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A Letter From China
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A Letter From China
A Home of Our Own

Buying an apartment in China

People sometimes contact me to ask how to buy a home in China; what are the pitfalls, what is the procedure. Up until recently, I have only been able to reply with the general consensus of opinion; but now I know it first hand.

This is what happened to us when we bought our home in China.

Some readers may also be aware that I have lived in twelve different places over the last ten years, moving is monotonously boring, and to the point that last time we didn't bother unpacking everything. There were a few items we had to trace within the myriad of unopened boxes, but we got by.

The question of course, is if we did not use the things, why did we keep them. I’ll write-off keepsakes, mementos, and old photographs—these things do not get thrown out, but are kept by nearly all people. Other items included a wall-mounted Calor gas hot water heater we bought, but did not need to use in the place we were living in; the next apartment we may have need of it. The same applies to our two-ring Calor gas cooker.

During a similar timescale, my wife Siu Ying had lived in nine different gaffs; you could say we were both fed up with moving home at least once per year.

I had been working, and saving, and an investment was reaching maturity. All told, there was not enough money to consider buying a gaff in Blighty. However, there was enough for us to buy a home in China.

That was a big ask, one that plagued me for several months, and longer. The problem was commitment. I felt like I was holding a pair of scales, trying to keep them in balance, for on one side lay my wife and daughter, our family unit. On the other lay uncertainty of committing hard cash to live in a foreign country, an alien culture—one where the rules of the West did not, and could not apply.

For instance, I can transfer currency into China, virtually in any worldwide denomination, except Chinese Yuenmunbai (Renminbe in Mandarin, RMB). This is about to change. Interestingly, Yuen, the international symbol of Chinese currency, is Cantonese, the Mandarin being Ren. It is related directly to the Japanese Yen; 30% of Mandarin is from Cantonese, and a different 30% of Japanese is Cantonese in origin. Small world.

But I digress:
As an individual, and without resorting to fiendishly clever work-around's, once my foreign money is in China, I face great difficulty removing it—say I changed my mind and wanted to live in … Thailand for instance. With foreign currency it can be done, but with RMB, no chance. That was one aspect of the commitment challenge I faced. There were others, for instance, would it be better to invest the money, and continue renting?

I contacted a UK financial advisor, whose company I had used many times previously. He did not bother to reply to my email, even though he was already aware of my circumstances, and that I would want to speak to him. I got fed up, contacted the boss directly; lo and behold, just before the third week elapsed, he replied to my original email. It was obvious by his curt and dismissive manner; he had no use for my investment. Moreover, this was at a time when the west was struggling for business? Oh no. This was representative of a new British attitude I have noticed evolving during the beginning of this new millennium—Blighty is no longer open for business, ‘You only have mere tens of thousands of pounds to invest as cash? Stop wasting my time’. Yea Gads!

The upshot was, I would need to travel to UK just to see this supposed ‘financial advisor’, personally, for five minutes, so as we were not subjected to investigation on money laundering charges. You think I had the slightest intention of flying halfway around the world, to meet a man who could not be bothered to reply to a genuine email enquiry. Time to wake up UK, because there is a big world out there, if only you could see it?

The following day, and purely out of interest, I followed up with what my local Chinese bank would offer me, for a medium term (I am using the traditional, not the modern version of that phrase), deposit of funds = 4.75 percent, instant access. I get a whisker over 1 percent in UK, by the time the government have taken tax at source, which I do not pay, and have to go through the rigmarole of claiming back. I did notice the great deals on UK ISA's, not! some just over 2 percent. Wow! Forgive me if I am not impressed.

It was Saturday afternoon, and the bank was closed for all but enquiries. The receptionist did not speak much English, so we muddled through in my Cantonese for a short while, before another customer came over and offered to translate. The woman was excellent, and extremely helpful. She confirmed the going rate was 4.75 percent interest from a standard Chinese bank. Cool, my next attempt will be at their main branch, where I will ask someone who speaks English about their special deals and foreign currency investments. They have an English version of their website, and I noted some foreign currency deposit accounts offering 6%. That is a good rate. China may not get my potential investment, but I can guarantee that neither will the blinkered investment parasites in UK.

