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Talking of Hotpot…

The Beijing (and Chinese) property market is bubbling wildly. It’s hard to see anything other than some kind of calamitous cooking disaster. We have been looking at places and were thinking of buying (we’re talking a cupboard here, 40 – 60m2). But we’ve been scared off. Prices have nearly doubled in two years. When I arrived in November last year, there was a new block across the road in Tongzhou (10 miles out from the centre) with prices at 13 – 15000Y per m2 (about £1200 – £1400). Now it’s at 26000Y, four months later. When you consider a middle income salary here is around 3000 – 5000Y per month, it seems unsustainable. There is also a lot of speculation – a lot of these new flats remain empty, with people never moving in, or even decorating (sometimes you buy a new flat, you get a shell – you have to put in all the fittings, tiling, secondary plumbing, floors yourself). They just sell the empty, unused flats on later when the price has gone up. Mostly done on credit. The rent to value ratio is incredibly low, you can’t make anywhere near your mortgage payments back by renting out. Its all driven by the rising market, profit potential and credit, plus the fear, if not mass panic,  that if you wait too long, house prices will run away and it will be too late. Its a frenzy!

The government grow ever richer from the sale of land, while peasants are bought off to clear out so their houses can be knocked down. Developers bypass rules to build quickly. Cities expand. Maximum lease time is 70 years.

Its got to end in tears.

But then they said that about London ten years ago.

The government has recently brought in measures to reign in the property market…. slightly. If there’s no crash, then Beijing and Shanghai will end up the most expensive places on Earth, for sure.

We are going to save our money, not buy.

Renting is a pain though.

(Click on the article to see it bigger)

China Daily, 25th March 2010

And if anyone can read Chinese, here is a funny poem about property prices:
沁园春《房》
——毛有房
神州大地,
万人蜗居,亿人盼房。
望北京上海,高楼大厦。
售楼中心,房奴滔滔。
祖孙三代,倾尽所有,欲与房价试比高。
须钞票,
清储蓄贷款,分外心焦。
楼价如此虚高,
逼无数白领竞折腰。
昔秦皇汉武,闻所未闻;
唐宗宋祖,紧捏钱包。
一代天骄,成吉思汗,只好蜗居蒙古包。
俱往矣,
数天价楼盘,还看今朝…….

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Power And Enlightenment

A couple more things from near the start of the year. There is religion here, many Buddhists (I know that’s not technically a religion), some devout Christians and large Muslim populations concentrated in certain areas.  But religion does not enter government or society thinking as a whole, the way it still does a little in the UK, or a lot in Iran. You go about you life, and it can feel the most modern, rational, light-hearted, open and tolerant of places  (apart from the daily reminders of the Facebook / Youtube / Google redirection thing – but they are kind of abstract). There is a perception of complete freedom on one level, and very admirable levels of equality for men and women. The religious restrictions of places like Saudi Arabia, and even the idea of religion in general, baffle my wife, and a lot of people here.

What you do have here are officials; party members and police chiefs. Just like countries with high levels of religious interference and governance, these guys sometimes have their own whims, likes and dislikes. Sometimes they like to flex their likes and dislikes, and you can be suddenly jolted back into reality.

I was told (I wasn’t there) that a (Western calendar) New Year’s Eve outdoor rock gig in Sanlitun, Beijing, had the plug pulled half way through, after some local bigwig took exception to a female punk singer who dared to lift her skirt up on stage (no precise details I’m afraid). He flexed his municipal muscle, and closed the show on the spot, telling everyone to go home. It was just before midnight. Many people had gone there for a party. Quietly go home everyone did. Can you imagine – Glasgow, London, anywhere – the riots that would have ensued.
On a similar vein, the much anticipated Mr Gay China event had the plug pulled one hour before by the police, with vague reasons of  taste and decency being put forward. The show was the first event of its kind here, and it had gained national and  international attention in the run up. It was virtually underway, with people arriving.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these things are actually done so close to time for effect. Maybe even heightened by bravado stirring inside Mr Municipal Muscle, brought on by the buzz of crowds, and possibly some alcohol intake. Just to show off the power he can actually wield. Why cancel an event weeks before, when you can make a bigger splash doing it on the night?

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