• Alexandra Sieh

  • Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily

    It's a winding path to my new home, past the smells of neighbors' cooking and sounds of Chinese soap operas.



“So what do you think?” Manfriend muttered to me as I surveyed the kitchen again.

“I think it’s perfect,” I muttered back, keeping my face calm. Inwardly, I was elated. We had finally had some luck.

“Yep, I agree, let’s go for i—” he started to say. Then the other girl looking at the apartment spoke up. She had been muttering with her own counterpart — her agent, I assumed — and had turned to the landlord to ask some questions.

Manfriend tuned into their rapid Mandarin conversation.

His face twitched.

Uh oh.

Soon he tensed. The landlord was grinning broadly. Our agent was on his phone, oblivious.

That was it. The landlord had just entered into a verbal agreement with this woman. “Do you have any questions?” he asked. Barely controlling his irritation, Manfriend insisted we did not. Other than why the hell he cared if we had questions.

And so our luck fizzled out again.

We left deflated. That apartment had it all, and that girl swiped it. A number of expletives later, I sat sulking with my coffee while Manfriend arranged a few more viewings.

Needless to say, our apartment hunt wasn’t going smoothly.

We had only just landed a few days prior from London, and already seen a bunch of apartments. We had a list of our wants — air conditioning, close to the subway, decent shower, etc. — and had sent that to a bunch of agents we found on WeChat.

These agents, as I’d mentioned here before, control Beijing’s housing market. The only way to find anything is through these men, identifiable by their electric scooters and small satchels.

Now you’d think, based on their hefty sum of one month’s rent, they’d be exceedingly helpful in negotiating with landlords and the likes. More often than not, though, they’d gossip with the landlords over a cigarette and with detached interest.

It was up to us. Well, to Manfriend, whose language skills were up to the challenge.

Later that morning, we jetted out to another home. Another agent, Tonny, offered a ride on his scooter, but I turned him down. (I’d already white-knuckled it a few times with other agents, Manfriend following us by bike.) Besides, it was literally a one-minute walk there.

We wound back through a cramped courtyard, through the door to a little two-story flat. With a great Western bathroom, comfortable furnishings and a lot of storage, I was sold. It just felt … cozy.

Manfriend needed to be sure. We (sweatily) crossed town yet again, to look at a few more options. Each bathroom grew worse, each distance from the subway further and further.

No contest.

By that afternoon, we were setting the deposit on our hutong haven.

The agent and his boss grinned. Despite Manfriend’s haggling, we were forking over plenty for Tonny’s effort. But it was our grins that shone brighter.

We were home.

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