This story originally appeared in Beijing Review on May 31, 2018
By Tamara Treichel
If you rent an apartment in Beijing, you also rent the landlord or landlady for at least a year. It is somewhat like getting “hitched,” so it’s important you are a match because you have to deal with them in the long term. For me, it was love at first — or at least second — sight with the elderly couple who owns my apartment.
It was quite an odyssey trying to find the right apartment when I arrived in Beijing in 2015. The apartments were either not suitable or I took an issue with the landlords who looked indifferent at best and unfriendly at worst. But that changed when the leasing agent’s scooter stopped in front of the stoop of a hutong house in the heart of the city.
I saw an elderly couple, in their seventies, waving to me. They were warm and welcoming at first glance, and when I saw them attentively hanging up the curtains in what would become my bedroom, I was almost sold on the place and the people already! Chinese talk about yuanfen, meaning fate that brings people together. Before I met my landlord couple, I thought the concept of yuanfen was overrated — one prospective landlady who liked me and had wanted me to move into her apartment had used this term in reference to me, but we didn’t end up signing a lease.
My landlord couple accommodated all my needs upon moving in, such as installing a new toilet (as much as I was impressed by them and their charming apartment, I made it clear that meiyou matong, meiyou hetong — no toilet, no contract). In return, I have carefully heeded the landlord’s instructions on how to take care of the apartment handwritten on the back of a “Double Happiness” tobacco box.
Just like myself, my landlord couple appreciate classic cultural touches in their living space and a cross between East and West, as was reflected in how they had decorated “our” apartment — a Terracotta warrior was standing proudly on my dining table, while a Venus of Milo was gazing off into the distance from underneath a bell jar on the fridge. A suitcase I discovered in my desk drawer containing Teresa Teng cassettes later confirmed me in my belief that my landlord couple and I share certain tastes and were thus compatible.
My mother, my landlady, and I