I was considering thoughts such as the above, because having a small but relatively life-changing amount of money demands due aforethought. I also had zero idea how the Chinese property market worked, or how I stood. I knew I could buy a house in China, but not the details; could we have joint names on the ownership document? Which name came first? —Still very important regards UK and ultimate ownership = the first name takes priority, and this is usually the mans’. True, check it out.

One of her friends spoke to my wife, telling her our new home could only be in her name. OK, I understand, she was being protective of my wife, good friend I am sure. This was going nowhere with me; I stated bluntly, “If my name is not on the Deeds, there will be no new home.”

That episode passed quite quickly into history, and we moved on. Siu Ying went to see the government people who would deal with our prospective purchase, and ‘an uncle’ just happened to work in the department. He laid both our fears to rest; the property could be in our joint names, so there was nothing stopping us from buying our new home, except for finding somewhere suitable.

Siu Ying informed me, “You can only ever buy one house in China.” Given understanding, what she meant was that at any one time, I could only ever own one private residence, at one time, in China = not quite the same thing. So we began half-heartedly to look for a new home. We had a long lease on our currently rented gaff, so there was no imperative of urgency.

The impetus gathered during early November of last year (2013), Siu Ying speaking to many assorted estate agents, and viewing several apartments, but nothing she found was what we were looking for. That is not to say there were not some good deals to be had, especially down here in Toisan. However, the apartments tended to be too small, or in the wrong place—like next to the main bus station fronting the main road = not good. We also needed to plan for the future, schools for daughter Rhiannon (Coming on 5 years old), and a secure neighbourhood. Yeah, we were not only buying for ourselves, but for our family's present and future needs—I’m sure you know it well.


I shared my thinking with a couple of close friends, but ultimately the choice came down to whether I invested in buying a property in China, or not; I did not need anyone to hold my hand either. What I did need to do was arrive at the right decision on my own. I considered the pertinent factors of my life; one was that ‘I am very happy and settled with life in Canton’. I looked ahead, and foresaw I did not intend to leave, unless Chinese policy changed, and they kicked me out. Over history, China has opened and closed, but this time I don't think they can. Regardless, were I to leave, it would never be for Blighty—Could I possibly live in Thailand? I like the East.

The decision when it came was easy, almost preordained. I had been translating instructions for my wife into Mandarin, just in case I was killed that day, whatever. Doing what a good husband should do to ensure his family were well tended. I happened upon the truth, ‘What if I knew I would die tomorrow. What would I do today?’

A no-brainer, I leave most of my wealth, if any, to my wife and child; probably start a college fund. For their continued security after my day, they needed a home, somewhere to call their own. If that was my plan for after I was gone, then shouldn't it also be my plan for tomorrow? I was committed with the thought, and so we set about looking for a new gaff in earnest.

I guess within those fleeting moments, I also committed to crossing a cultural divide.

Perhaps it was because I grew up in Blighty, but I do like a place with big rooms. We needed three bedrooms anyway, and four would be our ideal, one becoming my office, another for guests, our bedroom, and Rhiannon's bespoke bedroom. The two parameters tended to come as one in China.

Siu Ying came back very excited one day, she had found a ‘desirable’ property nearby, and buying it would give her and her family ‘Great Face’. It was brand new, 4-bedded, and the size of a rabbit hutch. I had recently visited somewhere similar, and although apparently fine, there was no room inside, everything was squashed together, the fourth bedroom didn't even have a window, never mind a balcony, and was the size of a bathroom. It reminded me of virtually all houses in modern UK, needlessly small, everywhere.

Excited she went to view the place, twice, but became withdrawn. We spoke casually on occasions, while I let her work through the dynamics. One day she said, “Lo gong [husband], the new home is very nice, but it is very small inside. There is no room to have friends round, not like this room. It is ‘t'chyut-sup maa mun’” (7 x 10 x 10, 000 RMB = Y700, 000. Chinese do not count higher than ten thousand). I’ll call that £70, 000 for easy reckoning. Please note, the international sign for RMB is ¥, but the one I have just given is for Japanese yen. The two are extremely similar, but different. In order to respect Chinese sensitivities, (To understand, read The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang), I have not used the Japanese mark, and instead used a plain ‘Y’.

