Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 12

Young Bei gleefully comes home and takes off his pants and turns off the light. Haizao says she is reading, and spurns him. She feels grimy like a toothbrush that had been used by two people. Haizao is reading a book called Hearbeat, by Nora Ephron [There is no such book in English or Chinese. However the title, 《心动》, is the title of a work of fiction by author Hai Cheng. Perhaps the connection is there. Also, the Chinese characters used to write "Ephron" are different from the typical way: compare 伊弗龙 and 艾佛朗 as very similar transliterations of Ephron; the one used in "Wo Ju" (i.e. the latter) is more typical of "Efron"; the name Nora is the same in both. Might just be error.]. Young Bei sleeps and Haizao flashes back to Secretary Song kissing her on the floor. [From the language, she was clearly not a virgin before her encounter/rape by Song, so the blood came from his violence].

Su Chun returns home and finds the 60,000 yuan. He thinks it is not right and Haiping should ask Haizao about where she borrowed. Haiping says that not everyone is like him with poor friends.

Su Chun wants to return the money, but his colleague is unhappy since they had an agreement.

Haiping picks out a special outfit and goes to meet the foreigner. "Delicious, food, money". They only speak English. The foreigner's name is Mark, a (white) American with a beard [he is a news presenter from CCTV channel 9, and speaks Chinese with a thick accent]. Haiping claims to have learned new English phrases.

Haizao flashes back to Secretary Song again, but this time she remembers him saying that he wants to help her, that he cares about her. Does she want call him to thank him for her sister, or for her own reasons. Haizao accepts Song's invitation to meet the next night.

Haizao is walking on the street with Young Bei, thinking about how Haiping is getting kicked out of her apartment for demolition. She says she will go to an intermediary, 中介 [there are literally thousands of these in Shanghai, and they compete fiercely, even violently, for business. Their front windows are papered with ads for sale and rent in the nearby area]. Standing in front of a window for an intermediary, they see signs for 1800, 2000, and 2500 yuan per month. Too expensive. They leave.

Secretary Song doesn't call Haizao, but eventually he does. He tells her to come to his office, since he needs to finish something right away. She arrives and tells him about Haiping not having a place to live, and looking for rentals. Song says that the area they are looking in is too far from Mark, the foreigner, so there will be no bus at night. Song offers to lend an apartment to Haiping for a short period, and he hands her the key. Song says: "Of course, you don’t get love with money, but many of the roads that lead to love are material."

Song takes Haizao to a restaurant that looks like someone's house. It has no sign on the door, and customers are only people have been introduced to it. The food is extravagant, and Haizao loves it. She says it is the first time she has even gotten full at the banquet table.

In a different scene, Su Chun's colleague returns the money to his aunt, who stares at the envelope since it has a small, strange drawing on it [remember, the money came from Haizao, who got it from Secretary Song. Foreshadowing dire events, no doubt].

Haizao leaves the restaurant with Secretary Song and says "Goodnight [in English]". He grabs her forcefully by the wrist and says her night is too short, and his is just starting. He drives to the place he took her before, a private townhouse residence. She feels trapped and unable to flee. He takes her to the bedroom and takes off her clothes. He asks her to look at him but Haizao refuses.

Secretary Song returns home. It turns out his wife is the aunt of Su Chun's colleague. She says the mark on the envelope was one that she drew herself. Song says the world is small.

The scene changes back to Grandma Li in the longtang. They are talking about the grandson who never comes back to visit. Grandma Li says, "the entire hopes of this family in this house. In the rest of our lives, will we drink water or drink soup? We’ll what comes of this gamble."

The episode ends with Haizao giving Haiping the key to the apartment of Secretary Song's friend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 11

Haiping pulls out a book and dusts it off -- it is an book on English.

Haizao gets call from Secretary Song, who says the English lessons will start next month. Haizao tries to invite Song out on Christmas Eve, but he says he doesn't celebrate, and is busy.

Haizao tries to get Young Bei to go with her to a movie on Christmas Eve, but he prefers to buy counterfeit and watch it in bed. She rejects his ideas and says she will visit her sister, Haiping.

Haizao surprises Haiping, who is studying English. Haiping has nothing to eat except dried and instant noodles, so Haizao criticizes her for endangering her health. Su Chun is not there, and they are still apart. Haizao is wearing a fashionable scarf while Haiping is wearing a jacket from the planned economy days.

Secretary Song and Developer Zhang are having wine in a club with jazz playing in the background. Zhang says that he did as Song asked with the riverside project: he built a wall and left it there. It can't sit for longer than 3 years, but the plot ratio is too high for villas, so he doesn’t know what to do with it. Song says that the city government has a new plan: they want to use the experience of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) to build a culture and travel industry development area. Song: "That area of land that, you say, is only slightly larger than a sesame seed, is next to the center of this area. There will be a library and a theater. I think it would be very appropriate to develop high-rise luxury apartments. I will help you think of a way to figure out how to solve the problem of height. If I can get them to construct a TV tower there, I can make your project part of the overall plan, so it won’t be restricted by the regulations for apartments next to the river." Song is the Zhuge Liang of the real industry (地产界的诸葛亮, Zhuge Liang is a hero from one of the four great novels of China's history, Three Kingdoms. See Wikipedia entry on Zhuge here).

Song replies: "Get the project in the shikumen done well, and now [Shikumen are another type of old housing in Shanghai. Here are some old pictures of them by Liao Yusheng. The "Xintiandi" area in Shanghai, developed by Hong Kong's Shui On real estate, and exorbitantly expensive, has a museum to Shikumen]". Song tells Developer Zhang that if he doesn't get that old city-center project done, Song can't speak for him on the riverside project.

Developer Zhang: "You only see me eat meat, not being beaten. Real estate does have high profit. But if things go awry, I have nothing. That area looks like the fat on the bone, but it isn't: everyone wants to get a taste. The rich fear the poor; the poor fear those who care less whether they live or die. As for me, I am the donkey in Guizhou without any tricks left [good explanation of this idiom, 黔驴技穷, here].

Song tells him he must find a way. In the Asian financial crisis, some developers were left out in the cold.

