Friday, February 12, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 2

Haiping and Su Chun are climbing the stairs of an apartment complex (so there is no elevator). It is all cement, and there are “small advertisements” spray painted on the walls offering fake ID cards.

Many couples wander around the apartment. The bidding starts at 380,000 yuan.

Haiping pulls Su Chun outside and says the price is outrageous.

Outside on the street, Haiping says that besides the first couple who really wanted the apartment, the rest of the prospective buyers were cappers/shills (tuor, 托儿, people who act on behalf of others, in this case to bid up the price with no intention of buying) for the real estate agent. Su Chun replies that he just got a call from the agent who showed them an apartment the previous week. The apartment sold for 32,000 yuan over the estimate.

Su Chun: "We are trying to choose an apartment. Soon, an apartment will choose us".

We find out that Haiping's last name is Guo. She knows the city well since she can give directions. One person in the office calls her "big sister" while a middle-aged woman calls her "young", indicating that she is probably close to 30 years old.

Her officemate calls her a "living map". Haiping says it is the result of looking for apartments. Her officemates wonders why she hasn't found one that is appropriate. Haiping says it is because of cost. The "Sun City" apartments are really nice, but they start at 1.5 million yuan.

Another circle of bidders. Haiping and Su Chun buy the apartment, even though it is no different from the circle of bidders they were part of before. Haiping is worried about having a baby and not having an apartment.

During celebration of finally buying an apartment, Su Chun is called by the agent to say that the owners are not selling, since someone else will pay an extra 20,000.

The baby arrives and they are still in the longtang. Diapers, bottles, and new things make Haiping complain about the lack of space. They can't buy reusable diapers because there is no wear to dry them. "Disposable diapers 100 yuan/pack; milk formula 100 yuan/can – your fees are even more ruthless than China Mobile!" Haiping says to the baby.

Haiping's mother wants to take the baby, Ran Ran, back to the countryside to raise for a few years so that Haiping can go back to work, earn money, and buy an apartment. Her mother claims that the smallness of the apartment negatively affects people's temperament, and will be bad for the child. When the time comes, both sets of parents – Haiping's and Su Chun's – will give them some money to help get an apartment in the big city. Haiping reluctantly looks at her mother, indicating capitulation.

Haizao is now in a relationship with Young Bei. She forgoes all luxuries, especially clothes, waiting for them to go on sale at 50% off after they are out of style. But she cannot resist ice cream. 25 yuan for one scoop (at Haagen Dazs). She won't buy it because it is too luxurious, too corrupt. She thinks about how Young Bei is saving money to buy an apartment. Eventually Young Bei buys her a scope.

Haiping in office. Her officemate complains about spending 140 yuan to see a terrible movie. When she tries to write about it online, her comments are deleted and her account frozen. Haiping says that people have to want to be cheated, otherwise it would never happen.

Back at home, middle-aged woman in collective kitchen complains about Su Chun using their water tap. Haiping retorts that the woman used their cooking oil. After Haiping leaves the woman complains to an elderly woman about out-of-towners and how they are not like locals; and also that both Su Chun and Haiping graduated from famous universities and have high incomes so they should not be so cheap.

Haiping is upset about the incident. She complains about not having an apartment. She is 32 years old and has nothing. She feels less than little people of city, less than off-post workers – even though Su Chun says that those groups of people are lower than Su Chun and Haiping, so interacting with them is degrading.

The argument continues. Haiping cites her classmates who have 2 houses and 3 cars. She wishes she married well instead of studying well. She is stuck in a terrible place with terrible people. They talk about the missed opportunity to buy a house with 70 square meters for 400,000 yuan. They blame each other for not buying, as now with the demolition due to the subway, the apartment will be 800,000 – 1 million.

Su Chun: When we graduated, I said let's go back to our hometowns, either yours or mine. If we had, by now we would be chicken heads (鸡头,big fish in a small pond). You wanted to stay in the big city [there is a saying in Chinese, "better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix -- 宁要做鸡头,不要做凤尾"].

Haiping (repeating a line from episode 1 that she said to Haizao): Being an upright person (zuoren) is being an upright person in the city.

Su Chun says they have to learn from their experience. Next time, instead of deposit, they should sign a contract on the spot and throw the down payment at them. "This is a society where people fight over apartments (抢房子)".

Haiping calls long-distance to her hometown and talks to her mother and Ran Ran. The call only lasts a few minutes but Su Chun keeps telling her to hang up because of the long-distance costs. Su Chun says, restrain yourself, hold it in, once we buy an apartment, we can have Ran Ran come and live with us.