She added, “Others, still nowhere near as big as this place are Y900, 000, even over one million RMB. They are a waste of money; there was no space wasted. I think we look for the old home and make it new to suit us.”

This was exactly my idea, and I asked if the current landlady wanted to sell the gaff we were currently living in; or the one from the last place we lived in, which was very nice and had great potential. We were agreed on what we were looking for, early second week of November 20013; a large, old style place with four bedrooms, offering comfortable accommodation, things like several bedrooms, bathrooms, big kitchen, living room, et cetera.

A few days later, she came back with a list of properties for sale. It was all in Chinese, without any pictures. I understood what it was, what it represented; a sheet of A4 with several dozen items and very brief details. I remember thinking it was curious she sort of hid the list, but would leave it out. I looked through it and understood, one property stood out: four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and it was 159.95 square metres = big, big enough. The price was (I’ll call it) Y600, 000, (Say, £60, 000 or $90, 000) but was split in two, a figure of Y470, 000, and another of Y150, 000. I could read enough to know this was the type of property we sought, so she went to see it; twice.

I learned the figures represented the main abode, and an unrelated garage, which we did not need. I went to see it, and it was fine, great place, given that we owned it and could alter it as we saw fit.

I’ll add for anyone reading, and unsure of Chinese property rights, that it is correct, the state owns all land, including that which is built upon. In effect, this is like a ground lease (ground rent UK), but no money is required. It is simply a state tenure, and as regards a block of flats, the building is owned privately in most cases, and within, so are the individual apartments = this is not a problem, simply an exercise in legalese.

However, anyone considering buying a detached property in China will have to deal with this ground lease, which runs for seventy years. It is a formality, and can be extended back up to seventy years at any time.

I went back for a second look the next week. The security entrance, connected to the apartment via a phone and remote lock opener that actually worked—the first time ever! Nearby was a ramp allowing motorbikes access to the second floor (First floor in UK), and another security door leading onto the stairs. The apartment was on the third floor, at the top of five short flights of stairs.

Inside it was spacious, but also a tad odd; it had a lovely big kitchen, but one corner, including the incorporated balcony, had been corralled into a cooking zone. It was less than a couple of yards square, and had opaque windows, and a door = very strange. It reminded me of a typical Hong Kong Char Siu cubicle. No doubt, the intention was to prevent the horrendous odours of cooking from pervading the entire apartment, but it had to go. The kitchen was virtually sealed off regardless, having glass display shelves up to the ceiling, above base units, and a concertina door.

The other odd thing was the third and fourth bedrooms had been knocked into one. We decided to revert, as they were still large enough, and four bedrooms was our ideal. Otherwise, there was room to play football in our living room, and for the first time, the living room balcony was wide enough to set out chairs with table, and share a beer with friends into the night.

There were other closers for us; the kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools were all within a few hundred yards walk. There was no through traffic, yet a plethora of local shops. It was close to where we knew and had lived for several years, and all in all, it suited us well.

The incumbent owners were moving to a detached house, and offered to leave us with many things; the three piece suite, another fridge/freezer, lots of sitting room and bedroom units, and there was no fighting about the price—it simply was a friendly gesture, but one most likely to save them having to get rid of the stuff.

The deal was agreed during the third week of November; the 18th if I remember correctly. Then the bustle of activity began. I had to withdraw funds from UK to cover the deposit, the first being an interim deposit via the estate agent of Y2, 000 RMB. Siu Ying came back with a piece of paper to act as a receipt, which had their forefinger prints over their signatures. Due to ridiculously high foreign exchange withdrawal charges concerning my UK bankers, we assured the remainder of the full deposit, or Y10, 000 RMB would be made within seven days.

