Our Chinese landlord

The owner of our flat (“You can call me Christina”) has worked for General Motors for most of the 10 years since her graduation from university and speaks a little English. Her husband is the General Manager of Land Rover’s service operations in China. Just after her marriage in 2002, she had purchased the 30th floor apartment in the then-new complex. (It is common for thrifty parents to dip into their substantial savings to help their child purchase a first home.) Her flat had been on the market for two months, and she had already nixed three prospective renters as unsuitable.

Christina agreed to provide a desk for Tom and a foam pad for the king size bed, which like many Chinese beds was hard as a rock. Immediately after concluding the lease agreement, Christina drove us in her luxurious new Buick way out in the suburbs to the largest Ikea we had ever seen. But apart from its scale, it was exactly like the Ikea in Oakland – same layout, same products, same Swedish meatballs.

Christina was obviously an Ikea veteran. She steered us at top speed through the store to the required items, picked up the merchandise, paid using her Ikea member discount card, and arranged for delivery the following weekend. She whisked us back into central Shanghai at 9:30pm. We were gaga from jet lag, but finished with a major task of getting settled.

Following many upwardly mobile Chinese, Christina and her husband recently purchased a new flat in a suburban high-rise complex. Christina is outfitting their new house with all new things, no doubt also purchased at Ikea, so she is glad to leave behind all her furniture, dishes and kitchenware. She even loaned us her huge collection of pirated DVDs. Since we arrived in Shanghai with only clothes, books, and a few personal items, this made getting settled much easier. We moved in only one week after arriving in Shanghai.

Unlike Christina, we prefer living in the middle of the big city close to the narrow streets with open-front shops and ordinary Chinese people going about their business. We’ll have a great opportunity while still living in a modern flat.

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