Journey to the planet of the electro-squids

It’s time to move.

We’ve been in the same place for nearly three years. It’s been good, but Mrs. Imagethief’s business is growing, I’m spending some of my time working at home, and let’s not even get into the whole child-number-two discussion. The upshot is that we need a bigger place.

I hate almost everything about moving. It’s disruptive. It’s a pain in the ass. It’s expensive (although less so in China than elsewhere). There is the great mystery as to whether you’re trading your current decent landlord (I’ve been lucky) for Empress Wu. There’s the great computational axis of price vs. commute vs. school vs. amenities vs. could our ayi get here? The only good things about moving are being able to slough off a layer of useless house-cruft — all that stuff at the backs of closets– and the feeling you get when you finally have the new place set up the way you want, before the cats have salted everything in summer cat hair and little, scattered pills of cat litter. I have many miles to go before I have my feet up on that particular ottoman of satisfaction.

Until then, I must endure the great drudgery of plodding through empty apartments. The other day I had to reel in an agent who was about to take us to look at some places renting for RMB40,000 a month. Hold on there, tiger. I know you’re paid based on the rent, but if I could afford that kind of ticket my personal flunky would be taking the first look. Not me. Our budget is decent, but we’re still squarely in the making-some-compromises bracket. It says something about China that our current leading-candidate apartment had an unflushed toilet full of shit and yet our conclusion was still, say, not bad. In the US realtors tell you set out fresh cookies when people are coming to look at the apartment. In China you get a bog full of crap. But you also get new floor boards, so take the bad with the good, I guess.

I don’t want to complain at length about all the miseries of hunting for an apartment in China. Well, strictly speaking, that’s not true. I do in fact want to complain about them and I have done so at length. But I also want to focus on just one thing that gets up my nose every time I tour apartments in China. It is not, despite what you might think, piles of human waste. It is the light fixtures.

To gather all my complex feelings about this into just three words, what the f***?

It’s true, many Chinese apartments have appalling furniture. My solution to that has been to buy my own furniture and look for unfurnished or partly-furnished places. I’m completely willing to have redundant crap dragged out of the apartment as a condition of rental. That couch that I wouldn’t sit on without wrapping my ass in saran-wrap and sunscreen? Adios, muchacho. But lights are built in. There is wiring, and screws and god knows what. And if I unplug this wire, this being China and all, there is a chance, however small, that all the stop-lights in the neighborhood will turn green at once or the neon sign on the restaurant across the road will spell out a dirty word and my visa will be canceled for gross disturbance of public order.

None of which would matter if the light fixtures weren’t so consistently awful. I’m not talking some rarefied, well that’s a bit unsightly thing. I’m talking full-on psychotic awful, like having Damien Hirsch Hirst* as your interior decorator and coming home to find pickled sharks lined with halogen bulbs hanging from your ceiling at face level. I’m talking 1970s Disco Inferno throwback nasty that makes me think of lime green shag carpets and Ford Econoline vans with bubble windows and airbrushed paintings of topless space-vixens deflecting lightning bolts with Gibson “Flying V” electric guitars. If you’ve ever wanted to see what it would look like if the space-ship from the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind landed in your living room, I’ve got the apartment for you. If you want to know what it would look like if Louis XVI had escaped the guillotine, sneaked out of France disguised as un ouvrier Chinois (quelle humiliation!) and wound up in a downtown three-bedroom in Beijing on a middle-class Chinese salary, I’ve got the apartment for you.

What is this fascination with chandeliers? Listen: If you’ve got a stately pile in the countryside with forty acres (or, this being China, 240 mu) of grape vines and a grand hall with a thirty-foot ceiling that requires banquet illumination, then fine. Get a chandelier. I’m not saying it’s a good decision, but it’s at least technically defensible on some kind of inbred, blue-blood clause. But if you’ve just bought an urban pre-fab concrete box with eight-foot ceilings, a three-foot chandelier is simply not going to work unless you’re renting your apartment to Wee Man from the “Jackass” movies. Sooner or later, someone is winding up in the hospital having bits of Swarovski shrapnel irrigated out of their eyes. Plus, if you are renting your apartment to Wee Man, a stack of turds in the hall bathroom is likely to be the least of your problems when he moves out. Make sure you get the deposit in cash.

Lights, dude. How hard can it be? It’s the illumination that counts, not the number of fronds on the fixture or getting it exactly the same shade of pink as Aphrodite’s hemorrhoids. A big factor in choosing our current apartment was that it had naked bulbs in the ceiling. All we had to do was hang shades on them. Less is more. Think minimal and simple. Especially –and I cannot stress this enough– if you want to rent to foreigners. We’re weak. Our eyes bleed if we see too much brass filigree at any one time. Easy test: if your light fixtures make my son either giggle or cry, I’m not renting your apartment, even if the fridge is colossal and the toilets just came out of an autoclave and the bathrooms smell like a strawberry muffin factory. It’s that simple. When I stagger home from work late and flick on the living room light, I don’t want my first reaction to be cardiac arrest. I don’t want to feel compelled to place a panicky phone call to SHADO.  I don’t want to crack my head into the goddamn thing when I stumble into the kitchen in the middle of the night for a biscuit. I don’t want to find freaking bats hanging from it.

I don’t, in a word, want this:

electro squid

Now, really, is that too much to ask?

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