I thought the receipt was unusual and a tad worrying, but my wife was confident this was the way to do business in China. OK. Somewhere along the lines, Siu Ying had become embroiled with two estate agents who were to help us buy the property outright. The one had been the originator, but another, and more local, not only physically, but also as a locally bred city dweller, began to take preference. I can guess greater family were involved also, for Siu Ying was always on the phone to Dai Lo, (eldest brother). I let my wife handle it, her mess, but I was ready to step in an instant if required.

I'm not sure ‘a survey’ was involved during the purchase period, although there were numerous checks done. Most of these were legal, but two were apartment specific, and a paperwork trail. My passport was often required as the process got underway. The main issue was to check and recheck the exact size of the apartment, for a learned this was used to determine the estate agents commission.

I had not realised these were banded, and not based upon a percentage of either cost or work involved. The banding was of the order: less than 30 square metres = Y2, 000 commission. The apartment we were buying was listed at a fraction under the 60 square metre charging band. The flat was measured several times by different people, and the agreed result was just under 65 square metres, larger than the details said.

The sale was lodged with the local housing bureau, including the new dimensions on an official form. My name was professionally translated into Chinese, and would appear in both languages on the deeds, Chinese name first of course. The estate agent attended to other minor matters, which are of little consequence.

The next step was to buy the place; I actioned the SWIFT transfer and was not fazed; this was what I wanted for my family and myself. I felt good, and was facing the Chinese unknown yet again. Top-hole, I hate life when it gets boring! The unknown I can readily do; the known … well, can we do that again at another time?

Therefore, to summarise, to buy a house in China, all you need it the wherewithal = money = cash; a sponsor = wife, and a valid passport with Chinese visa. That appears to be it. So easily stated, and yet such a frightening experience. You may not understand this, but regards Chinese banks, monetary transactions as a whole, have only just moved on from the 1950’s era of everything being accountable by handwritten forms in triplicate. There are largely no cheques, and electronic transfers, as regards property purchases, have not arrived to date. But there is more…

I transferred a sum of, lets call it $100, 000 to China via SWIFT. I have no need to reveal to you my personal financial circumstances, so this round figure will do as example. I sent it all to the local branch of my Chinese bank, one I knew could handle the transaction. The transfer took four working days, and the money was available to me, as US Dollars, on the fifth day. That's when the problems began.

You see, a person, Chinese or foreigner, can only exchange $50, 000 American into RMB in any one year. I am still not sure what the dated year is, but it remained current for my circumstances, and most probably a calendar year. I was aware of this, and had planned to transfer the other $50, 000 to my wife's account, held within the same branch.

No. Here is China!

This was not allowed. I could have transferred the foreign currency, from my UK bank account, to her Chinese one. I was not allowed to transfer the foreign currency from my Chinese bank account to my wife's You have to laugh to keep from crying sometimes. Upon reflection, it may have proved simpler to transfer the other half back to UK, and SWIFT it again to my wife's account—but that wouldn't be any fun, now would it.

When my wife understood, I was berated for being stupid. Heah—I know, I already got that award, thank you, but this was my first time; and then things got a lot trickier, like ever so much more stupid, and unnecessarily more complicated.

I went down to the branch to see if the money transfer had completed; the manager assured me the money had been received and would be in my account the next day. The following morning he called me to confirm, and we in turn rang the seller, and arranged to meet him at the bank that afternoon. We needed to pay the rest of the deposit, our period of grace was close to expiry, and he said he had other buyers. Perhaps? I think he just wanted the money = assurance.

What I did not realise before the event, was that there was a limit on how many U.S. Dollars the bank would allow to be changed into RMB each day. The figure varied quite a bit, depending upon the moment. The first time I had to go down and do the deed in person, with passport as proof of ID. The bank was busy and we waited for our ticket number to come round. Before we were seen, the seller arrived.

We began with changing all of my allowed $50, 000 into RMB, and returning the proceeds into my account. The process was cumbersome, and I got the distinct impression none of the staff had done this before. The supervisor was in close attendance, and in time, a junior manager signed off on it. We were moved to the adjacent cashier because she spoke Cantonese, the first only speaking Mandarin. Things started to flow much better from that point onwards, as we all understood what was happening. However, all the bank staff present did speak reasonably good English, if a tad rusty—remember I live out in the sticks, in a place foreigners are extremely rare.

