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Signing Contract For Xiamen, China Apartment

The rental agreement is a done deal. We landed a base of operations in Xiamen. The kid goes to school, the wife teaches, I look at maps (uh, I mean, I paint walls).

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Again, the landlord would not be showing up to sign the rental contract for the apartment that I was fixing up and planning to move into in Xiamen. Instead, I’d get his cousin.

In China, a “cousin” can be a cousin — or an in law, a friend, or some dude who has nothing better to do but go in and sign some contract on a landlord’s behalf and handle the transaction.


This is the way things are done here. In China, things usually always work out but they are rarely straight forward.

This is just about the case anywhere outside of the first world fringe. If you want it to be obvious that you’re getting a square deal with perfect 90 degree angles all the way through a negotiation you may as well go home. Things are far more scattered abroad.

But this leniency allows for me to have some dude sign my rental contract in the stead of a landlord, move in, and get things rolling rather than needing to wait until the owner himself makes his way down to Xiamen from Beijing.

Now foreigners do sometimes get jacked renting apartments in China. One scam is that they pay a bunch of rent to a “landlord” upfront and then the police come and kick them out, saying that foreigners are not permitted to stay in the neighborhood they tried to rent in. The foreigner never sees the landlord again, and more than likely the cops get their cut. Another scam involves people renting properties they really don’t own.

Now I had a choice here: I could go insane and demand that everything is overwhelming 100% legit, refuse to accept anything less, and probably end up homeless, or throw my arms up and do things they way they’re done here.

China is rarely straight forward. Things always seem shady or right on the verge of falling apart — whether they really are or not. To know if you’re getting a legit deal means interweaving yourself within the social matrix as much as possible and relying on nodes of trust through the network you’re dealing with.

My wife’s employer was our connection with the real estate agent (his wife works for her) who was our connection to the “cousin” who was our connection to the landlord. My wife asked her employer if she trusts this situation, she said she trusted the real estate agent, and the real estate agent said that he trusted that the deal was legit.

A “to the letter” type deal rides backseat in terms of my priorities in these situations to be interconnected with the people in the social web I’m doing business in.

We were three social nodes of trust deep in this, we had these people socially provenienced, and figured it alright to take the ride. My wife’s school is in the community where we are renting. Her employer knows the people here and lives in an apartment complex across the street. She is directly connected to the real estate agent whose job it is to know the neighborhood and be connected with people selling/ renting apartments here. A lot of face would be lost if this was a bum deal. These people are not going to risk their reputation and face in the community they live and work in for the relatively meager amount of money we were throwing out. In point, we were socially intertwined enough here to just let things happen.

We showed up at the real estate office and the deal was 100% legit. My wife’s employer, the real estate agent, my wife and I, and the cousin sat around a table. Photocopies of IDs were exchanged, the cousin was provisioned with a letter of permission from the landlord to carry out the deal, contracts were signed. A done deal.


Knowing the difference between being when you’re an outsider, free radical, insignificant little turd in a place and when you are socially intertwined in trust networks is essential for knowing how to engage an larger scale economic transaction or business deal. All too often the former appears to be the latter, and you can get burned big. Someone with the title “new friend” is all too often not someone to weave through the nodes of a trust network with. Either form and use a deeper connection (employer) or tread lightly, as you’re on your own.


I say that we signed a rental agreement, but I’m unsure if it could be called a lease. The contract had the terms of the rental written out: who pays for what, how much we pay, how long the landlord guarantees we can rent the place, what furnishings and appliances come with the place, the grounds of the discount we received on rent to make the place habitable, etc . . . If we want to break the contract all we need to do is give a month’s notice and we won’t be penalized. Not a bad deal, as we didn’t have to sign ourselves into a hole.

I’d never had a part in signing a document like this before. I’ve rented out dozens of apartments in at least a half dozen countries before, but they’ve never been the kinds of deals that required anything more than a nod of the head and money up front. They were always fly by night sorts of deals — they were always the kind I was looking for — but I’m not flying my night right now. I’m in broad daylight, etching out this current phase of the PT lifestyle. I set up longer term bases of operation, the family lives comfortably, I travel out in spokes of the wheel fashion.

So we’re in the city where we’ll be setting ourselves up for this next shift. We have a place, the kid goes to school, my wife’s is going to work, I am looking at maps.

Well, and painting walls, fixing toilets, scrubbing floors, clearing insects, scrapping gunk . . .

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Filed under: Accommodation, China

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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