Developer Zhang retorts there is a cycle. In those days, Zhongcheng Plaza was bankrupt, but in 2002 it was bought and developed [this is a fascinating story of real estate. Read about some of the malfeasance and history from an investigate report by Caijing here]. In the hands of an expert, there is no such thing as a "rotted-tail building" [i.e. a building that is started but not finished, 烂尾楼].

Secretary Song: Don't forget, Zhongcheng Plaza in 2002 is still Zhongcheng Plaza. But the owner is not the same. It's just like the Titanic. A ship sinks, you can rebuild it and copy it. And the story can become a legend. But the people that died, they have long ago become food for fish and shrimp.

Song drives to Haizao's apartment in his Range Rover [do not know if product placement]. Haizao knew from the day she walked into Song's office and asked to borrow money that she could not repay that there would be this moment (when Song takes her away). It would happen sooner or later, and she was not scared or nervous. Nothing is said.

Song is on top of Haizao. She struggles, protesting. They are on the floor. Song tries to open her coat. They stare at each other. Song uses his hand to close her eyes. He opens her coat and unbuttons her blouse. Her hand falls limply to the floor.

Song increases his speed as he mounts her. The shot breaks into three, showing Song's wife, Young Bei, and Song-Haizao. Young Bei is trying to call and Song’s wife clears the table.

The shot becomes two, showing only Song's wife clearing the table and Young Bei calling and looking at his watch. Song's wife goes into her daughter's room and tells her to get offline. She makes a call from her daughter's room. [fade black]

[fade in to flowers]. Haizao is staring outside, getting dressed. The shower is on in the background. She puts on her scarf and clutches it.

Song drives her home. When they arrive, Haizao looks at him, but he looks at the door, so she flees the car. Narrator: "Song had now sobered up. He felt shameful. Because of the liquor, he had exposed his old body on top of a pearly, transparent girl. He likes her. So why, because he likes her, he must have her?"

Haizao runs into her apartment and starts the shower. Young Bei comes and knocks at the door. Haizao says, her cellphone ran out of battery. And that her period came. Young Bei brings sanitary napkins, underwear, and her pajamas. She takes them, crying. Young Bei knows that Haizao's period has come early, and asks if she has cramps.

"I am certifiable, I am certifiable, I am certifiable. A man so tender... How could I do this to him?"

Haizao is sick. "It must be from the cold. It is chilly, and my clandestine affair happened on the floor. God is punishing me, since I owe him."

Secretary Song goes to get his cellphone the next morning and finds blood on the passenger’s seat. He has done this to Haizao [She was a virgin? Not impossible, but not clear at this point -- Trans.]. Last night, he committed a true mistake, or the truth of what a mistake is. Writing his name on a blank sheet. She is the first women who belongs to me. Completely. To the core. [Seems to be his (and the narrator’s) thinking].

Song calls Haizao, but Young Bei answers. After Young Bei identifies himself, Song says he is "Secretary Song of the Municipal Committee". "Sorry (what) Nothing, I bothered you".

Song comes to Haizao bringing fruit and medicine. She refuses him. He thought she was confused between acceptance and refusal, but now she is headstrong. Haizao knows Young Bei will know one day.

Song has been rejected by Haizao again, what can he do?

Su Chun returns home to find Haiping studying English. He jokes about her becoming a graduate student. He wants to say that he opposes her teaching a foreigner, but doesn't want to start a fight.

Boss Chen brings Haizao a packet from Secretary Song. In it, is 60,000 yuan. Haizao is relieved. It is not like borrowing in the past, when it felt like a stone on her back. Now, it seems deserved.

Haizao gives the 60,000 to Haiping. Seeing her sister so relieved, Haizao feels her body is clean.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 10

Haiping is talking about how everything is for the child. "We are not peasants. We graduated from university. We are city people. City people should live by city. You can ensure a little more bitterness, a little more exhaustion, in order to provide things for the child." Haiping says that marriage is a tomb, and the longer it goes on the more you dig. But she will not divorce Su Chun, because she can't. She has nowhere to live. Even with more arguments, more cursing, more hitting, she can't divorce with no place to live. If, one day, she makes it, she will leave him in less than a minute.

Su Chun arrives at Haizao's apartment as Haiping decides to go home.

Haizao runs back to her apartment. She tells Young Bei that she wants his money to pay back the loan. Young Bei sits down, with the doll given to Haizao from Secretary Song noticeable on the table behind him. Young Bei refuses to give the money. Haizao is upset, and wants to leave. Young Bei races after her and forcibly grabs her, not allowing her to leave. She thinks, "He is right. Where can I go in the city?"

Haizao goes to Secretary Song's office. She asks Song to borrow money, and feels ashamed since she stood defiantly only a short time before and paid money back, and now is begging for it again. Song’s only demand is that she tell him why she needs the money. Song holds Haizao's hand as she cries.

They go to a private club, where someone named Mr. Liang has left word to treat Song well. Haizao explains the situation. She talks about how Haiping, 7 years older than her, always taken care of her. She brings up the "tomb". Song asks her what Haiping's tomb is. Haizao responds that her tomb is her apartment. Song smiles. After a discussion about family values and the importance of money, Song is astonished to learn that Haizao only need 60,000. He promises to lend it to her whenever she wants it.

On the ride back to Song's office, Song suggests that Haiping teach Chinese to Song's foreign friend. Haizao says that Haiping has forgotten all her English. If they are together, it will be like "a chicken talking to a duck" (鸡同鸭讲, implying incommensurability). They laugh.

Haizao goes to Haiping's apartment to ask her about being a Chinese teacher. Haizao overhears a massive argument about Su Chun losing 1 yuan because of a machine malfunction at the market. Su Chun says "I want to divorce you!" and storms out. Haizao comforts Haiping, who agrees to be a Chinese teacher for foreigner.

Haizao returns home and Young Bei comes home after her to celebrate. He brings a reed that only cost 1 yuan. Haizao thinks about the significance of 1 yuan in life. Young Bei says, "Come eat, little piggy. There is meat". Narrator: "This is Haizao's future. There will be meat".