The notes were counted, and recounted, first the Dollars, and then the corresponding RMB. It took ages, hampered by the fact they had to keep returning, and reissuing the same $10, 000 wad of $100 notes. These were counted twice by hand, as well as electronically, for each issue. I wondered if five seconds on a computer keyboard would not have been preferable. Eventually I presented with a receipt. We had more than half the purchase price in RMB, and the rest to do ourselves. The seller was hovering nearby, and I did not hide the receipt from him, just so he knew we were genuine buyers and had the money.

The next phase entailed drawing out US Dollars, and the result was the same bundle of American Dollar notes were issued to us, in cash. Undoubtedly, some of you will already have noted that $50, 000 is not a relatively large amount of money, where property transactions are concerned. It was for me, and I was trying to exchange twice that figure to complete the purchase. The final phase was to withdraw Y10, 000 RMB, which I duly handed to the seller; my bank business completed for the day.

The seller had already joined us at the window, and was still hovering nearby. He took the stack of notes, insisting on jumping the queue and paying the money into his own account at once. A small disagreement followed, before he was allowed to complete his business. Others waiting were not impressed, and I sidled outside for a cigarette, offering one to security who had joined me for the same reason; we knew each other in passing from previous visits. I also knew he worked as a motorcycle taxi when his duty at the bank was over each day. The Chinese work ethic is all pervading.

I wandered back inside, because we still had to get a receipt from the seller, who appeared to be attending to a lot of personal business that afternoon. In due course, he completed, and the seller wrote out a receipt on the back of a bank form in the bank foyer, which he signed. He borrowed a red ink stamp pad from a teller, and we all wrote our names and put our forefinger print overlapping in red ink. We left with a commitment to buy, or forfeit. Yup, that simple.

I had $10, 000 in cash, in a plastic carrier bag, and we would have to use our own devices to convert them to RMB. I knew there was a woman who loitered around the foyer of the nearest branch of the Bank of China who would do this, so was not concerned—I knew I could do it myself, and for a very reasonable exchange rate; cheaper than the Bank’s own rate actually. Nonetheless, my wife had her own designs.

You may wonder how I know this, it is simple; I am not a rich man. There was a time when I was seriously short of ready funds, and went to the Bank of China to convert what little foreign money I had into RMB. The English-speaking receptionist told me I would have to use the VIP section nearby, but it was so full I could not even get in the door. Another receptionist with better English skills recommended that I use the services of a woman who was loitering nearby, or I could wait the estimated half an hour. She looked like a scavenger woman, but I spoke to her, and she knew her trade. She had a large bag full of all denominations of currency, and had excellent English; you may wonder why? I did the deal, and it was fine, the RMB was genuine; I had money, fantastic!

Back in the present; the next day was a virtual repeat at the bank, but without the seller. Security clocked me as soon as I entered, and moments later I was shown into the VIP section by the branch manager, who courteously offered me a cup of water. No doubt he was fearing a repeat of yesterday’s theatrics. I got just over $9, 000 converted to RMB, which I monitored when it passed through the anti-counterfeiting counting machine.

This was apparently destined to take six bank working days, and then we hit trouble. Over subsequent days Siu Ying was able to take my ‘passy-port’ and bank card, and do similar without my attendance, which is quite common in the Orient, but! —Talk about trust within marriage. I write this with an implied ‘What-if?’ but will leave detectives amongst you to work that one out for yourselves.

It was not possible for Siu Ying to attend every day, but we were closing on the remaining figure, when she was taken aside by a senior bank staff, and told she had to stop withdrawing money. They claimed others in the foyer had watched her, and it was a security problem, they worried she would be mugged on leaving. More likely, these unusual transactions were drawing interest from more senior management, those not within branch.

Fortunately, the guy we were buying from was away on business, and later in Hong Kong. During this period, Siu Ying made a special arrangement with the still helpful local bank staff; they were simply in a position they did not want to be in, as I understood the problem; even if she did not. We were given an appointment to go to the main city branch of their bank, and complete withdrawal of US Dollars.

