Friday, June 25, 2010

Li Ayi And Tianzuo Guoji

On our first full day in Beijing, it was time to check out of the Jinjiang and head over to our home for the summer. Our apartment is owned by Haotian and Yuan, a young couple who are in the US working on their PhDs. With rough directions in hand, and unable to sleep because of jet lag, we hit the streets of Beijing before the clock struck 6am.

Two hours of walking later, we had passed through a great zaoshi (morning market) and by the front of Wutasi (one of our favorite Beijing temples), but had not succeeded in finding our apartment. Then, returning to an intersection near where we had started, we looked up and there it was...天作国际 (Tianzuo Guoji). A typical Balla Beijing misadventure!

Scheduled to meet Haotian's mother, Li Ayi, at 10am, we loaded our bags into a pair of taxis and took the short ride over to Zhongguancun Lu. Tianzuo Guoji is a strange (to our western eyes) collection of residences, offices, and a shopping mall (yes, a shopping mall!). We dropped our stuff in what looked like the main lobby and waited. At a few minutes past ten, I pulled out my cell phone, which had miraculously come back to life after a year's vacation in America, and dialed Li Ayi, who informed me that we needed to walk over to the entrance of er hao lou (Building #2). Z and I wandered out the door and started asking around. As we zeroed in on our location, there she was, waving her hand out the window, calling, "Bai Xiansheng! Bai Xiansheng!" Mr. Balla! Mr. Balla! The game was on...

Moving up to the fifteenth floor, or more precisely the floor numbered fifteen (for whatever reason, the numbering system isn't consecutive), Li Ayi and I set about going through the details of the contract and how the apartment works. It was great to hear real-time Chinese and actually understand most of it. (It also helped that Li Ayi is originally from Luoyang, an old city in Henan Province. Read...She is not from Beijing...No marbles in her mouth!)

The most confusing part came when talking about electricity and hot water. It turns out that there are these cards. You go down to the wuye (apartment manager) and pre-pay for each of these amenities, using the cards as identification. A bit of an unusual system from our perspective, but, hey, it works!

In the meantime, Desi was over at the table working on assembling the cash to finalize the deal. We hadn't had a chance to deposit money in our Chinese bank account yet, so we had exchanged dollars for renminbi at the nearby Friendship Hotel. Naturally, we had forgotten about the security deposit, so Desi was left to scramble through Julie and Z's money, as well as any spare yuan we had lying around. Saving face for us, Desi managed to cobble together the full amount in the nick of time. And so here we are, fashioning 1503 Tianzuo Guoji into our home for the next two months...

~Steve

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