November 15th, 2009
It’s nice to be told straight up I’ll never get a mortgage because I’m a foreigner. And for my wife to be told she’ll never get a mortgage because she married a foreigner.
On Friday after work lzh met up with a friend. Her friend said, “Hey, there’s this real estate development out in Yanjiao (燕郊) that’s selling apartments cheap! You should come along and have a look!” And so they agreed to meet at the 930 bus stop at Dabeiyao (Guomao) at 11am.
Yesterday morning dawned with me feeling tired and headachy and generally not wanting to do much more than sleep. But I was kicked out of bed, thrown in the shower, dressed, and dragged out the door. Well, it wasn’t that bad, and it would be nice to see if these apartments were any good and if they were affordable.
The norwester had finally come and cleared out that ridiculous damp, snowy weather we’ve been plagued with for the first half of November. A clear, clean, blue sky, but a bitterly cold breeze. We got to Dabeiyao, met our friends, found the stop for the bus we needed (the 930, like apparently all the 900-series buses, seems to come in a wide variety of mutations, so we had to find one particular 930 that would drop us right outside this development), and eventually managed to get on one. There was quite a crowd of people looking to catch the exact same bus, so we watched three load up and leave before we made it to the front of the queue.
The bus was pretty good, taking off down the Jingtong Expressway then the Jingha Expressway, making a couple of stops along the northern edge of Tongzhou town before getting back on the Jingha, zipping past Songzhuang and across the Chaobai River, over the border into Hebei, then straight down the G102 through Yanjiao. It took us a little under an hour to get out there, and that was largely thanks to the lack of traffic restrictions on the weekends causing backups at the toll gates. Lack of traffic restrictions and the large number of real estate developments being built in Yanjiao. Although we were in Hebei, it seems most of the cars had Beijing licence plates, and the sales office of the development we visited was packed.
The Chaobai River wasn’t much of a river. More like a long, narrow, shallow ditch with a couple of tiny streams winding their way through, but otherwise mostly grass. It would be nice to think it turns into a proper river with the summer rains, but that grass was a bit too long for me to believe it had suddenly sprung up in that brief gap between summer and November when it was still warm enough for things to grow.
It seems that Yanjiao is taking advantage of its proximity to Beijing- especially the CBD- to drive its development. “40 minutes to the CBD” they told us, and considering it took us 50-odd minutes to get there through weekend unrestricted traffic, I can believe that’s true of a weekday morning. The most common kind of advertising along the G102 in Yanjiao was for real estate, and where Yanjiao was expanding at its western and eastern edges, there was no shortage of sales offices. Especially along its northwestern edge, apartment blocks seemed to be the most important cash crop of Yanjiao’s fields. Every bus stop- including Dabeiyao- seemed to have a huddle of real estate touts hawking apartments. I can’t understand why anybody would buy an apartment from somebody standing at a bus stop clutching a well-worn brochure, but I guess they must be able to make a living this way, otherwise they wouldn’t be standing out in that cold, cold wind. And glancing at the map, Yanjiao seems to be no further from Beijing’s CBD than Shijingshan, and closer than Shunyi or Changping.
Our destination was on the eastern edge of the town. The western edge was all fancy, new real estate, then the bus took us through the centre of town, which was considerably older and betrayed Yanjiao’s real status as a township of Sanhe City (三河市), and a small one at that, with a population of 104800 in 2002. The dusty streets were lined with weathered buildings from the white-tile period of modern Chinese architecture, other buildings with very-faux-Classical European facades. It felt very much like a small county town, but not as far along in its development as any of Beijing’s equivalent outlying towns. Nevertheless, it seemed like quite a pleasant place, and certainly had all the amenities one would need in order to persuade people to buy apartments out there, plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, markets, hospitals and schools.
We arrived at our destination on the eastern edge of the town. The first thing I noticed when we got off the bus was the cooling towers of a powerstation just fifty-odd metres northeast of this development. Steam from the towers conveniently obscured the chimney and its smoke, but I’d noticed this powerstation in the distance when we were driving through the town. I was told it would soon be closed down. I have no way to confirm that. Anyway, right in front of us was a fancy new towerblock, obviously yet to be completed. Well, the structure was all there and people had moved in to their apartments, but the lower levels that were supposed to house a shopping mall were still in use as the sales office. So, finsihed, but not quite. Immediately to the west was Phase 2 of the development, where are friends are planning to buy a small apartment. On the eastern side was an old, 1950s-looking estate of long, low-rise brick apartment blocks that would soon have to make way for Phase 3. To the south was an area of low-level industrial buildings, little more than a shanty town.
Inside the soon-to-be-mall/sales office, the walls of the lobby were covered in posters showing the various kinds of apartments on offer and sofas arranged around coffee tables at which multitudes were doing their deals. Under the escalator was a large model showing the finished project, a model that showed the effects of the myriad people with an urgent need to touch it in order to figure out what it will be like when it’s finished. This place was beyond crowded, and the thousands of small groups of apartment hunters and buyers acted with such urgency you’d think they were running late and in danger of missing their train. Our friends found their agent we had a look around. Our friends were there to book an apartment, that is, to put down a 10 thousand yuan non-refundable booking fee which would get them an apartment set aside for a week, a week in which they had to find the deposit and get a mortgage. We were there to have a look and see if it was worth booking an apartment for my brother-in-law, and perhaps, if possible, ourselves, something I was not overly happy about- apartments are not the kind of thing one buys on impulse- but that’s what we were there for.
The apartments seemed fine. Indeed, we did get to look at two in the completed Phase 1, and we certainly could not see anything wrong with them. We would, of course, have trouble getting a mortgage, but we were told there were ways and means around that. My brother-in-law doesn’t have that mortgage problem, though. What was frustrating is that we could put the deposit down, we certainly do have the money, but a large portion of that money can not be touched until lzh has a visa for New Zealand in her hands. If we so much as glance at it before then, NZ Immigration will deny her the visa. A couple of quick calls, and no, we can’t make up that shortfall that isn’t a shortfall but is borrowing money from friends. We’d be able to get some, but not enough. In any case, now is not a good time for us to be buying an apartment, we have other plans. But we did pay the booking fee on a small apartment for my brother-in-law, and I hope he comes up with the deposit by Friday, I don’t want to lose that 10 thousand yuan.
We arrived at midday, and the process of discussions, looking around, urgent phonecalls to various people, more discussions, more phonecalls, paperwork, and handing over money took quite some time. It was almost 5 when we got back to Beijing, starving. Yoshinoya rescued us, and then I snuck off to O’Farrells to wind down while lzh phoned her father and her brother to discuss the rapid rounding up of money for the deposit on her brothers’ apartment that now needs to be done.
And the norwester continues to blow, keeping the sky clean, clear and blue. lzh is sitting a translation exam. I’m starting to think about lunch.