Fiction, by Caiming Yang
19 May, 2017
June 15, 2006.
A friend had sent the Kangs an email from Nantong, China: “If you watch your lives and care about things that happen around you, you will find you cannot live your life without being cheated every day here now.”
The friend went on to describe how they had joyfully bought a new home, but when they went to the developer to get the keys once the home was ready, they were informed that they had to pay a 70-year garbage handling fee and five-year tap water fee first. They had already paid 95,000 Chinese yuan for a parking stall, but they still had to pay a 100-yuan monthly fee on top of that. “How lucky you are living in Vancouver, the world’s most liveable place, never having these ridiculous problems.”
“Lucky we’re here now. We won’t have to deal with this kind of stuff anymore,” Gaojian said to Malay, relieved.
“Sure, here’s Canada!” she echoed proudly.
Gaojian and Malay Kang were a middle-aged couple who came to Canada from Dalian in late 2001. Gaojian never denied that he was stubborn, strict, and detailed, while Malay was flexible, gentle, and easygoing. It happened to be quite a match, although there were occasionally some sour times. Gaojian had fought some good fights for their consumer rights when they were still living in China, and he had unbelievably won most of them, partly because he was a bit of a bad guy himself, according to Malay. In some cases, Malay did not believe he could win. Put things in writing, step by step, have patience, give the other party reasonable time to respond… Malay could never remember his mantra. But both Gaojian and Malay had not had any major problems adapting to this new country, this adopted homeland.
June 16, 2006.
Malay dragged Gaojian to The Stone. One of their Chinese immigrant friends from Shanghai had introduced Malay to another Chinese immigrant Angie from Tianjin, who worked at the store. Angie had shown Malay some furniture there one day and Malay was very interested in it. Since moving to Canada five years ago, the Kangs have not bought any furniture except for two SleepCity mattresses—one for their daughter Kaveer and one for themselves; all their second-hand furniture had been picked up here and there. Now, their daughter was away, on her own, attending U of T. They had recently taken out a mortgage on a new one-bedroom condo unit built by Bota Properties Inc.—a very famous developer in the Vancouver area— and were scheduled to have the home key and move in within two weeks. Since Malay insisted on buying new furniture to match the new home, and she’d found some good yet inexpensive pieces at The Stone, Gaojian agreed to go have a look.
Angie was about 35, and looked good—although not very beautiful, nor sexy—with some traces of life’s bitterness on her lightly powdered face. Malay heard that Angie had separated from her Chinese policeman husband before coming to Canada.
Angie led the couple into the showroom, “This bedroom set sells really well. Solid oak. I can take the federal tax off for you,” she said.
Gaojian noticed a sign set on the top of the five-drawer chest: “OAK QUEEN.” He asked Angie: “Where were they made?”
“In your neighbouring province.”
“Alberta,” Gaojian said.
He checked them carefully. Chestnut colour, the kind of fashion reminiscent of old times. Solid wood chest and night tables. High, solid wood headboards, with two queen-size mattresses covered with light cream bedding. He even checked the bottom of the bed and saw there were some cross-supports under the mattresses. “Everything looks okay. We’ll take it,” he said.
They then moved to some other areas and chose a couch, a coffee table, a dining table and chairs and other items that Malay was looking for. But she was agonizing about one more item. “We want to have this sofa bed, but we’re not quite sure if we have enough space in the living room. If we find no place for it after you deliver it to us, can we return it?” she asked Angie.
“No problem,” Angie said, “as long as you tell me within a week. I’ll arrange the pickup for no charge.”
Everything went smoothly, including delivery time, delivery charge and paperwork. Malay got what she wanted and she was happy. They left The Stone. Malay started singing a Chinese song, following the CD, while Gaojian was behind the wheel driving home. The sky was still bright at 9 p.m. “Wow, so beautiful! Look at the sky! I really love Vancouver’s summers,” Malay said. “And winters, too.”
But Gaojian was quiet for quite a while. “I think this woman was not telling us everything.”
“Why? I was about to praise your gentlemanly style tonight.”