Young Bei was happy with meat. Haizao wanted more. A happy life is: one mu of land, two heads of cattle, and the wife and kids in a warm bed (a saying: 一亩土地,两头牛,老婆,孩子,热炕头). But you first have to have land and cattle, then you get a wife, then you have children. No one says: the wife and kids in a warm bed, then one mu of land and two heads of cattle. Even old peasants know this. Haizao laughs at herself in thinking of this after only seeing the beef that Young Bei brought home.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 9

Haizao comes to visit Secretary Song to give him an envelope from Boss Chen. She sees the doll, called "Dream Journey Baby" (梦游娃娃, again unknown if this is product placement; apparently, the dolls are from Japan and designed by Yoshitomo Nara, a Japanese pop artist). [Note: Haizao knows that this doll is a work from Yoshitomo Nara, something I wish I knew before I spent 15 minutes trying to look up the product -- Trans.] [Note2: Haizao explains (since Song asks) that Yoshitomo Nara is very cool, a Japanese cartoon designer and painter, also very good looking, and the products he designs are very "Q" (cute). I am feel very 土, un-Q]. Song gives Haizao the doll and she leaves.

Their argument over, Haiping and Su Chun make up. She is happy, because she bought a lottery ticket, and will soon become a millionaire. Su Chun says she is acting like "the little people of the town (市井小民)". Haiping says when she hits the jackpot and takes home 5 million yuan, she will buy a 200 square meter apartment in the city center. Su Chun says she is dreaming. Thom--something, their apartments (Thomson golf, mentioned in earlier episode), the ones next to the river, are 110,000 yuan per square meter. With you 5 million, you can only buy a kitchen. Haiping says those apartments are a ruse (噱头). She paid 10 yuan for the lottery tickets and Su Chun is a little exasperated since she won't buy vegetables or let him smoke because of the cost. She says she is buying hope, and that she will win.

Grandma Li is sleeping in the longtang alley. Her son sneaks past her, looking like he has been roughed up. He reveals to his wife that he was beaten by a mother whose child was in the game room and brought a bunch of people with her. Grandma Li eventually discovers what happened and says that they will get 1 million yuan. The demolition and relocation people came to see her again and she cursed them. She says they must give her a 2 bedroom, 1 living room apartment, or she will make sure they never demolish the area.

Haiping doesn't win the lottery, so she is depressed. She vows to continue buying. Su Chun rues the noodles that he must continue to consume.

Haiping loses again, even with the numbers she dreamed of. Su Chun makes dinner.

Boss Chen visits Secretary Song in his office. Chen says the work of relocating people is a big pain. He calls then diaomin, "crafty people" 刁民. Chen has tried threatening, cozying up, and ignoring, but whatever he tries, they don't move an inch. Song replies: "Profit will never be at the maximum. If you pursue the absolute maximum profit, you will close off your own road. You should work for a reasonable profit. Give the troublesome people a little more, and you won't mess up the entire situation". Chen says you can't exchange a chamber pot for an apartment -- it is infuriating. Song continues: "You are in a hurry, they are not. What is important is the overall situation (daju, 大局). Do you play Chinese chess (围棋)? In the game, you try to win by allowing small battles to be lost, if necessary. The earlier this is done, the earlier apartments can be sold. Tell this to Executive Zhang and Executive Xu. There may be some controlling measures that are issued from above. The future is uncertain, and it might have a negative impact on Jiangzhou (Shanghai). I don't want that to happen, since this area is covered with my own blood [he means the projects and apartments all involve him and his people]. Don't haggle with these ordinary people". Boss Chen leaves.

Haiping is very happy as she walks out of the apartment sales office. She is talking about decorating the apartment and buying furniture. Su Chun reveals that he didn't ask his mother for the 60,000, but instead borrowed a high-interest loan (he hints that the rate is 10%). Haiping hits him, cries, and walks off.

The narrator speaks as Haiping wanders the city: a hole has been ripped in her soul.

Haiping goes to Haizao's house in tears: "I am going to divorce [Su Chun]". Haizao learns of the loan and promises Young Bei's money plus her own to pay it back. Haiping is sobbing. Haizao says, "this is what blood relatives do for each other".

Young Bei takes Su Chun back to Su Chun's apartment to talk. Young Bei says he though it was absurd that Su Chun and Haiping were buying an apartment, with the prices so high. "Why not rent a big apartment for 2,000 yuan a month?" Su Chun replies, "Not only is that practical but it is reasonable. The practical situation is that: no matter how high the price of apartments is, there will be people racking their brains to find a way to buy an apartment. The reality is, around you, all the people by your side, are all talking about apartments, are all speculating in apartments, are all hoarding apartments. And if you don't have an apartment, you will feel you have been marginalized (边缘化了). You will be struck with feelings of dread and instability. Like a drifter. Paying rent is always helping someone else buy an apartment. Psychologically, it is hard to accept this. Haiping is over 30, and around her all these people have apartments. She does not. Haiping is very unhappy."

Young Bei: "So, in order to live up to unrealistic expectations, you take on a snail's shell that large (套那么大一个蜗牛壳, "take on" or tao has other meanings, especially in the housing and stock markets. It means to "be stuck", as an article I wrote for WEF explained -- basically the object of investment falls below the value you bought it for, thereby making it impossible for you to sell (so you are stuck with it)). Isn't it exhausting? Good thing Haizao isn't like that".

Su Chun: "Haizao has not grown up and become self-aware yet. Every little girl wants a Barbie doll; every maiden wants lipstick; and every woman wants an apartment and a man." (Young Bei laughs).

He continues: "A man possessing is like in a war. You occupy the territory for a while, then leave. A woman possessing is different. It is like germs spreading, a spider web expanding, or cotton candy swelling. A little at a time until eventually you are completed possessed, and can’t escape, completely swallowed. Men are bronze, women are rust. In the end, rust will completely cover the bronze."

Young Bei: "At least you still dare to speak. There are people worse off than you: Abraham Lincoln. His wife was so fierce that he didn't even dare to fart. He even had to flatter her. Think about it, who lost everything? It is not you. Ok, don’t think too much."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 8

Haizao calls Haiping and tells her that the apartments being developed by Haizao’s company are for sale. Narrator: "Although the infrastructure was not yet developed, and although the transportation was not yet developed, Haiping knew that this was her future home" [while this is said, the scene is of standing apartment buildings but with ground filled with discarded building materials and ground pock-marked with small holes].

