Apartment prices are down and my lease is up, so Imagethief has been looking for a new, larger apartment to accommodate himself, Mrs. Imagethief, two whiny cats and the various junk that has accumulated in the past two years.
I hate looking at apartments. The whole process is annoying and seedy, like buying a used car, if you were going to live in it. Of course, if you were buying a car at least the whole process would be over when you drove it off the lot (unless, of course, it was a lemon). With apartment rental, once you sign the lease you then have to deal with the brutal moving. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to move without losing at least one thing. Once it was the rice cooker (no big deal — it had bicycle shorts crammed into it, so whoever lifted it deserved what they got). Once it was my wife’s dive computer. This time, if I’m lucky, we’ll lose one of the cats.
Rental agents in China are motley crew, and not all of them strike me as entirely together. One young man greeted me and my wife in a white T-shirt with the sleeves torn off (and wore the same shirt on two separate occasions), and then wondered why the security guard at Huamao gave him trouble at the door. Another explained to me at a certain complex that 160 square meter and 180 square meter apartments “cost the same because the 180 meter ones don’t rent, so the price has come down”. I didn’t have the heart to explain to him that this was both economically impossible, and not supported by the evidence of a real-estate ad listing different prices for 160 and 180 square meter apartments.
But by far the worst aspect of renting an apartment in China is the furniture. In fact, I will extend this beyond China, since I have seennumerous apartments in Singapore and seen places belonging to Korean landlords, and make a sweeping statement: Asian landlords have, on average, the world’s most appalling taste in furnishings and fixtures. If there is a hell, it will have been furnished by an Asian landlord. And, just playing the odds, probably a Chinese one.
What is it about buying an apartment in Asia that makes a person instantaneously lose all contact with good taste and common sense? The furniture I see in these apartments is beyond ugly, ranging from Logan’s Run-style 1970s retro-future abominations that would make orange shag carpet cringe in shame (in the future, all furniture will be inflatable leatherette!) to coccyx-shattering rosewood chinoiserie with all the inviting warmth of an ice chastity belt to faux Louis XIV rococo obscenities that could be lifted from Versailles, if Versailles was in Branson, Missouri and lined with neon.
The other thing that really gets me is chandeliers. If wanted to live in a luxury hotel I’d live in a luxury hotel. I don’t want my apartment to feel like a luxury hotel. I certainly don’t want things that look like inverted, crystal pine trees hanging from the ceiling. These things are like the Chandeliers of Damocles. I’d be waiting for the whole jangly works to tear loose and land on my head as I’m working my way through my morning Grape Nuts. I don’t want to die with my face in a bowl of Grape Nuts and an enormous, crystal pine tree embedded in my skull. The morticians will make fun of my corpse and my family will refuse to take delivery of the remains. The hearse will make jingly crystal noises every time it goes over a speed bump. New-agers will come to worship at my grave. (“He didn’t die! He transcended space-time with the help of crystals in his skull!”) How humiliating. I’ll end up was one of the “odd news” bites in the China Daily: “Foreigner dies in blaze of glory!” It’ll be right above, “Two-headed goat in Shaanxi sings Donny & Marie classics!”
I suppose chandeliers are better than the alternative, which is relentlessly cold fluorescent lighting that makes the inside of the apartment look like a meat locker. Notice how fluorescent light can make anyone look like a serial killer? Under incandescent or warm fluorescent light Mrs. Imagethief is a gorgeous woman with intoxicating, brown skin, lustrous hair and sparkling eyes. Under fluorescent light she looks like Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho. And, if you don’t recall, Norman Bates’ mother was dead. God knows what it must make me look like. Lurch from the Addams Family, perhaps. Or Dick Cheney.
But who will notice the cheap lighting when there is a TV the size of a billboard? Yes, every apartment I look at has furniture that looks lifted from Peewee’s Playhouse, either hallucinatory chandeliers that would make Steve Wynn blanch or soul-destroying dimestore fluorescents and, for some reason, a brand-new flatscreen TV big enough burn your shadow into the wall behind you (but inevitably paired with a 200 kuai cheapie DVD player).
Here’s an idea: Take the money you’ve spent on the forty-inch LCD television and plow it into some decent lighting and tolerable fucking furniture. There’s an Ikea in this town. I know; I’ve seen it. It’s the size of a small planet. It’s Ikea-World. It’s so big that there are probably people who have been lost inside since the day it opened, subsisting on Swedish meatballs that have rolled under the displays. I don’t like Ikea. In fact, in Singapore I was busy purging the Ikea furniture from my house. But it’s so big that, even if they’re catering to dire, nouveau riche tastes, they must have some furniture that, if not exactly nice, is at least bland and inoffensive. I’ll take a piece of furniture called “Kysblispinyx” or some other too-precious Nordic name if that’s what I have to endure in order to have a couch that supports my legs completely rather than suddenly folding down when I slide forward and slamming my face into the glass coffee table. Honestly, why not just have knives shoot out of the cushions?
I know, I know. You’re thinking I should get an unfurnished place and buy my own furniture. I would, but I already had to sell one houseful of furniture when I moved to China. I don’t relish the idea of accumulating another raft of miscellaneous possessions that I’ll have to unload three or four years hence when I move back to Singapore. And, from what I’ve seen, the chances of my buying anything here that I’ll want to treasure for the rest of my life are slim.
So I’m sucking it up. I’ll find a chandelier-free apartment with classy furniture in this town if it kills me. It can be the dankest, most cockroach-ridden, formaldehyde-infused shithole in Beijing as long as the furniture doesn’t give me cataracts. If I can’t manage that, I’ll just buy a used car and sleep in that.
Note: Imagethief would like to tip his hat to his current landlord who, with the exception of the couch, did a reasonable job furnishing his apartment.