“Yake’s home delivery charge is $38.” Gaojian insisted on going to Yake before heading to The Stone to get more information. “$38 should be the market price. But Angie said they normally charge $70 for each delivery and she gave you 50% discount. That’s $35 to make you happy. Clearly, that ‘50% discount’ is not true. Yes, you saved $3 comparing to Yake’s price.”
“Don’t think of things like that. I’d rather believe people. This is Canada!”
“Okay, this is Canada,” Gaojian said.
Gaojian worked at a B.C. coastal forest company in downtown Vancouver, commuting by Skytrain. When he came back from work, Malay’s complaint greeted him. “Gaojian, you bought the wrong home! We can’t use that parking!”
“What’s the matter, Malay?” Gaojian asked.
“I can’t use that parking! I got stranded in the middle of the stall when I came back from grocery shopping this morning. I don’t know why I always touched the car—the middle part on the right side—against the edge of the wall. I just don’t know how to avoid it.”
“You hit the right side of the car?”
“I told you if you have difficulty parking the car, you park it at the visitor parking first and then—”
“I couldn’t get out of the stall after I struck the wall,” she almost cried. “I couldn’t move the car. I managed to get out of the car and stood by the car watching, I saw so many Chinese and Korean people coming and passing by but no one stopped to help me. I waited and waited and didn’t know what to do. Finally a white man with a bicycle came and helped me move it out.”
“Where is the car now?”
“In the visitor parking. The guy asked me if I needed help. I said yes and he asked where I wanted to put the car. I told him visitor parking….”
Gaojian went down to the visitor parking and found their silver 2003 Toyota Corolla. The damage was on the right side, from the middle to the rear end. There were deep scratches. Malay was a new driver, and it was a bit much for her although Gaojian had given her some training for parking. Gaojian went to their stall. It was on P1, close to elevator. Malay liked how accessible it was. However, although it was not that narrow compared to the other stalls, it had a big column on one side and a concrete wall on the other. The column was about two metres long and 40 centimetres wide; it took almost one-third of the stall length on the column side, standing like another concrete wall. But Gaojian thought it should have been okay when he saw it the first time; he had not doubted that a developer like Bota would design and build some parking stalls that did not work. It appeared he had apparently missed it.
“Tell them we can’t have this strange stall. We spent that much money for a home with parking like this. It’s totally unfair.”
“Calm down and listen. We don’t have a chance to change the parking, most likely. There are several stalls with exactly the same layout in the parkade. They must have all been given to the one-bedroom units; all the other better stalls are for the two or three–bedroom units. Anyway, I will give it a closer look, but for now, we must learn to use this parking first.”
Malay sighed deeply. Gaojian thought of all the money the car damage was going to cost.
That evening, Gaojian took out the Homeowner Manual and read carefully, looking for information on parking, but he found nothing.
He pulled out a Service Request form provided by Bota Properties in the manual binder and wrote after the printed words, “I/We have the following concerns regarding our home. I/We request that you review our concerns and advise when and how they will be resolved:”
Our parking stall (No. 359) is too narrow to park a small car; passengers cannot get out after properly parking (head-in); driver cannot get out after backing in. This contravenes Bota Properties’ “tradition of excellence in the development industry” and “quality in all aspects of the building.” (West Larca At HighSky Village – Homeowner Manual)
He then faxed Bota Properties the Service Request.
July 2, 2006
Angie phoned the Kangs, apologizing. The delivery had to be delayed because the items they had ordered were not ready yet. They had originally hoped that The Stone would have delivered all what they had ordered by the end of June—after they got the new home key and before they moved in from their rental—but it had been impossible for The Stone to do it, so July 4 was the date they had agreed on. They had decided to move in to this new home on June 30 and thought waiting for furniture until July 4 was acceptable. Now the Kangs had no choice but to continue waiting. Their new home remained in a miserable status: numerous unopened boxes in the rooms, the TV on the floor, and small things spread all around, blocking passages.
Malay was very patient in waiting for the furniture, but one week, then the second week, she became anxious. She began to sigh, murmur, and even regret buying furniture from The Stone, but she did not blame Angie for the delay.
Gaojian called Angie on July 12. He told her they were going to cancel all the items if The Stone didn’t deliver them by July 18. Angie showed sympathy and promised to make every effort to deliver the