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domingo, 27 de octubre de 2013

Beijing Out of Control (2)

Some months ago I wrote about how prices in Beijing were scarily going up. By then I complained about having to pay 2,500 yuan for a room in an apartment downtown, or 16 yuan for a bowl of jiaozi (Chinese ravioli). Still, I was reasonably  happy with my room, which was an ok deal in the mid of the craziness of the Beijing real state world.

Well, few weeks ago our landlord told us he would not be extending the contract any more. He didn’t mention the reasons (Chinese like to be mysterious), and did not ask us for a huge raise in the rent (very common nowadays), just told us (through our real state agent, since Beijing landlords are too busy counting money to deal with the tenants directly) that we had to leave.

I was not too upset at the time. I had plenty of time to look for a new apartment, and even when I was pretty happy with my place, I told myself that I could get lucky and find a better place paying a bit of extra money. But reality in China is a bitch that likes destroying the few hopes left of its inhabitants, both foreign and locals. I have less than three weeks left before my contract expires, and if I weren’t for my job, which pays reasonably well, I would seriously consider going back home.

The first difficulty you find when looking for an apartment is real state agents. Most places advertised online are managed by the professionals of this zero added value industry, whose standard fee is one month rent. I was set on defeating Chinese reality about this, so I was told of a Chinese webpage that only deals with 个人房 (houses managed directly by the owners). I was very excited when making my first call, since the advertisement read that foreigners would have priority over locals. I was imagining myself dealing with an elegant and cultured Chinese landlady who lived abroad for many years. The price was pretty cheap (in its context), a two bedroom Siheyuan (traditional Chinese patio style houses) not far from where I lived. But as I mentioned before Chinese reality is a real bitch who destroys your hopes in no time.  The not so nice Chinese lady wanted to rent it to foreign MARRIED COUPLES, because he thought there was a risk of me and my female friend bringing our boyfriends home and she did not want that. I desperately tried explaining to her how my friend was never home (she practically lives with her boyfriend), and that I was a very quiet guy who never took girls home and lived an almost ascetic life. Bitch didn’t believe me.

It was a tough first blow losing that idyllic Chinese style patio house so fast, but without allowing myself any time to share tears I took the phone and made the second call. The receiver had no problem with un-married people, and I quickly arranged a visit to the apartment. But when I arrived to the appointed place the guy seemed suspiciously young, plus he was accompanied with an equally suspiciously young person to be a landlord (houses aren’t cheap, so it takes a while to gather the necessary money to buy them). I breathed deeply and asked: are you the landlord or a real state agent? Motherfucker didn’t even bother telling me any excuses, provided the Chinese site very clearly advertised that it “dealt only with landlords”. The Chinese agent said it was a “mistake” that he had put the advertisement in such website, and told me we could negotiate about the agency fee. Long story short, the apartment was dirty as shit (as usually), and when the agent asked me what kind of apartments I was looking for I told him I would not deal with cheaters like him, and left (apartment was also dirty as hell).

The last two apartments I had selected (I liked the location and the advertised price was reasonable) were, needless to say, another disappointment. One of them was a 4th floor apartment with no elevator (fucking 2 bedroom apartment for 750 euro!!!), and in case I would consider renting it the landlady told me she wanted a married couple in it (I pray to God the real state bubble will crash tomorrow so that I can call these people and laugh my ass off at them).

And that is it for the moment. In the next part I will talk about how I finally found the place my body will rest for the little time I have left in this horrible city.

viernes, 4 de enero de 2013

Movies I Liked and Movies I Didn't in 2012

In this entry I will do a short review of the movies I have watched during 2012. I will start from the movies I liked most and will continue in descending order finishing with the movies I liked least.

1. The Dark Knight Rises (USA, Christopher Nolan).

The nice thing about of this movie is that I loved it despite the very high expectations I had. Christopher Nolan makes a more than decent ending to his superb trilogy, satisfying both mainstream society and comic readers like myself.
What I liked most. How long was this movie, 165 minutes? Really?! Didn't actually notice. Excellent rhythm and music (breathtaking!) and cool fights. But perhaps the most outstanding (and controversial) aspect of this superheroes movie made mainstream is that it actually contains a message: beware rich and powerful men, some people are getting angry, and if the bridge between wealth and poor keeps on growing something big may happen. The scary thing about it is that many people find themselves more identified with the bad guys (Bane) than with the good ones (Batman or the policemen).
What I didn't like. The ending. Few people understand why Bane turns out to be a mere lackey of Talia al Ghul. No biggie for me, still loved the movie so much.

