15 March 2007
I’ve been here seven months now and enjoyed my fair share of brow-beating which left me thinking that in my final days I might catch a wind of good luck. Wrong. Of course I had a great time touring with Anne (she’s a fantastic travel buddy) and the Shanghai crew made the very best of our last few days altogether in “Shangers,” but it seems Shanghai was really gunning for me. Unfortunately, for Shanghai, I had reached my limit and the gloves came off.
As soon as Anne and I arrived from Yichang it was go-time. We waited forty minutes in a cab line to get back to my place. After loading our own luggage I told the cab driver where we were going. “Oh no, I’m not going there. It’s not far enough,” he said. “Yes, you are going there,” I told him. “If you don’t I’ll call the Police.” He then proceeded to try and charge us some exorbitant fare because we were only going fifteen minutes away and apparently he had picked us up because he thought we were going to Pudong (where most of the foreigners live), which is a good hour and a half from the airport. “I waited for thirty minutes in line to get passengers. Either you pay what I would have made to drive to Pudong, or you get out,” he screamed at me, while pulling to the side of the highway. So here we are on the side of the highway, a cabbie trying to shove us out because our destination isn’t good enough for him. Anne is looking stunned because I’m yelling at the cab driver at the top of my lungs, calling him a thief, starting the meter myself and threatening to call the cops. Then the guy gets out and starts to take our bags out of the trunk. No help putting them in but as soon as he feels like it there’s no problem lifting and shifting. I get out and slam the trunk shut then tell him to get back in the car, which he does. He refuses to drive. At this point I’m enraged. I’ve been sick for three days on a Chinese cruise boat and just waited in line for forty minutes. All I want is to get home. I asked one last time and he refused again, so I picked up my phone, dialed the police and reported his sorry ass to the cops. Magically, within seconds, he was driving on the highway, meter running. “You are very good,” he says to me. It’s not abot being “good.” I just want to go home!
It finished in similar fashion. My landlord came to collect keys and give me back my security deposit (well actually, it wasn’t the actual landlord. It was the guy who works for the guy who works for the landlord. He just manages the property). He arrived thirty minutes early and started laying into me because I wasn’t totally packed. “You’re early,” I said. Then he started punching away at his calculator, adding up all the additional make-believe fees I owed to end the contract. In the end he came up with nearly $125 that I apparently needed to pay him – an internet cancellation fee, a CATV user agreement fee and internet fees for the month of March because “I was leaving on the second and you must pay in full months.” Garbage. Complete garbage. Rather than roll over and play dead I just told him no. He was stunned. Stunned! I refused and laid into him for not fixing the water heater, DVD player or front door, all of which had been broken for months. Then I called him a thief. It seemed to work, as I only ended up paying about $7 in miscellaneous “fees.”
Then came the discussion of my furniture. I had bought a few pieces (chair, coffee table, some lamps) upon arrival because the apartment wasn’t fully furnished. They agreed to pay me $125 for the stuff (notice how this amount is miraculously the same as the miscellaneous fees) upon my departure, which I accepted even though I spent a great deal more, just because it would have difficult to move chairs, tables and lights. Well the landlord’s message wrote down on paper, in English, “no want for that money now. Too much.” Once again, I told him no way. He had promised that amount and he was going to pay. Rather than deal with the situation he called the she-devil who owns the apartment. She’s about 30, drives a massive Buick and has one of those whiny princess Chinese girl attitudes that literally drives you insane. I despise her. She overcharged me on rent, she never dealt with my legitimate problems in the apartment and she was always rude.
We sat around forty minutes waiting for little miss priss to show up. She sauntered in wearing something abominably tacky – as always – and began re-inspecting all the furniture before calling her English-speaking cousin who could act as message. After whining away into the phone for a while, she handed it over to me, wearing a stupid smile on her squinched up face. “Uh, uh, my cousin don’t want to pay 1000 anymore. She say you take some of the things you promise her (which I didn’t. In fact, I left more than I had promised) so she don’t want to pay it anymore. Now she will give you 500,” the cousin told me. “No. That’s not acceptable. She told me 1000 and that’s what she will pay me. You can tell her that. She has handled NONE of my problems and I will not be screwed. Tell her,” I said, before handing the phone back, no smile on my face. Some more whining and blabbering then the phone is back on my ear. “Uh, uh, she say the stuff is old and ugly and she will do you a favor and give you 700. She’s short of money and that’s all she can give you (she’s a cheap bitch is what she is), so I think you should take it.” Now I’m pissed. “Listen to me,” I told her. You tell her that she will pay me 1000 or I’ll take it all right now. I’ll completely empty the apartment. Don’t screw with me.” At this point my teeth were gritted and I was pointing at the landlord while talking to her cousin. My fuse was burnt out and what do you think the woman said to me next? “Well what you gonna do with the stuff? It’s not like you can take it with you.” Explosion. Clearly the landlord had been planning this all along. She knew I couldn’t really move the furniture since I was leaving the country in a matter of hours so she hooked me in with a (still horrible, pathetic, terrible) price of 1000 yuan, waited until the day I had to leave and then backed me into a corner with no options, offering a pitiful amount of money.
I hate being taken advantage of, especially by people who 1. Suck at life and 2. Were terrible to me for seven months, so I shoved it right back in her face. “I will break every last piece of furniture before I am screwed by her. I will give everything away to my neighbors before she steals from me again. Do you understand that? Do you? Translate that to your awful cousin.” I went to hand the phone back. Now the cousin was pleading. “Wait wait wait, maybe we can…” and I didn’t hear the end, because I flipped the phone shut. I walked right up to her, put my face six inches from her and just laid into her in Chinese, calling her a lying thief who was stealing from me. She made that stupid look like “what are you talking about? I didn’t do anything? What? Oh poor me I am the victim” and I just went on and on. The door was wide open and the neighbors starting appearing. I told her there was no deal and started collecting everything I had purchased, and I mean everything. I gutted the place. When I had finished it looked dark, vacant and baron, just like my landlord. Anne fully supported my decision and the two of us carried everything (including the chair, which I carried by myself on my back) down the stairs. I knocked on the door of the “neighborhood dad,” if you will and explained the situation. He had always been great to me, letting me know when I had mail, reminding me of trash day and just keeping an eye on my well-being. I told him I was leaving for America and that I would like him to have all of my things. He was overwhelmed at the sight of all stuff. He and his wife couldn’t stop thanking me.
Within minutes another fifteen people had showed up and “neighbhood dad” began distributing things to everyone. “You need a bathmat. I remember. You take this,” he instructed. “You need a light in your bedroom. This is for you.” Everyone was overjoyed and I felt great. My landlord just stood there watching as I gave every single thing from that apartment to my all my neighbors, for free. She didn’t know what to do. Total embarrassment. I collected my security deposit and they were on their way, only their walk became one of shame. Everyone in the building glared at her as she walked down the stairs and to her big minivan. “You chicken,” one woman said. “Go away,” another chimed in. Then I packed our luggage into the cab, showed the little lady next door had to use the touch light (to which she replied “oh my. So fancy!”) and just like thay, we were gone. Last day and I finally got to stick it to China.