The sales woman shows the apartment, 120 square meters, to Haiping and Haizao. They say how an un-enclosed balcony is a good thing, and hard to find these days, because it is not included in the price of the apartment (where total price = price/meter * number of meters, not including (or only 1/2 including) the balcony)).

Haiping already imagined the furniture and furnishings for the apartment, with the room painted in ocean blue and ocean white with some wallpaper, and Ran Ran running around in beautiful clothes.

The apartment will be handed over to the buyer in 10 months. Haizao thinks it is far, but Haiping says she can get a new job nearby. The cost is over 900,000 RMB ($130,000). Haiping wants to buy it, so she calls Su Chun to come have a look right away. "Otherwise someone else will run off with it (抢走了)." When she looks at her phone, Haiping laughs. They look at her phone: "Jiangsu (Province) Mobile Phone Company welcomes you". [She is so far from Shanghai that the neighboring province’s mobile phone transmitters detected her as crossing the border, and sent her a text message].

A real estate developer is having tea with Secretary Song. The developer claims he is in the doldrums, since two of his properties are not selling, and if he loses money on the third, it will be the end of him. The government policies from the center are having an effect. Song tells him that price is just an indicator of economic growth. If the market can't be made hot, made attractive, then it will crash like a mountain. Song tells the developer to collaborate with other big-wigs (龙头) and make the market exciting, hot, popular, attractive.

The developer talks about how they paid a bunch of migrants 50 yuan each to come in the middle of the night and stand in line to buy. It didn't work because there were few real customers who followed. Another developer asked him to collaborate and buy each other's apartments with mortgages but he was afraid: what if the other developer doesn't hold up his end, or if the apartments are not great and he is stuck with them.

Song: "Since you fear the wolf from behind and the tiger from ahead, why don't you just buy your own [apartments]? Raise the price and borrow money from the bank. It's just a few down payments anyway. What you can pay back, you pay back. What you can't pay back, let the bank take it. But if the price rises again, you will make everything back."

Developer: what if the bank won't loan? Song: "Why wouldn’t they? 羊毛出在羊身上, "without a sheep, there can be no wool", (on the surface, something appears as a gift, but in reality the value of the gift has been paid for in the cost of the gift-giving opportunity) [a popular phrase]. It is not enough to be hard-working, you also have to be clever. You must learn about how to move around capital. Understand?" (The developer nods enthusiastically.)

Haizao makes fun of Haiping on the bus because it will take 3 hours to get back. "Like foreigners, it's fashionable: live outside the city and commute to work".

Secretary Song offers the developer a redevelopment project in the old city district. Although it is a "public tender", Song gives the developer materials and tells him to prepare a good bid. The developer balks, saying that demolition fees are high and the people living there are the lowest level of city residents (he calls them diaomin, "crafty people" 刁民, a derogatory term). Even if I take this, let’s talk about the plot ratio. The materials specify it is 1. Is this a joke?

Plot ratio, 容积率, is the total floor area of built apartments divided by the land area. So if there is a 2 acre plot of land, the total amount of housing that could be built (albeit in apartments which have a base area much smaller) would be 2 acres, and still yield a plot ratio of 1.

Song explains further that the current project, based on the city plan, is to build a park. But the plan is from 5 years ago. He will change it. But he can't change it until the land is taken by a developer, otherwise everyone will see that he is behind things. So, once the developer (named Zhang Hongsheng) gets the land and starts the project, Song can use his government position to influence city planning bureau, which will reduce the size of the park, and the remaining land will all be for Developer Zhang to build on. Also, Song will increase the plot ratio, and thereby allow Zhang to make money. If this leaves your lips, says Song, it's your own fault. When you are relocating residents, say you are building a park. The developer agrees enthusiastically, and says he will call an emergency meeting to succeed in his bid no matter what.

Haiping and Su Chun are in the sales office to buy the apartment. If they going to pay back the loan in 10 years, with current interest rates, the monthly mortgage payment is 10,800 yuan/month ($1,600). 20 years, just over 6,000 yuan/month. 30 years... They are too old. They make the down payments.

Su Chun: Our incomes together are 9,000 yuan. We must pay back the loan in 20 years. We will sleep soundly. If it is 30 years, it is like being an employee of the bank, and the interest will be equivalent to a whole extra apartment.

Secretary Song buys a doll that he thinks looks just like Haizao. Finding himself outside Haizao's apartment with a gift, he doesn't feel like a 42-year-old. He decides to go home.

Haizao returns home and the apartment, that she and Young Bei share with others, is in the midst of big party. Haizao is pissed off. She asks Young Bei, "When will we have an apartment of our own?" She is envious of her sister, and the apartment they picked so she won’t have to fight for the toilet and have to endure loud parties.

Haiping and Su Chun have a fight because Su Chun is still smoking -- and it is because the cigarettes cost money.

Secretary Song gets a document from Boss Chen's company and he asks the girl who brings it if Haizao is still employed there. The girl tells him that Haizao has been promoted, and no longer does work outside the company. Secretary Song calls Boss Chen to invite him to collaborate on a project.

Scene: a partially demolished building. Boss Xu (we haven't met him before) is instructing an employee on how to deal with the people who are not leaving for demolition. He says, wait for them to come to you, and they won't get as much money. Boss Chen walks in. The employee that Boss Xu was instructing was not an employee, but the director of the residents' committee. Boss Xu says that if the relocation is done well, he will give extra fees and projects to Boss Chen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 7

Back in the longtang, Haiping and Su Chun are eating dried noodles for the fifth time this week. Su Chun can't stand it, but Haiping says they have to persevere to save money for the apartment, interior decoration, and household appliances.

Haizai goes to Secretary Song's office, gives him the bid papers, returns the cellphone he gave her, and pays back the 20,000 yuan loan. Song's heart is torn open by being rejected. But what can he do? He calls Boss Chen and tells him off, that he interfered with Haizao.