Our good friend delivered us to the main city branch; ‘Su’ang’ also doubled as our personal security. We were greeted by reception at the prearranged time, and asked to wait a moment, being offered a drink of water as we were seated. The wait took seconds only, and my exchange took minutes; we had been acknowledged and given VIP treatment. I will presume our local branch had arranged a special dispensation, and very quickly were given the outstanding US currency.

My wife had also arranged with our branch, that we would be able to withdraw all of the RMB in my account, in one go, for the daily limit at Chinese ATM's is nominally Y10, 000.

This was passed in several attempts, though the under-drawer of the teller window, and we ended up with a load of dosh. The girl did speak quite good English, and I mentioned in passing about electronic bank transfers… she appeared not to hear me; China is a cash-based society.

The teller handed us a small but appropriate black carrier bag, which split as soon as we filled it. She called the supervisor, who offered us a second carrier, all but the same. Our deal was done, and it was time to leave. I walked out onto unfamiliar streets, with a plastic shopping carrier containing just over $17, 000 U.S. Dollars, and Y300, 000 in RMB, all in non-negotiable hard currency.

Anything could have happened, and you meet yourself in these moments. The nearby security guard stayed close at hand, but within the bank doors, as he watched us into our minivan. I noticed his counterpart at the other end of the building came out, seeming to light a cigarette; you may call that co-incidence, but I do not; they were looking out for us.

As it was, that night we laughed, chucking money around, and Siu Ying kept a couple of special notes that took her fancy. Over $67, 000 in our hands, imagine, that is around £45, 000, all in cash. The moment didn't really do much for me, almost, but not quite nothing, as I'm not motivated by money. However, Siu Ying was over the moon—she insisted I took many photographs of her windfall. Fine; let’s get this over with...

The next phase involved Dai Lo; he knew of ‘a friend’ = somebody who could give us a very good rate for changing U.S. Dollars into RMB. The rate was actually better than a UK banks buying rate, go wonder. This time Dai Lo arrived to take my wife to meet his ‘friend’. The journey would take twenty minutes by car, but within thirty, Siu Ying called to say she had the money in RMB. At last, we could begin the home buying process proper.

I had no conception of what was coming, but played the game, and would play hard-ball if needed to. I didn't A date was set and we went to an old part of town, one that still retained the fading glory of Golden Brown. We stopped in an old village square, the old village itself virtually long gone, except for a couple of old dwellings. The wide spreading Banyan trees were welcoming in this recluse from the hustle of modern day city life. I sat down for a cigarette, things being out of time, Siu Ying constantly on her mobile. I had my shoes cleaned by a migrant worker—how do I know she was a migrant? She only spoke Mandarin, not any known version of local language, go figure. I was done for two RMB, or twenty pence—(say thirty Cents), and a superb job to boot.

I partook of another cigarette as I waited, and was watched by the locals, they were playing Ma Jeurng, (mah jongg) in the round, and simply chilling in their Chinese ways. The place had a great feel about it, community, atmosphere, a life all of it’s own. Nearby, street stalls offered food, and others, bargains for the unwary. I watched and absorbed the scene, so different from what I had known as a child.

Time had passed, and I was almost ready for a pint, when Siu Ying came back to me; “We have to leave now, zhoa’ah” [go!].

“Yessir!” Well, we waited for another ten minutes by the kerb, looking this way and that. I knew today would happen; when was for the Fates alone to have prior knowledge of. In China, one does wonder sometimes, just how long statements like, ‘now’, and ‘immediately’ take to morph into another reality of the here-and-now.

This moment took fifteen minutes, and then all was a’scarry—we had to walk as fast as we could, somewhere, led by people I did not know. They passed an alley, but came back around to take it. These idiosyncrasies are common in China; the person knows where they are going, not quite on the local streets.

Anyway's; we rocked up at yet another bank, me still carrying a small fortune for a westerner, in ready notes, concealed within the plastic carrier held at my side, but not too tightly. During the short trek, an unwholesome woman, her man invisibly tethered in her wake, joined us. She seemed to know more than I did about what was going down; a minor worry. I knew there would be a Chinese explanation for her sudden and disparate appearance, if only I had the powers of seeing other’s intent.

