Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 6

Hundreds of people stream into the real estate sales office. Among them are Haiping and Haizao. In a frenzied scene, the sales people are pointing to different apartments and putting up red flags on a board with numbers representing the apartments. The board is becoming covered with red flags. A man asks for one apartment and is told it is sold. He asks about another building and the sales woman replies that "that entire building was just bought by a person from Wenzhou" (one of the first references to Wenzhou Apartment-Speculating Groups (温州炒房团, infamous for buying up apartments, waiting for them to increase, and then selling them in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and other cities in China).

The chaos continues. Haiping and Haizao look around at a vast sea of people all buying apartments. Disappointed they walk away.

Haizao: "How can buying an apartment be as crazy as buying a [stock] purchase certificate? [the stock purchase certificate was sold in Shanghai in early 1990s. It is well known by everyone as something was initially thought to be worthless but ended up making fortunes for people. It, and the development of the Shanghai Stock Exchange are described in the book by Ellen Hertz (1999) The Trading Crowd, book here. Also see this link for a description of purchase certificates].

It is even scarier than when clothes are discounted 90% at the department store."

Haiping: "At least in the department store they give a discount. Here there is no discount and it still increases in price like crazy. ...forget it, let's go." They leave.

Back at Grandma Li's. Her son and his wife are looking for the household registration book (hukouben), the same document that the demolition team wanted, in order to register for relocation (and compensation). Grandma Li says that they will not give enough money to buy 20 or, much less, 40 square meters. And even if they do, it will be in the suburbs, and they will want an addition 80,000 to 100,000 yuan. Grandma Li asks, "do you have that money?"

Grandma Li: "I will not move, I will not register. I will just stay here." The couple agrees.

Haiping returns home to find Su Chun making jiaozi. She says she has visited 7 apartment complexes in the last two days and not found a suitable apartment. Either they are selling the best apartments in the complex, and they are too expensive, or they sell apartments at the end that are not expensive but have a lot of problems. The price is getting cooked (chao) higher and higher.

Su Chun says that no matter how much they cook the prices, there has to be a market. Otherwise the apartments will sit there and will put pressure on the finances of the developer. Haiping can't believe that the price is so high and people are still fighting over (抢, 抢房子 used several times in the last few episodes) apartments like they cost nothing. Even with crappy apartments, you still have to wait in line, get a number, and look at the map. If you hesitate, the person behind will buy it. Hesitate again, and half the complex is sold. In this type of situation, how can I think normally about an apartment, its quality, its water system, its isolation from street noise, the space between apartment buildings, the number of people buying, and the safety of the area. You can only blindly buy.

Haiping: "According to market rules, it should decline. But there is no sign of a decline.

And then there are the developers. They have more and more fiendish ideas. Before, they would just start selling the apartments. Now there is something called inside sales (内部销售) before the opening. Do you know what is meant by inside sales? It is like buying a color television in the old days. You have to go through the back door and use your guanxi (connections). Today that was what we did, using information from Haizao's friend. They said it was inside purchases, and the real opening of sales would occur in 6 months. Today, in the end, all I could think of was too words: too poor. If you haven't been to an apartment sales office, you'll never know how poor you are.

We are both college graduates. People would say we are white collar workers. We are the middle class. Then, why can't the middle class afford an apartment?"

Su Chun: "This gang of dishonest merchants (jianshang, 奸商, a word that Confucius used) really are something. Early on they fully researched the human nature of Chinese people. The idea of a household in China is that you must buy an apartment for your children." They talk about when Ran Ran gets married and how she will need an apartment.

Haizao returns home and Young Bei gives her massage. She is exhausted from looking at apartments with Haiping. Her boss calls her to accompany and chat with a client, to which she reluctantly agrees.

Secretary General Song (Song Siming) is tired from his job attending government and party meetings and going to their banquets. He calls Haizao. She is at a karaoke room with her boss’s clients. He drives and picks her up. He takes her home. Young Bei is already asleep.

Haiping is fuming at lunch with her officemate over apartments: "A donkey’s lips on a horse's mouth! Nothing fits. What I want is family (家). I want family. Convenient transportation, a vegetable market, a nearby school, hospital, and sanitation station. I remember I asked one of the sales girls if there was a vegetable market nearby. Do you know what she said? She said 'Vegetable market... sorry, no, there is not one here. But there is a private club with a cigar bar here'. Cigar BAR! To smoke, you go to a special bar! Money burning a hole in their pockets. Now I understand. In the end, apartments are not being built for people like us."

Her officemate says that looking at the trends, the price will still increase. Jiangzhou [Shanghai] houses at Liberation were only dimes per square meter. And Hong Kong at that time was rural in the eyes of Jiangzhou people. Now look at Hong Kong's prices. Also, people from across China are coming to Jiangzhou to try their luck; university students graduate and stay. There is still room for prices to increase.

Chen Sifu (陈寺福), Haizao's boss. He was uneasy. He needed to bid on the land parcel at Zhongshan Park. How should he write the bid proposal? And Secretary Song had disappeared. He goes to Song's office. Secretary Song is cold. He says, "this is a public invitation for bids. We will not interfere."

Boss Chen asks Haizao to take the bid proposal to Secretary Song the next day for him to look at it. She reluctantly agrees, and is very sad.

Haizao asks Young Bei for money to pay back Secretary Song. He agrees, and regrets not lending her the money to give to Haiping. He gives her 20,000 yuan. She cries. He hugs her, not knowing what is wrong, and says "I love you".