Boss Chen is angry with Haizao. She retorts, "Mr. Chen! You only give me 3,680 yuan a month. So I only do 3,680 yuan worth of work. The job description was for a copyrighter. But what does that have to do with the 'communication of feelings' you are asking me do!? Does copyrighting including doing one thing under the cover of another (暗度陈仓)?Besides documents, fetching things, being a messenger, accompany at banquets, accompany singing, and accompany dancing, the only thing I don't do is accompany sleeping [i.e. sleeping with clients]. With that little money, you want me to sell my body to the company? If you have any more excessive requests, I quit!"

Boss Chen decides to raise Haizao's wages: "Feed the livestock a little more grass at night, and it won't (be able to) run (小蹄子要不加点儿夜草,还不跑了)".

Haiping's boss tells her and her officemate that they must each contribute 143 yuan (very little, he says, in Jiangzhou [Shanghai]) for the red envelop for a woman who got married. Haiping is very upset: "How many toys could I buy for Ran Ran with 143 yuan!?" Haiping complains that she doesn't even know all these officemates that are getting married all the time.

Haizao buys a job classifieds newspaper.

Su Chun pours hot water into his instant noodles. Haiping: "1-2-3. I am pretending it is chicken soup." She drinks. Su Chun laughs. "What are you laughing at? It’s delicious!"

Haiping decides to buy a bicycle to ride 7 stops, saving 1.5 yuan every day, or 33 yuan a month. "Not only saving money, but saving the environment." Her mind is running. Su Chun is amorous. He nudges her. Nudges again. "Let's exercise a bit. Protect the environment. You want to? (No. The old bed, it creaks and cranks. Everyone downstairs will here)." Su Chun rolls over, sighs. "Soon, I will become dried-out mummy. Not even one time per month. It depresses the spirit." Haiping: "Not having an apartment is the real depression of the spirit."

Haizao has been promoted, earning 5,000 yuan a month, and doesn't have to attend banquets or karaoke. She goes with Young Bei to the Shanghai Aquarium [where they have a romantic tunnel underwater where the fish swim all around. However, during peak hours, it is anything but romantic! Website is here].

Haiping's bicycle is stolen. She says her luck has been terrible this year. So she will go to the temple to pray. Su Chun "I told you so". Su Chun tries to light a cigarettes but gets cursed by Haiping, who says she inhales enough exhaust on the road. "Why do you always blame you unlucky things on me? I try to bend and work with you, but you are excessive. You are impossible to please. My this you don't like. My that you don't like. I have no roads left. Besides smoking, what hobbies do I have? After work, I come home obediently. I don't play majiang, and I don't drink. I have a strong ability to control myself. What right do you have to scold me for smoking? Is there meaning in that?" Haiping is angry. She says Su Chun has contributed nothing to their household. He hasn't made money, and hasn't got a good job. He leaves "to get a breath of fresh air".

Narrator: "Men... are very tired."

On the street, Su Chun meets Old Chen. Old Chen commiserates, "Actually, I am the same as you. At home, there is a lion from the east side of the river [a domineering wife with a temper, 河东狮]. We are in the same boat." Su Chun talks about how great he was, and regrets moving to the big city. "Those who leave their hometown become lowly, 人离乡贱." Old Chen laughs. "We are tragic. In this big city, in the middle of the night, we have been forced out of our homes to huddle at a newsstand, and regret the course our lives have taken. Actually I was just feeling sorry... for my wife. She is a beautiful flower, but now, in our situation, because of the pressure of life, she has become a violent person. If she had a car, and help at home, would she be so angry? In this materialistic big city, that she would be with me, a person with nothing, should make me appreciate her, accept her, love her, make her happy." Su Chun, "Why is it that, this big city makes 100 claws torment the heart (百爪挠心)? There is nothing that you can depend on. I admit it, living in this big city is exciting and busy, but so many things put you on your guard. For us men, there is pressure. For those women, the pressure is even greater." Old Chen: "Right, right, right". Ok, let's go home!

Haiping: We must 闭门造车, close the door and create a vehicle. Another Chinese (language) expression. Meaning: Divorce oneself from reality and act blindly; or, work behind closed doors.

Haiping: The old sayings are still right: A poor and low couple will encounter many difficulties.

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".

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 5

Back in Secretary General Song's office. Haizao says that Song must attend the opening of the xiaoqu, or else she will be out of a job, as Boss Chen told her. Song says he will call Chen. Song also gives Haizao a mobile phone, saying that a friend gave it to him to try out for two months, and then send in the suggestions form. Haizao reluctantly accepts the gift and leaves.

Su Chen is cooking and Haiping is still reading her book on fengshui. She says one can't buy U-shaped, T-shaped, H-shaped, or 1-shaped apartments, and it is all for reasons that have been proved scientifically -- for instance, that U-shaped apartment complexes resemble the character for death. Su Chen is exasperated that Haiping spent money for three servings of rice on this book of feudal superstitions.

Boss Chen tells Haizao that she should take orders from Secretary General Song in the future, since his matters are more important than the companies'.

Haiping and Su Chen look at another apartment with the agent. Haiping, outside, is unsatisfied. Haiping does not give a reason, but points to the interior decoration being temporary as a indication that something must be wrong with the apartment. Su Chen is upset, claiming that it will be impossible to quickly find an apartment with Haiping's attitude, and tells her to find an apartment herself.

Discussing food over dinner, Haiping suddenly interrupts.

Haiping: "I know. I finally know. Why I have looked at so many apartments and still can't find one. It's because they are all second-hand (used). They are all old. I want new, I want a new apartment (新房). Without the tinge of anyone else. I am the first possessor of this apartment. Starting from tomorrow… starting from tomorrow, I will only look at new apartments."

Su Chen: "New apartments? New apartments? They will be dozens of kilometers from the city. Two hours to get to work, and two hours to return home."

Haiping: It is better to buy an apartment that is further away, but next to a starting point for the bus, and sit for the two hours, rather than stand on the bus for one hour to get to work. And with the speed of development, it is not impossible that we will buy a car. There is a domestically-manufactured one that costs only 50,000 yuan. Look at Minhang [the characters are different from Minhang district of Shanghai, but the pinyin is the same]. It used to be far away, but it developed and developed and it will soon be a center of the city.

