nothing more in life than to be divorced from the massive elephant in the room, and I having just arrived wanted nothing more than the massive elephant in the room explained to me. Life seemed to dish O constant reminders of things to complain about in China. For instance, around our 3 hour at the bar our table began to be a little cluttered with empty beer bottles. No one came to bus them, ever, in the eight hours we would be there. “They don’t do that here” O said. “They will clear the table once when you leave, never sooner.” This has been proven true pretty much every time I go to a restaurant.
“People here don’t want to work” O said standing up when we couldn’t get a waiter to come to our table for maybe the fifth time, “no one takes their job seriously.” Despite being he only patrons of the bar, pumping money into for the better part of eight hours, we always received shit service while we were there. One would think that they would extend us some kind of courtesy for keeping them employed a day or two longer (the bar is now shut down), but that never happened.
Now to be perfectly fair to China, I should mention that O had some pretty extreme opinions across the board. Talking about our shared native Europe proved that she was strongly anti-Muslim, and overly worried about Europe (in her opinion) foolhardy rush to save the refugees who would then stay in Europe “without being properly civilized first” (those words, or something to that effect, were hers). She wasn’t a person I was going to agree with entirely on many issues, and at the time I really didn’t believe her about China either.
In O defense, in the eight hours that we were there she proved herself to be erudite, intelligent, charming, and affable despite being a massive racist. But at the end of it all it seemed obvious, both by her actions and her anecdotes, that seven years in China had take their toll.
It wasn’t till our last hour at the bar that the place managed to screw up our food order. I forget the specifics, but it seemed to grate O’s nerves pretty fucking thin. I forget the specifics, but it was something relatively minor that seemed to exemplify the fact that no one in this establishment seemed to have any interest in doing any kind of fucking work. O had just finished berating the lazy waiter when, in her frustrated bewilderment, she looked at me dead in the eyes and said words that have stayed with me to this day: “Leave China before it turns you into a massive racist.” And again, at the time I didn’t believe her.
Now that O is gone, I have heard this said over and over again, and have in fact said this myself to other people that I have met.
Anyway, having overcome the daunting eight hour stay at the bar, we paid our tab (which was not as frighteningly massive as I had feared. China does have some perks) and walked back to the office of the landlord smelling of cheap Korean beer and hatred. And as if responding to our catharsis, China decided to stop being stubborn about this whole situation. The dick landlord did keep us waiting for an extra half hour, but he did finally turn up and even pretended that it was he who was on time and us that had kept him waiting (a colossal lie, we knocked on the office door and got no answer). But the threat that he would never switch the contract under my name was gone. He did it, and did it happily (I reckon to save face, seeing as we had involved the police). I thanked O, and went back to my shitty hotel room to get ready to move out the next day.
Six months later I would move out of that apartment. The landlord would try to screw my out of my deposit, claiming I hadn’t paid my utility bills. I had been that morning to the electric company to pay the final bill, and had the reciept to prove it, but in that the bill was in Mandarin and I was a stupid foreigner, the landlord was not having it. “You have not understood. There is more to pay” he said. He spoke English at this convenience, I came to find out. “No deposit.” He held his hand out for the apartment keys.
I clutched them in my hand. “Fine” I said. “Let’s go to the electric company. Let’s ask them if I have anything else to pay.” I walked to the sidewalk and began to hail a cab as the landlord nervously began to chatter to his associate.
“It’s fine” he said, “I will give you the deposit. But you foreigners will never understand.”
He tried to short me 200RMB. “All of it I said.”
I got my money back, and to a certain extent I feel like I have O to thank. The unfortunate thing is that I have picked up many of her stances on China.