Posts Tagged ‘Beijing’

Complicit in a Secret Beijing Romance

December 14, 2012

Well it’s certainly been a while since I’ve updated this—in my defense, spending my 9-6 in front of computer writing grant proposals is a significant disincentive to writing at a computer in my spare time. In any case, I’ve spent the year and a half since returning to Beijing in the same apartment in Dongcheng, and in that time have fielded a rotation of roommates. The shortest-lived of these paid two months rent and didn’t spend a single night in the apartment.

This summer, after Cousin Katie moved out, I posted another ad on the Peking University bulletin board (bbs) for a new roommate. One girl who responded had gotten the ad from her boyfriend, an impending Beida graduate. Having met in high school and endured a long-distance romance throughout college, they found themselves triumphantly reunited as she prepared to move to Beijing for work. Amanda (my potential roommate’s chosen English pseudonym) visited the apartment and, after just a quick glance around, announced that it suited her. “I just moved to Beijing and I’m staying with my boyfriend for a few days while I get settled, but then I’ll move in here,” she said as she handed me two month’s rent.

After three weeks went by without any sign of her moving in, I called her to see what the deal was. Rather sheepishly, she explained that, in fact, after living in separate cities for the past few years she and her boyfriend had grown quite accustomed to living together and maybe she would just stay with him after all. This left me in a rather frustrating position—my next installment of rent was due to the landlord the following week, and I had been counting on Amanda to pay a third of that rent. She was understanding, though, and as the change of plans had been short notice she agreed to pay another month’s rent while I looked for a replacement. We settled the logistics of a rendezvous to hand-off the rent, at the end of which she said:

“Great, and when I come by to hand you the rent can you give me the spare set of keys to the apartment?”

“What? Why do you need the keys if you’re not moving in after all?”

“Right, but as long as I’m paying another month’s rent I’d like to store some things in the apartment for the next month.”

“What?”

“Right, I am staying with my boyfriend but actually I’d like to stay over at the apartment one day next month, just on October 8th.”

“…What?”

This was definitely one of the weirder phone conversations I’ve had. It took some wheedling, but finally I managed to get the back story out of her. Amanda’s parents were coming to visit her in Beijing for October Holiday. And she couldn’t simply receive them at the apartment where she was secretly living together with boyfriend, now could she? So my apartment had been drafted to serve as her alibi, which she would take her parents to in order to convince them that she was living alone and not in sin.

I’d certainly heard before of Chinese friends having to hide their romantic endeavors from conservative parents, but this was the first time that I’d actually been complicit in one. My other roommate was skeptical, but we worked out an arrangement where Amanda came by a week before, dropped off a couple sets of clothes and borrowed an apartment key. She didn’t even end up staying over, just taking her parents to see it one morning while I and my other roommate were at work. The bedroom must have looked pretty sparse, but as far as I know they were convinced.

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In Which the Narrator Catches a Bike Thief Red-Handed

May 8, 2012

One does not have to have lived in Beijing for very long to count bicycle thieves among the true scourges of your existence. While I have been lucky in my 2+ years of living here, I can think of countless stories from friends who have walked outside one morning or afternoon to find their bike, or at least a wheel or a seat, mysteriously gone. Cousin Katie lost two bikes last summer in the space of a month, locks and all. Bike theft in Beijing is so rampant that it is treated not so much as a preventable crime but rather with the same fatalism as the traffic or the smog. I have been told that actually trying to protect your bike with locks is futile (though my US-made Kryptonite lock has held up so far), but rather that the best protection you can offer is to discourage thieves by using dirt and scratches to make your bike look older, thereby making the next bike over more attractive by comparison.

Last week, I came face to face with a manifestation of this invisible, omnipresent force. I was

caught red-handed

walking out of the Teach For China office when, as I prepared to unlock my own bike, heard a soft sawing sound from just up the block. Looking up, I saw a man hunched over the bike several yards from mine, bent over the back wheel and, yes, sawing vigorously. He was making no effort to conceal it: people continued to cross the street nearby, no more than a few yards from the in-progress robbery. I flirted briefly with the notion of doing something heroic, of calling him out somehow, but wasn’t entirely sure what I would do or on whose authority I could confront him. So I opted instead to just stare in disbelief.

That was enough to get his attention at least. After a furtive look upward, he returned to his sawing. Pulling out my phone to take a picture, though, was enough to scare him off. He backed away from the bike and silently walked past me to the end of the block, throwing another guilty look over his

the lock was no match

shoulder before he turned the corner. I went over to take this photo of the lock on the bike once he was out of view: in just about a minute he had already sawed most of the way through the lock.

I got on my bike to leave again, turning the same corner to find him idling there. As soon as he saw me approaching he began ambling back to his victim. The brazenness was too much for me to resist; I circled around again to find him back at the same bike, and pulling out my camera to take another picture was enough to scare him off again. At that point, though, my heroic urge to defend the bike lost out against the realization that I was already late for something. I’ll never know if I had harassed him enough to scare him off or if he returned for a third time to claim his prize.

the villain makes his escape

Certainly this awkward confrontation was no more than confirmation of what we already knew. Even in broad daylight, with plenty of witnesses, your bike is not safe. I highly recommend the investment in a real Kryptonite lock.