So last week, I had my final day in Beijing. I was lulled into thinking it’d be routine because everything actually went smoothly in the beginning. I packed up, handed back my apartment to my landlady who returned part of my remaining rent, and by the time I got to the airport, I was saying goodbyes to friends on my phone and thinking well, this is it.
Unfortunately it wasn’t because fate and China decided there was one more “China experience” in store for me. As many locals and China expats can attest, Chinese flights are notorious for delays. I had never taken a domestic flight before so I was usually spared this problem when going to Hong Kong. However, on this day, my flight to Taiwan would experience two consecutive one-hour delays.
The worse was to come when we actually got onto the plane. Everybody got on board, but the plane stayed put for what seemed a long time. Eventually, an announcement rang out – the plane hadn’t received approval from the control tower so it wouldn’t be able to take off yet. One hour passed, then it started raining heavily outside. More time passed and before I knew, we were on the plane for two hours and the flight attendants announced they’d be serving dinner! So we all had dinner on board the plane on the runway and afterwards the plane got approval to take off. In all, we were stuck on the damn plane for almost three hours and the plane took off almost FIVE f*cking hours after its original time.
The day was already unusual because of an unexpectedly pleasant sending-off from my landlady. She’s a petite, plump, 80-something-year-old lady with a nice puff of white hair who looks like the perfect example of a kindly Chinese granny except that she can be sharp at times with a stern manner to match. Because of my sudden foot pain in June, I had to leave Beijing much earlier than I’d planned, which meant breaking my lease. When I told my landlady, she wasn’t happy and she got really aggravated at times, saying I didn’t keep her apartment clean enough and that it’d be hard to find a new tenant. She especially didn’t like when I asked her if she could give me back part of my rent in cash because I was leaving Beijing and didn’t want the money in my Beijing bank account (I suppose she thought I was questioning her honesty but I really needed to make sure). I didn’t think the apartment was messy, though I did have stacks of old magazines and stuff lying all over the place and I admit I didn’t mop as much as I needed to, but I cleaned up a bit. Also, when she started showing the place to people, within a week she found someone to take it. The second set of people she showed it to agreed within minutes on the spot (I was there both times) when they came to view the place. She also urged me to wash the window curtains which she found dusty, but I declined since I didn’t want to risk tearing them.
When I called her a few days earlier to confirm the time I was leaving so that she could come over, she even threatened me by telling me to make sure the apartment was clean or she wouldn’t return my money. I was handing over the apartment to her on my final day and she was refunding me one and a half months of rent (I’d paid the rent until September), while keeping the deposit and two weeks’ rent. She came over that morning and did an inspection, then told me she’d give me my money when I exited the apartment! I told her I had luggage and I’d rather she give me the money before I left so I could put it away properly rather than be dragging my luggage and holding a bundle of cash in one hand. She relented and gave me the money in the apartment, but not before having a brief debate with me about her having to find tenants and me reminding her she found new people within a week, then I called a taxi and started to leave.
And this is when things took a turn for the better. “I’ll walk you out,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of luggage so I’ll come with you.” I told her it wasn’t necessary but she insisted. Then she not only walked me out, she also helped me by pulling my smallest luggage (I had 3 pieces of luggage – a giant one, a medium-sized one and the small one with my laptops – as well as a backpack). She accompanied me to the ground floor, pulling my small luggage while walking with me all the way to the front gate and my waiting taxi. For all the tough talk and tense moments with her in the previous weeks, I’ll always have this fond memory of seeing my 80-something-year-old landlady behind me pulling one of my luggage as I left the complex.