We were not hassled during our walk through the back-street alley, and came to a major road, one I recognised. Nearby was a bank we entered, and all was VIP, we were expected. The estate agent I seemed to think was representing us, was there and leading the way through the (limited) formalities of home purchase in modern China.

We were simply there to deposit the cash. By that I mean, before the sales legalisms were entered into, we had to hand over the ready notes, less the deposit. These all had to be counted, twice by hand, and once through the counterfeit wringer machine, and what can I say … we were there for hours. OK, a hyperbole, but thirty minutes would be appropriate; there was that much cash. This was followed by the issuing of an official receipt, again with signatures and forefinger prints in red ink.

The older woman that had joined us became extremely pushy, to the point I took a great dislike to her presence. She was constantly butting in, watching our supposed private transaction, which I may have had my own misgivings about, but for her overt presence. She appeared to bawl Siu Ying out, in public, in the bank foyer. I knew instinctively, she was not a nice person.

She had her rant over ‘whatever’, and went to sit down with her dormouse of a husband, accomplice anyway. I was intent on trying to follow what transactions were taking place, for it appeared we had to give the old owner all our money, before we could go to the next stage. I noted official receipts were exchanged; Siu Ying and her agent fully aware, and I had no problem, thus far. It was a tad odd, but within the differential realms of cultures and practices.

I was taken aback when the older woman reanimated, stomped over challengingly, and launched into a tirade, trying to physically interrupt the deal already done. She was a moron. Then she turned to me and let off another load of angst, unfortunately for her, I understood most of it. Then she hit me, not hard, but rendered a punch to my arm. I had not spoken, ignoring her presence so far, but being attacked by a woman, no matter how old, deserves a very special reason; she had none.

I rounded on her, drawing myself up to my full stature, and gave her a mouthful, in a mixture of English and Cantonese.; basically, ‘butt out’.

She actually appeared to shrivel, and I did not know I had that power. Security were with us instantly, and looking at her, not me. I waved a hand in the air, dismissively. There was no big thing here, just a ‘misunderstanding’. Notably, I was assisted by no other during that moment, for my wife and others were concentrated on the crux of our deal. I faced the unknown woman down, and wondered ‘why’ I had to, and watched as she wheeled about defeated, and slunk away; she and her husband were quickly ushered out of the door by security; I hoped I would never see them again. I knew she was the original estate agent, even though everybody was ignoring me.

Meanwhile, we moved on to the next phase of purchasing a dwelling in modern China. It was the time of reckoning, and we went back down the alley, only to wait outside what can best be described as a ‘colonial building’. In any major Chinese city, only one building deals with all property transfers; the one we waited to enter was virtually behind the bank.

I did not understand why we had to hover outside for twenty minutes, but obviously, we were waiting for something to happen. In fact, we were waiting for someone to happen, because the almost previous owner was waiting for what I now know to be documents. Many other things ran through my mind during that time; all I had was a bank receipt for the transfer of a load of dosh. I needed something back, and sat on the kerb, smoking; waiting.

In time, a man arrived, and we went inside, none of us sure where we were supposed to go. I probably divined as much as any other; it was a bureaucratically, and unnecessarily complicated building, at least for first timer’s. We went down a hallway, entered a large room with a counter facing, and tables scattered around. It looked like a factory canteen, and were dis-dealt with immediately. By that I mean, we were attended to at once, but our needs were the causation of further problems.

Then the older estate agent woman reappeared, and caused a ruckus. She must have shadowed our every move; Siu Ying took her aside for a serious word. After that, the woman hovered in the background, but she never directly interfered again. I was ready for her regardless, not with fists, but with my smile. Good riddance to bad rubbish if you ask me, but then, all nationalities have their own quirks, and piques of their populace(s).

To draw a line under that episode, I now know that the older woman was the first estate agent to offer us the house we bought. However, Siu Ying cut her out of the deal, and went with the younger female, who was excellent. Never doubt your wife; given the others attitude, I would have done the same. We ended up paying the oldster a few hundred RMB for services supposedly rendered, which dragged on for too many days to long. However, with the payment agreed, she was gone, and I noted, it was her husband she gave her purloined money to.