The preliminary demolition teams comes to visit the elderly woman--Grandma Li, who lives on the ground floor of the collective house where Haiping and Su Chun rent. There is a representative from the residents committee, which is bursting with enthusiasm. There are also a man in a suit and an aging man from the area. She ignores the initial exclamations of the residents committee representative, who says that are moving from chamber pot life into a new apartment (with indoor toilets).

Old woman, there is a new trend, and you have to be a part. You want to be emptying the chamber pot for the rest of your life? You want three generations under one roof? You want that?

Grandma Li: "Why wouldn't I want that? This is a good home. Warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It costs me nothing. Transportation is convenient. The local hospital is only steps away. For those of us with low incomes, and little security, saving money is a good thing. Understand?"

There is now a crowd of people in her room.

Grandma Li: "At my age, where can I move? Outside the city? Suburbs? The ways of world have really changed. Out of towners and foreigners are kicking us out. They live in the city center, in high-class areas. Break up those of us who have lived here for decades. Us old Jiangzhou (Shanghai) people, become lowlier as the days pass."

The residents committee representative says the Grandma Li is not keeping up with the times. She is like a "frog at the bottom of a well" (井底之蛙, a metaphor used in earlier episodes by Haiping), staying in one place where it is inconvenient to use water or go to the bathroom (in earlier episode, Haizao saw Grandma Li's son showering and was disgusted). This is not the living style of a big city.

Grandma Li: "People move upward, but water runs downward. Without improvement or advance, how am I to move?"

The group leaves and in the alleyway say that Grandma Li is certain to become a "nail household" (钉子户) [Here is a very famous photo of the most well-known nail household in China, in Chongqing:

Secretary General Song picks up Haizao at his office. They ride in an U.K. SUV -- probably a Range Rover. They talk about different things, and eventually Haiping calls to invite Haizao for dinner. Haizao is upset because she doesn't have the money. Song offers to lend it to her and she accepts. They arrive at the destination.

At Song's house, he sleep late and doesn't know S.H.E. -- the pop rock band from Taiwan. He tries to stop his daughter from attending a signing for them in Century Park, but fails. Song makes a call and arranges for his daughter to be taken care of at the event as a V.I.P., so they will not have to get close to the crowd.

Narrator: Haizao makes his (Song's) blood race, and makes him feel old, but also young.

Back to Auntie Xu and Madame Wang. Madame Wang thinks Auntie Xu is stealing money by buying too little food with the money Wang gives her. Xu says she wants to quit because Wang is too penny-pinching, and doesn't trust her. Wang threatens to take away three days of wages. Xu quits, and Wang says she has a master's degree from a famous university, so it is below her level to have to deal with this type of person (to a neighbor).

A real estate company. The employees are attaching numbers to a board. There are a few apartments that are reserved in advance, and they are marked with a red flag -- there is a layout of the apartment complex in miniature in the company lobby. Building 10 is reserved, and building 6, with multi-levels, will be sold in the next batch of apartments. The employees adjust the board to reflect the choices made by Executive Zhang. Is there a mistake with the price? Last week it was 9,500 per meter. A whole week has passed. Can prices not go up? This land parcel, it is exactly 11,600 per meter. I almost don't want to open up the apartments for sale. If we could just wait half a year, or a little more, it would be 15,000 per meter. How much profit am I sacrificing?

A woman who knows Zhang comes in and wants a number, near the top. Zhang gives her the number. Zhang gives a speech to the guards to control the crowd. Safety first. For sales girls, be fast. If they can’t decide in 10 minutes, forget them. Understand?

Ok. Start!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 4

Young Bei tells Haizao that he has 60,000 in savings, and she is ecstatic. In his response to her question of how he saved it, he says he doesn't buy clothes or consume, and stays at home all day with his obedient piggy -- yiqi woju, 一起蜗居, here woju is used as a verb, they live in their snail space together. First time this word woju has appeared in the series.

The people in the longtang get information that their housing will be demolished, and they are excited. They know because someone's wife went to the residents' committee to move her hukou but was rebuffed since all hukou are frozen until the next year for demolition.

The middle-aged woman says 1 square meter will be worth 20,000 yuan -- and that that is pretty good compensation. The middle-aged man says they only have 10 square meters so that is not good.

The elderly woman says the couple might be happy about demolition, but she is not. The developers will turn around the land and pocket millions or tens of millions. She has lived there since she got married, and she doesn't want to move. In the past at its height, the 10 square meter space had 7 people. And she wasn't sad when her husband died because, for the first time, she could stretch out her legs.

Haizao asks Young Bei again about borrowing the 60,000 yuan to lend to Haiping. He says, one day, your sister will not be your closest kin, but instead it will be him and their baby. How can they get married on May 1 of the following year, and purchase an apartment, if they lend all their money to Haiping. This amounts to a rejection of lending the money.

We meet a new couple with a teenager. They are sitting in a large living room eating breakfast. The daughter is eating toast and milk, unlike the adults who eat rice porridge. The father is Secretary General Song, who showed an interest in Haizao. The father says he is late so can't take the daughter to school. She must get a ride with someone's mother instead.

Haizao is asked to play golf with her boss instead of go on a business trip.

Su Chun comes home and doesn't turn on the light. He sits on the bed.

When Haiping returns, he tells her that his mother is sending 60,000 yuan. She is ecstatic. He thinks to him self: "Now you say 'our mom' instead of 'you mom'. If she didn’t give the money, it would have been 'his mom' [咱妈, 你妈, 他妈, this is a joke because a working translation of "dammit!" in English is 他妈的, or "his mother’s"]."

Haizao's boss, Executive Chen, is waiting for her. He picks her up and they go to Thompson Golf, a well known course/residence in Shanghai.

Another new set of characters: Auntie Xu, who works for Madame Wang. Auntie Xu wants a pay raise, but Madame Wang says she can't just increase her salary.

Secretary General Song, Haizao, and Executive Chen play golf together. Song helps Haizao to swing a few strokes.

A real estate agent is explaining to Haiping and Su Chen about an apartment. He explains the convenient transportation location, so they ask him about the noise. He says only garden houses on Hengshan Road have both good transportation and no noise.

