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Here Comes the Neighborhood

Then right after the extended May Day holiday, suddenly it was all back to work. The drills and jackhammers started that morning. Pent-up renovation demand burst like a dam. I have never really understood why when one buys a new apartment in China the whole thing is ripped apart - the flooring, all the fixtures, even the cement under the floor is drilled up

By NewsChina Updated Jul.1

In one fell swoop, life after the lockdown was eased in Beijing became more and less convenient. Best thing: delivery guys can bring your goods to your door again. I immediately ordered all the heavy things from Ikea I’d been waiting for. Actually, they weren’t that heavy - I just discovered the delivery fee was only 10 yuan (US$1.4), much cheaper than taking a cab there and back, as well as saving on all those things you never thought to own but are just waiting to be picked up as you wind your way through the Swedish labyrinth. 

Ikea in China is famous for people napping on the beds, playing cards in the display living room sets and generally behaving as they do when they are at home. I find it quite endearing, but I’m way too British to do the same. Then I saw the news that one young lady took lockdown easing a bit too far by conducting herself extremely immodestly on a sofa in one of the stores. There was video. Look what scandal you missed by being lazy, I thought. But it seems the store was down in Guangzhou in Southern China. Ikea has vowed to increase security and reminded customers to take less pleasure in their visits. The hygiene implications alone at a time like this are worrying. Still, at least she was by herself, so she was properly practicing social distancing. 

The worst thing about the end of the lockdown is the noise. Apartment living in big-city China has one major drawback. Renovation season. Usually, it starts up right after the Chinese New Year holidays end, when workers come back to cities eager to earn after a break of a few weeks. This year, all was silent. No one was moving home, no one could have repair guys in. Not a hammer or a drill. There were the occasional fights heard through the walls from the neighbors, but who could blame them after several weeks. I know I had to raise my voice to the cats and dogs more than once. 

Then right after the extended May Day holiday, suddenly it was all back to work. The drills and jackhammers started that morning. Pent-up renovation demand burst like a dam. I have never really understood why when one buys a new apartment in China the whole thing is ripped apart - the flooring, all the fixtures, even the cement under the floor is drilled up.  

In the UK, house buyers are instructed to make their homes presentable and if possible, with neutral white walls. Buyers would like to move in and not have to do much work, at least at first. It’s very strange that you would move to a perfectly good place, and then rip everything out. One of the most common sights in renovation season are toilet bowls. They turn up in the most unusual places, on the streets, balancing precariously on heaps of wood and tiles. I once thought about trying to a blog called “Abandoned Toilets of Beijing,” and set about photographing all the toilets I saw lying around. But it was a busted flush. Still got the photos though. 

At the same time, some of the workers that had been unable to return to Beijing showed up in my compound. The gardener and his wife, a missing security guard and the recycling guy all popped up. The recycling guy was busy loading up lots of office equipment onto his cart. Curious, I thought. Then later I saw that the only convenient facility we have nearby (everything else is real estate agencies and hairdressers), the ICBC bank, was completely gutted. Right before I needed to top up my electricity card and get some statements.  

It’s not that I love the bank. It’s almost the most infuriating place I’ve ever been in. They never rush to complete a transaction - why do in five minutes what you can string out to an hour? Once, there was almost a riot. Customers have to take a number, like at a deli counter. It’s an orderly system, and mostly works well, until the day the system crashed and it reset back to zero. The pensioners formed a mob. Once, I almost caused a riot. I had lost my ATM card, and waited the previous day for around two hours to sort it out. Come back tomorrow, they said. Just come straight to the counter. But when I did, I could hear the mutterings from the assembled retirees - mostly there for the free aircon. “That foreigner didn’t line up!” I could sympathize. I turned and addressed the whole bank, explaining I was doing as I had been told, and besides, I’d lined up a long time yesterday. The mutterings subsided.  

Although my history with the bank is fraught, I was upset to see it emptied - but mostly by the thought that I’d have to make the effort to go one farther away. It’ll be back in a couple of months, the gate guard said. It turns out that now I can go out and about, I don’t really want to.

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