Regarding the house purchase, the first room we entered turned out to be a greeting and forwarding place. Time passed, and I went outside for a cigarette. I could have smoked inside, but it did not feel right, you know? Although we were almost processed as one, the still current owner, and HK Bossy as I learned, departed once more, his paperwork to complete.

Hanging around time, for no good reason, is slow time. Waiting for others to complete whatever should already have been done, an anathema to my soul. I wanted to just go do this thing, but yet, I was left all alone, smoking a cigarette I did not want, nor enjoy.

Nevertheless, China changes so swiftly, one moment the earth cannot move; the next, all hell breaks loose, and so it came to pass. I had not even finished smoking, when I was called with utter urgency inside. We had to go all the way up to the third floor; this turned out to be where the real work was done.

First, we entered a very small office that was crammed with people suffering different stages of the process. The cubicle was typical of China; others barged, pushed, and bullied their way to the front of the mass, I can’t call it a queue, a mêlée perhaps. Each, and every application appeared to have faults, and we, along with most others, ended up back downstairs, trying to negotiate remission for the deed to be done, buying a home.

The staff had changed over presumed break-time, meaning we were basically all beginning afresh. Only minutes passed, but each one felt like hours; even Siu Ying was wanting to get the hell out of the place, but it was not to be.

Instead, we re-gathered in the round of the small office on floor three, and after a needless problem with photocopies, we had just to complete the bureaucracy of the moment. This accomplished, the documents were authorised, and we were done; it was very sudden. One moment we were one of a billion people, all renting a place to doss; the next we were almost property owners, the seal of red ink stamp fell on our paperwork—you have been approved to go to room 301.

We duly handed over our files, which had grown in triplicate, and were appropriately processed. Others from the greater family were there to support us, although I had never seen any of them before, nor since. I’ll put that down to ‘the power of the uncle’, although it seemed to be a normal process; Chinese Face of course.

That was all there was to it. With no ado, we became the new owners of our home. As with the marriage certificate, each of us was given our own red book of title deeds. Mine had my name in both Chinese and English, officially translated by The State. We kissed and cuddled, and were buoyed by the unknown greater family.

So: You pay the money, get the official paperwork sorted, and you have just bought a property in China. Cool—I’ll raise a toast to that, and it was all far simpler than in supposed modern UK, except for physically hauling all that cash around.

I am left with the distinct impression, that if we had had the dosh, like in physical notes, the apartment purchase could have been completed within the day of viewing.

I did not get to see my new home for five weeks, my wife wishing to renovate the place for my arrival. It was odd, but then so are we as a couple—what we have works for us. ‘nuff said; and I love her dearly. I was consulted from time to time, but basically, I gave her her head, and waited to see what she came up with; what resulted was an extremely pleasant surprise.

There was another, our gaf is situated one hundred yards from the east end of the road, where the senior, and junior school is located; separate areas; there are some steps nearby. These lead directly into a nature reserve, and are an integral part of the greater Toisan Resevoir; open and untouched, reserved, countryside just yards away; that changes things, and all for the better.

The kitchen was restored to being a functional unit; we now enjoy a very modern ‘haute por excellence’, albeit with Chinese characteristics. I will write about the renovation next time in a much shorter Letter from China, but one that will be most revealing.

I also learned to respect my wife during that time. I now own a gaff in China, not part of any life plan I had ever envisaged, but this happening is my current situation and predilection—in my world; the life I choose to lead.

until next time,

This work including text and associated photographs is Copyright of Jonno Morris (Unless stated otherwise), and may be reproduced for personal and private use under Collective Commons 3 Licence. An email would be appreciated in such circumstances, as would a reference.

You are not allowed to use this information to make money from my work - regardless of how fancy or well paid your lawyers may be.

Some artistic licence has been used arbitrarily in some of these Letters, and whilst most facts are in essence correct, some personal and literary interpretation may have been employed to greater or lesser degrees.
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