Outside the apartment Haiping says the apartment is not good enough. "This will be our guarantee for the next 1/2 of our lives," she says. "He mentioned a 'mature community' that means old houses. Built in the late 1980s -- it's been almost 20 years. They have had 统共使用权 ("all had use rights", [the origins of this phrase are unknown to me -- Trans.]) for only seven years. We won’t even be dead and the apartment will be taken away by others."

The agent calls again. Haiping hangs up and suggests that they find a couple of other agents. "货比三家不吃亏" , or "compare the goods from three stores in order to avoid getting ripped off", a saying [This saying is cited in a well-researched book on department stores in China, written by Amy Hanser. While a little one-sided, it does good comparative work on an underground clothing market, a state-owned department store, and a Hong Kong luxury mall all in Harbin (a city that is much easier for Westerners to work in than Shanghai or Beijing, where the cities are saturated). The book is called Service Encounters: Class, Gender, and the Market for Social Distinction in Urban China and can be accessed here.

Su Chun sighs about the prospect of continuing to search for apartments.

Back to Madame Wang's apartment. It is richly decorated, and there is a party (that Madame Wang asked Auntie Xu to stay around for and clean after). Madame Wang: "Auntie Xu, please bring a plate of fruit".

Haiping is reading a book: Fengshui for Modern Housing , 《现代住宅风水》. "Su Chun, you have to look at a lot of apartments before you buy. Otherwise, it is easy to end up with a 衰房, shuaifang, 'apartment in decline'. You can’t buy apartments in a complex shaped like a box; because people in a well have blocked wealth and valuables. It's not feudal superstition. For logic of the prohibition on apartment complexes shaped like a box, the apartments inside will be blocked from the sun, and without the sun, it is easy to catch diseases."

Auntie Xu asks to take home the dishes that the Wang family doesn't eat. Madame Wang agrees, then laughs, "that saves your food fees, so it counts as an increase in your wages." Auntie Xu looks distraught.

Haizao goes to a government (party) building where Secretary Song works. She finds Secretary Song, and invites him to the opening of a new xiaoqu developed by Boss Chen's company. He says, "Come into my office."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 3

Haizao comes for dinner. Haiping notes that she learns a lot about prices of vegetables and meat, as well as nutrition, from her neighbors. Haizao is thinking about marrying Young Bei. Haiping gives her advice.

Haiping and Young Bei are returning home for holidays (national day).

[Note: Haiping buys toys from Disney store, and has Disney bag; when she gets on the bus to the train station, there is a noticeable logo for KFC. Don't know if these are "product placements" or not.]

Haiping returns home. Haiping’s mother says Ran Ran is over 2, because Haiping is treating her like she is only a few months old. Narrator: Haiping didn't realize that the child had already grown up. Ran Ran is 2.5 years old.

Haiping is extremely upset because Ran Ran chooses as punishment to have "mom hug her". She returns to Jiangzhou.

Haiping, back in longtang, to Su Chun, adamantly: "I want to buy an apartment!"
Su Chun, in disbelief: "It's too hasty, isn't it?"

Haiping: Don't try to stop me. I have decided. Do it as I tell you. I want to buy an apartment and let Ran Ran live with me. A 2-bedroom, 1 living room apartment that is not too far away. 800,000 yuan. The down payment is 20% or 160,000. Our savings plus accumulation fund is 80,000. As for the remaining 80,000, you are responsible for asking your parents for 40,000; I will ask my parents for 20,000 -- and I won’t give them anymore money to raise the child. The remaining 20,000 I will take from Haizao's marriage money and use it for now.

Su Chun: Buying an apartment is not so simple. Don't you plan to decorate it? What about furniture? It's not just the down payment. And with interest rates and everything, it will exceed our ability to pay it back. You are being too rash.

I am not being too rash. I can't wait. I know that everything will be solved in the future. But I can't wait. Now, now I want to buy a 2-bedroom, 1 living room apartment.

Haiping: this price increase in housing, have you seen any increase like this? The stock market goes up and down. But only two days ago, there was a rumor that the price of housing might decrease at the end of the year. Immediately specialists come out in the newspaper and say that the stability of the real estate market must be protected, and the apartment market has just entered its spring. Spring! Even though it has risen this much. [at the end of 2008, this did occur. A stimulus package was passed by the State Council; two points that most certainly would be rued by Haiping are that those who buy a second home can get favorable loan conditions, and that those who sell their apartments within 2 years pay tax only on profit, while those who sell their apartments after two years pay no tax whatsoever. Xinhua article here -- Trans.].

You remember when we graduated from university, we did a calculation -- for that townhouse. If we didn't eat or drink in the city it would take 20 years to pay it off. Now, do the calculation again. If we don't eat or drink in the city it will take 50 years to pay it off for the same townhouse. What does this prove? That suddenly I will live 30 years longer? This proves that the more you think apartments are expensive, the more expensive they get. They become more expensive just to prove you wrong. What can you do? So, this time, we must clench our teeth and buy, otherwise we might never be able to buy for our entire lives. Don’t be afraid. Ask your mother for the money. When she gets old we will take care of her. It’s like buying life insurance but the return is much higher. Go ask her for the money.

Su Chun: Before, you always talked about apartments. Then you always talked about our child. Now you suddenly make a decision.

Haiping: It is because of my daughter. The apartment and the daughter go together. You can only really have a daughter if you have an apartment. ...She [Ran Ran] learned nothing from me, no words, characters, no feelings, understanding of the world. I have not fulfilled my role as mother.

Haiping recalls the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth. She says she wants a different life, with Ran Ran at her side.

Haizao is lying in bed while Young Bei gets ready for work. She complains about having to work and how well off her boss is.

Haizao is working at a property development company (Dajiang Property (Zhiye) Real Estate Development Company). The boss comes in, looking casually dressed and leisurely asks if any letters have come for him. He notices Haizao cleaning up in the conference room.

Boss: Haizao, didn't you hear? The banquet will be at The Bund Blue Club.
Haozai: Yes, going out to eat with people is part of my job.

