What is it – to be usurped? It is not to be transferred. Or relocated. Or even neutralized. Actually, I’m not even allowed to use that last one. It’s sole property of the American CIA. Which is then licensed out for the Chinese government’s occasional Falun Gong crackdowns.

But to be usurped – driven from one’s (supposed) property – does that not seem somehow wrong?

Six months ere, I stumbled upon my first encounter with usurption…Wait, strike that. Back it up a little. My first encounter with usurpation (I know – the first one sounds better. But usurption is not a real word and, somehow, usurpation is. Look it up if you don’t believe me). I was but a mere babe – an innocent – in the arms of a rough mother China. A “when the bow breaks” kind of mother. A Beijing mommy dearest.

I had heard all the stories before. The hutong housing complex bulldozed to create a new office park. The hometown restaurant which vanishes in the night. The orphanage transformed into a Korean DVD store. But never did I imagine seeing it firsthand. Usurpation. Oh, the humanity!

His name was Tom. He was Thai. And he had molded a trendy bar out of a rathole in East-Central Beijing. Then suddenly, but a few months into his tenure, he was throwing a farewell feast. But why?! we cried aloud in unison. It was a scene out of A Christmas Carol. But without all the neighbourly love.

Why? Because the building owners decided they wanted more office space, contracts be damned. Tom had a week to move out and be on his way. We said farewell and he was never seen or heard from again. It is supposed he moved to Singapore and became the frontman of a pan-Asian zydeco band.

I miss his Austin Powers-inspired cocktail concoctions, it is true. But there is more. The Chinese landlords have struck again, and this time closer to home. Actually, they hit home. Literally. I was told I had two days to move out and was barely reimbursed for the pleasure.

How can a national commercial system – even one that is only mildly capitalist – function when one lives in constant fear of having the rug (and beautiful hardwood floors) pulled out from under her? I am not homeless – thanks to my own gumption – and have since settled in elsewhere, but after this experience, how settled may I truly be?

And so, my ode to Chinese snake oil salesmen – oops, I mean landlords – wherever they may be:

Chinese landlord, you claim
You are modern and wry
Yet you’re merely unjust
Seeking more of the pie

In a world of strong giants
You crawl with the gnomes,
Be it ever so humble
There’s no place in China like home.

Please don’t hesitate to contribute your own verse to fight the injustice. If you have a many-stringed guitar or bongo drums, go ahead and set it to music. Perform it in a public park while sitting on the grass in front of one of the park’s many “No sitting on the grass” signs. Take that, Beijing municipal government! Viva la revolucion!

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About Rachel

Once a great traveling-bard-slash-philosopher, Rachel lost her mandolin to a migrant kiwi picker in a roadside dice match in the Yangtze River Valley. Penniless, mandolin-less, and blindly wandering the spit-laden streets of Beijing, she's now subjugated by the man and wants to know if the NAACP will grant her official permission to sing the blues.

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  1. Haha, I hope Rick chimes in on this one – he’s got a tale to tell for sure.

    I’m at an age where buying property is the “responsible” thing to do… and though I’ve never made much of a reputation for myself as being “responsible”, I do feel the pressure to do so.

    However, I just can’t see buying real-estate in “modern” China as a responsible investment.

    My addition:

    You take what you want,
    And give only sorrow
    What’s historic today
    Is made history tomorrow.

    There’s no warning or sign
    Of that what you bring
    For all voices are mute
    It’s only coins that can sing.

  2. @Ryan

    My tale of woe cannot be equaled,
    so I’ll not follow Rachel with my far sadder sequel.

    From my Chinese flat I too was parted,
    Left speechless save for too words: “That’s retarded”

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