2. Wreck-It Ralph (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

Nice surprise by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Went to watch the movie without knowing what to expect, having heard it was sort a homage to arcade videogames players. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but still an entertaining one with some winks to the videogames playing community.
What I liked most: the original screenplay and, especially at the beginning, how the movement of the protagonists actually look like videogame characters.
What I didn't like: After a very powerful opening part of the momentum is lost in the middle of the movie, when the references to videogames characters suddenly come to an end, and the movie just looks like yet another animation film.

3. Brave (Pixar)

Yet another good movie from Pixar. As it happened in Wreck-It Ralph, I didn’t know anything about the movie before watching it. With a rather simple plot, Brave is a tender movie with beautiful images and a message for women to raise their voice and be the true masters of their destinies.

What I liked most: beautiful landscape with a message especially relevant in the country I live, China, where women (and people in general!) are still afraid of voicing out their opinions. 
What I didn't like: simple plot with an easy to figure ending.

4. Life of Pi (Ang Lee/Li An)

This movie looked dumb to me in the trailers, but I kept on hearing good reviews from my friends, who encouraged me to watch it, which I reluctantly ended up doing. I have mixed feelings about Taiwanese polyvalent director Ang Lee, having loved his Brokeback Mountain (USA, 2005), sort of liked Eat Drink Man Woman (Taiwan, 1994) and Hulk (USA, 2003) and not so much liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (although I don't like too much martial arts movies anyway).

While not being an awful movie (wait and see for the next movies I will review), Life of Pi is as dumb as it looked in the trailers. The plot can be summarized in “no matter how much God fucks you up you should still be grateful to him”. But its main problem is the structure: while for the first half hour the movie is mainly a nice combination of present (story told by the protagonist) and past, after that the movie forgets about the narrator to be focused exclusively in the story in the past, all portrayed with an overuse of 3D effects that seems more a marketing campaign of 3D special effects companies than an actual movie. And to top it up, after you have been mesmerized by lots of bright sea creatures and sparkling (always bright and sparkling) magical forests the end is a 10 minute monologue by the protagonist where you just want to hit him to make him shut up.
What I liked most. Getting to know a bit about India.
What I didn't like. Senseless plot and overuse of special effects. Bad, irritating ending scene.

5. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)

While Life of Pi was moderately boring and I could make it to the end, I just had to leave the cinema before the end of Les Misérables. I must say I am not a big fan of musicals, and I would have actually liked this movie if characters had talked like people do in real life. Still, I liked three of four scenes (music in the opening in one is pretty catchy), but I could not keep awake when characters were singing for five minutes just to say “thank you” or “good bye”, while another five were used to say “your welcome”, “talk to you later”. Dont see the fun of it. And the thing is that dialogues are sung 98% of the time. Maybe a combination between sung and spoken dialogues would have made me enjoy the movie, like it is done in some animation movies such as Lion King (Walt Disney, 1994).
Finally, I read the book not too long ago, so knowing exactly what was going to happen didn’t add any tension to the movie.
What I liked most. Depiction of post revolutionary France and some catchy songs. 
What I didn't like. Characters having to sing for ten minutes in order convey the simplest things.

6. War Horse (Steven Spielberg)

The introduction for this one is easy: absolute crap. If you are interested in listening to French people speaking with a super strong English accent with each other (as far as I know French people use FRENCH to communicate with each other) or you like watching lengthy corny scenes about super natural horses run through trenched territory then THIS is your movie. Personally I would rather be punched in the face for two hours than having to watch this movie again.
What I liked most. That it came to an end.
What I didn’t like. Pretty much everything.

7. The Flowers of War (Zhang Yimou)

As I said during my review of Love (2012, Doze Niu), watching a Chinese movie can be a painful experience, and The Flowers of War took me one step further into the realm of pain. What can we say about this movie directed by Zhang Yimou, capable of epic dramas such as Live (1994) but now on the road of commercial, shallow movies in the line of Feng Xiaogang? The Flowers of War is a mix between easy, nationalist-anti-Japan demagogy (I’m not defending what Japanese army did in Nanjing, but it has been told around one million times already) and stereotypical love relationship between foreign male (Christian Bale) and Chinese girl, who although being a prostitute happens to be also an intelligent, sensitive and caring girl who…enough of this, The Flowers of War is so bad it just doesn’t deserve anymore of my time. To wrap things up a friendly warning: think twice about it before watching a current Chinese movie in the future. Or better: just don’t watch any Chinese movie. Anything relatively interesting will be banned by the government, and even if it makes it through the censorship it won’t be successful among the majority of brainwashed Chinese viewers.