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Life in China: Headaches on moving day

(Last Updated On: April 17, 2010)

I have moved.

Not into the freshly renovated Chateau Stevo – that’s not ready yet. (I’m beginning to think it will never be ready). Our stuff is temporarily in storage – by stuff I mean Mrs. Stevo’s shoes and assorted non-essential photography equipment. I am camping on a friend’s sofa (he’s in Europe) and Mrs. Stevo, luckily, given her condition, is living with a friend who is a doctor.

This is only temporary (fingers crossed). The new flat needs to be painted and the ash floor refinished. On the plus side, the bathrooms are finished and lovely orange kitchen cupboards have been installed. I won’t speak of the dreadful tile job that was done by incompetent contractors. I should be documenting this on the DIY blog I set up, but there’s only so much blogging one man can do.

Moving is never easy. It’s not natural to pack your entire life into boxes. This was my third move in under 12 months – that’s about four moves too many. It’s easy for newbies teaching English in China to pick up stakes – the same cannot be said for veterans now working as corporate types. After five years you accumulate stuff. I tossed much of it, but there’s still boxes and boxes.

We couldn’t move the boxes ourselves – Mrs. Stevo can’t lift anything and I am vying for laziest man in Shenzhen title: Enter the movers. Mrs. Stevo said she had found some guys with a truck – they would arrive Saturday morning. Boxes packed, the first mover arrived 15 minutes late – which in China is early. He looked around, said he couldn’t contact his partner, and left. Fifteen minutes later his partner arrived, looked around, and left.

By 10 am we called someone else. They had two trucks and would come immediately.

The “trucks” it turns out, were motorized trikes (much like the one above). The new movers loaded our boxes onto two trikes with speedy gusto. The two piles I had made – boxes for storage and boxes for my temporary apartment – were efficiently mixed together into one homogeneous pile of plastic and cardboard. I should know better than to try to be organized.

Then the first mover returned and tried to take over. They had been looking for bigger trucks, he explained. His cell phone was broken. They now had a bigger vehicle, they would take over. If the current movers could load the boxes onto his trike…

Nay, I say. Thanks for coming out.

A security guard wandered over as we prepared for the monumental 150 meter trek to our stuff’s new home. I’ve said before you can’t swing a dead cat in China without hitting a security guard. They are everywhere, like Amway distributors.

We couldn’t move, we were told. We didn’t have a moving permit. A permit wasn’t needed to move in, but to move my possessions 150 meters, from one apartment to another, an officially stamped permit was required.

“This is my stuff,” I protested.

“Get a permit,” I was told.

At the same moment the incompetent tilers called. Mrs. Stevo waddled to the new flat and I jogged to the estate administration office, passport in hand. The clerk looked at my passport, couldn’t read it, and took the ID card of a friend and put his personal data on the all-important moving authorization permit. It didn’t matter that the rental contract was in my name – any Chinese name would apparently deal with the red tape.

The security guard added the official permit to his clipboard and we were allowed to depart. Fifteen minutes later it was over. The movers were given my almost broken desk and a somewhat broken sofa bed, a bonus above the $13 US they had been paid.

As dusk settled I sat in my old apartment and drank a six pack. Beer is a peaceful balm to the mental abrasions China can cause.

In three weeks I get to do it all again. Actually, the way things are going that could be 5 months. Ain’t that grand?


  1. I never heard that you needed a permit to move your stuff before, Chinese bureaucracy is a frustrating part of life here… It always pains me to be lining the pockets of those lazy officials who’s only job in life is to be obstructive it often seems!

    Hope your next move goes more smoothly.
    .-= David´s last blog ..How The Great Firewall of China Works =-.

  2. So we may not be in exactly the same situation, but I feel your pain. My wife and I are in the process of moving and it’s not a fun process.

    Then again, I don’t have to worry about all the Chinese red tape. My biggest problem is dealing with living with family until the new place is ready. Oh boy.
    .-= Josh´s last blog ..Billiards in Kashgar: Picture of the Week =-.

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