Sunday, May 24, 2015

Three years in Shanghai

On the morning of May 24, 2012, my son Ben got the worst stomach ache of his life. 

He was doubled over in pain, hysterically crying and barely able to breathe. This was not good timing for two reasons. First, our landlord had come in from Mainland China to our apartment to do a final walk-through and collect our keys, and we were due momentarily to board a plane from Macau to Shanghai, our new home.

Macau flag, left. China flag, right.
It was not going well. We had previously purchased a large refrigerator for our apartment, which the landlord had promised to reimburse from our deposit upon move out, and he was suddenly not willing to give us a cent. I was furious, as we'd had ample time to sell the fridge to recoup our expense if he didn't want it, but he'd insisted he'd pay for it, right up until that day. I was so furious, that I threatened to push the fridge across the kitchen and living room, right onto the balcony and then right over the balcony of our 8th floor home. If we didn't get to sell it, and he wouldn't pay for it, then it was mine to do with as I pleased, including destroying it. 

I don't normally have this kind of rage, but remember, Benjamin was laying on the couch, crying his eyes out while our Filipino helper hovered over him, rubbing his back, while the landlord crossed his arms across his chest, smugly confident that he was going to take us to the bank and bleed us dry. Michael was yelling because the landlord was already making out with two full month's rent (over $6,000 USD) because we were moving out before the end of our three year lease, and refusing to allow anyone else to take over our lease so we could at least leave without a debit. Why not add an extra grand, the cost of the refrigerator, to his highway robbery?

Our real estate agent, there to help translate and smooth the procedure, saw the crazy fire in my eyes as I pantomimed pushing the fridge over the balcony railing, heard the wails of my son, and he fired off a long, loud string of Mandarin, with accompanying urgent hand gestures directed at the landlord. The landlord's wife, dressed to the nines and up to that point completely still and silent, suddenly came to life, and with sympathetic tones gestured to our son, who was not getting any better. She quietly convinced him to have compassion in this one tiny area so we could take care of our sick child. In Asian culture, the concept of "face" is very real, and fighting head on with the landlord would not get us anywhere. But I needed to get my son to a hospital, and then, hopefully, onto a plane with our eight suitcases, four carry-ons, and four backpacks, and so although I wanted to curse the name of the lying, cheating landlord until the day I died, I'm grateful for the landlord's wife giving him the opportunity to save face, and us the opportunity to get our thousand dollars back for the fridge.

With that out of the way, it was actually Michael who grabbed Ben and took a taxi to a local medical clinic with the helper, while I did the final preparations to get out the door to the airport. Thankfully, Ben was diagnosed with extreme gas pains and not something that would require hospitalization or surgery. They gave him some medicine and hot water, and before we knew it, we were all back at the flat to walk out one last time.

It was a rough goodbye. In fact, it was the roughest goodbye I've had in thirteen moves between five countries. I posted today on Instagram that most people cry at the Macau Airport because they've lost all their life savings at the casinos. We were crying because we lost Macau.


It was a short flight to our new life in a different country, rather than the typical long haul flight with jetlag. We got into our temporary housing. We unpacked. We went out for dinner (Mexican). We went to bed. And here we are, three years later, celebrating our third anniversary of living in Mainland China.


We woke up. We got dressed. We went out to breakfast at Mr. Pancake, our favorite American-style breakfast joint. Michael took a selfie of us on the street corner. Just another day, but also not, because we've broken a record, staying in one place longer than any of the other places we've stayed in our just-shy-of-19 years of marriage. I just never thought China would be the place to hold the record.

And for the record, we have an excellent landlord here. He is as honest, kind, and generous as our last landlord was deceitful, cruel, and stingy. There will be no threats of breaking appliances upon our departure from Shanghai, whenever that might be.

Happy Shanghai-versary to us!

1 comment:

Tom Belew said...

Ok, if you stay in Shanghai much longer you will have to rename your blog. Maybe "My Settled Life" could be the new name.

I will be coming to Shanghai for my second visit with the Richmonds in August. The Great Wall is on my agenda.

Tom Belew