At the banquet, the head of the table, seated in the most respected seat, and toasted by Haizao's boss is a man called Secretary General Song. He seems to have an interest in Haizao. He asks her age -- it is 25. She also tells him she is single.

Haizao only has 8,000 in savings, but she will give it plus Young Bei’s savings to Haiping for a down payment on an apartment.

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.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 1

1998, Jiangzhou City

A longtang [Shanghai "traditional" alleyway pdf explanation here ]. They enter an alleyway with underwear and clothes hanging out to dry. The man looks at the woman and says, somewhat disgustedly, “This is our home?” The women replies. “Yup. Our new home”.

Woman is named “Haiping” (海萍).

Man: “One day, maybe we will have a house of our own. And maybe it is even a villa by the sea. When you open the window, you can see the waves. We will lie on the beach sunning ourselves. Our child next to us building sand castles. Then, we will remember this day, when we were young, there was a time when I cleaned the shower and you cleaned the toilet. Will you feel that the road was very happy?”

Haiping: "I have a question. If we have a child that is building sand castles, that means in only a few years, we will achieve this” (Yes). “I see: you dream it, and I do it..."

(end of scene is people in shared kitchen preparing food while sounds of couple are hear from above)

Man: Now, townhouses cost around 490,000, and you only make 1,000 yuan a month.
Woman: In the future, my wages will increase much more than housing.

Haiping asks about Haizao 海藻, her sister. Haiping’s mother says that she wants Haizao to go to university in their province, to stay beside her, since her other child (Haiping) has gone away. Haiping replies that the universities there are better than those in her old town [hence, we learn that Haiping is an out of towner (waidiren) in Jiangzhou].

Haizao wants to go to university in the city where Haiping is resident (Jiangzhou). The parents agree, but there is little time to study before the test [gao-kao]. Her scores on test will determine where she attends.

6 months later
Mother takes Haizao out of house saying “take care of your train ticket and money. Listen to your sister. Call home often. You hear?”

Back in Jiangzhou.
Lots of lights and foreign stores. Haizao is excited, “it’s so bright, much more light than back at home”. [A white (Jinjiang) taxi rolls by, and a “Dazhong” taxi is in foreground—absolutely Shanghai since these are exclusively Shanghai taxi companies]

Haizao is staying with Haiping and man [Su Chun, (苏淳)]. She makes fun of Haiping for saying "our family" "your family" even though Haiping is not married, and she pulls out a package of condoms, and laughs. Man says that if Haizao doesn't tell her mother, when they have a big house, they will reserve a room for her.

As they go to sleep, Haiping says: "Don’t worry Haizao. In a short time, in a city this big, your big sister certainly will have an apartment of her own, a family of her own. What others have, I will have too."

4 years later
Haiping’s hair has been cut short.

Haizao: "If we go back home we will have a big house and mom will make food everyday"

Haiping: "I don't want to be the frog at the bottom of the well. We all have to struggle (奋斗). It is important. Do you know how a frog dies? (how?) Boiled to death by warm water. Boiled to death by very comfortable warm water."

After graduating university, Haizao comes to live with Haiping again while she looks for a job. Su Chun agrees (Haiping and Su Chun are married now) and there is some conflict because Haizao is not very enthusiastic about looking for a job, and Haiping's husband wants to have sex with her but she refuses him since Haizao is sleeping in the same small room.

After an incident where other residents confront Haiping about her sister not paying a share for collective water and gas, Haiping becomes angry when eating dinner with Haizao and her husband. She says, sighing heavily, "I don't believe that, in a city this big, so many people can make it but we can't. So many people can live on but we can't. Not only do I want to live on, but I want to live well. I cannot believe that my future will only be in this rickety longtang reduced to the same class as those old women-clerks from the first floor, hourly workers from the second floor, and canteen cooks from the second and a half floor. My future will be better than theirs.” Haizao nods enthusiastically, Su Chun looks startled and starts to eat, and Haiping stifles a sob. Su Chun comforts Haiping calling the old women “buttinskyies” (bapo 八婆).

Haizao meets a man, who she calls Lei Feng [who is Lei Feng?], who lends her his umbrella. He says they work together and she should call him Young Bei.

At the end of the episode, Haiping and Su Chun are looking at apartments. They find a place near an airport (obviously, Hongqiao), but Haiping worries that it is too far away from potential jobs. Su Chun asks her if she wants an apartment that belongs to herself or a job that involves moving back and forth. “Apartment! (fangzi 房子)”. She says an apartment and pats her stomach, which has grown large with child.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居

The sitcom/soap opera is 33 episodes (45 minutes each) based on the novel “Wo Ju” (translated by its publisher as “A Romance of House” and by the television producers as “Dwelling Narrowness” but I prefer my translation “Snail Space”, which is more literal, or even “Wo Ju” (wo 蜗is snail, ju 居 is house or residence). Perhaps “Snail Shell” would be better.

Image of original novel cover

As of 11 February, 2010, it has been broadcast 133,486,552 times on Youku here

Image of sitcom cover

I will post a partial summary and some interesting aspects of each episode -- one of my projects for New Year’s.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

3.41 Billion! Huangpu Land Kings

Cover photo and story from Oriental Morning Post

The land lost 1 billion RMB in value over 2 years (it was returned because of a delay due to subway station being built)


the winning bidders, who outbid two Hong Kong real estate companies, were two Shanghai state-owned enterprises including, particularly, "New Huangpu Group", a company listed on the Shanghai Securities Exchange and owned by the Huangpu district SASAC (state assets supervision and administration commission), trading code 600638.

Here is a translation:

3.41 Billion! The Former Huangpu Land King Falls Thirty Percent
Link is here

The New Huangpu (Group) Limited Liability Company, a company under the control of the Huangpu District SASAC (Shanghai), and Shanghai New World Share Limited Company joined together yesterday to purchase the land parcel at the 163 neighborhood of Nanjing East Road in Huangpu District for 3.41 billion yuan in an auction (see photo). The auction had only three participants but went through 41 rounds of bids before it quietly came to an end. The parcel is still the “sole king of land prices in China” but it fell thirty percent from its initial price of an astronomical 4.404 billion yuan two years ago.