Sunday, 13 February 2011

Notes from Hong Kong 8 - Furniture

I never in my entire life thought that I could write a sentence about furniture, much less an entire blog. I only hope that that the blog is far more interesting than the experience itself (you should be hoping this too, readers!).

Before we moved to Hong Kong, we were informed that we were to work with a company called EC Harris for all our housing related needs.  Before we arrived, they ensured that our chosen flat was clean, everything was in working order, the phone was installed and there were sufficient bars on the windows in the "helpers" room.  Given that the helpers are forced to live in a space smaller than the average bathroom, I guess the bars are to keep them from hurling themselves from the 12th floor window.   ECH also provided us with a link to the website for a company called "Home Essentials", a local furniture rental company with whom ECH have a contractual relationship.  We were told to log onto the website and choose the furniture we wanted for our flat.  You are given credits for the furniture depending on what your grade is in the bank. The more senior you are, the  more credits you get and therefore the more/better furniture you get.  We were told that whatever we ordered would be delivered within four weeks so our flat could be fully kitted out by the time we arrived. How nice.

We dutifully logged on to the website with a real sense of anticipation.  We were expecting Conran, Heals, Roche Bubois or at the very least, Ikea. I am a Band 3 Senior Manager after all. Our expectations were quickly dashed as the furniture on this website looked like something out of "Tatty Reproduction Furniture Ltd". The website is divided into rooms: bedroom, living room, dining room and other.  For each room you have three style choices: dark brown, light brown and fake Chinese orange.  Feeling rebellious, we went for the dark brown option and chose a double bed, 2 single beds for Sadie, 3 chests of drawers, a dining table with red (!) chairs, grey sofas/armchairs, 3 bookcases, a sideboard and 3 desks.  With the few remaining credits, we went way out on a limb and got some lamps. We could now have a flat that looked EXACTLY THE SAME as everyone else's who is on a secondment for HSBC. I think they allow you to express some individuality by choosing your own light bulbs (regular or energy saving), but that's pretty much as far as it goes. Anyway, if you choose energy saving light bulbs, you are probably considered just a bit too left wing for career advancement.

When we arrived at our new flat, there was a lovely man from ECH to let us in and show us around. He proudly pointed out the air conditioners in each room, but he looked a bit embarrassed when I asked about heaters. "No heaters", he said, "but look at the lovely air conditioners"  "They are very nice, but we can see our breath", I said as I watched David and Sadie shiver. He made a quick exit and left us to our own chilly devices.  We had a look round the flat and found one double bed (used), one single bed (used), two chests of drawers (very used), one beige sofa (used), two beige armchairs (used), one dining table (very used) and six beige dining chairs (used). "Hmmm...I don't remember ordering beat up old furniture in beige".  It was very late at that point, so we were just grateful to have beds, used or not, and off to sleep we went.

When we got back in touch with ECH, we were told that Home Essentials was having a few problems with their suppliers and our new furniture would arrive "soon". Several weeks later, we still didn't have the furniture we ordered and I was weary of losing Sadie and David amongst all the other beige things in the flat. Thank god they wear clothes, or I never would have found them again.  David established a close personal relationship with a young woman at Home Essentials and managed to get them to deliver one more bed (used), two bookcases (very used), one sideboard (very very used) and 3 desks (two of them fake orange Chinese and so short that neither David nor I can get our legs under them).

David and I then started a good cop/bad cop routine (yes, I was the bad cop) with both Home Essentials and ECH. I tried the "do you know who I am" tactic (they didn't), and David tried the "I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but I have a terrible illness and my only wish in this life is to have furniture" tactic. This finally resulted two weeks ago in EC Harris telling us that Home Essentials would probably never be able to fulfil the order and that we should go to a shop called Indigo and buy our own furniture. We would have to give back what we had from Home Essentials (I am really going to miss this desk, but it will be nice to not have cramp in my legs anymore), but they would give us HK$40,000  (about £3800 or US$5500) to buy new furniture.

Now, we had been to Indigo the week before, and we knew that HK$40,000 would maybe buy a table and a couple of chairs. It is eye wateringly expensive.  So, I (the Bad Lieutenant) rang up our contact at EC Harris and explained that this simply wasn't enough to furnish a three bedroom flat. (By the way, our contact is called Man Kei, which the way she pronounces it sounds like Manky.  This goes some way towards mitigating the Kafka-esque situation in which we find ourselves). We were then informed that we could only have HK$40,000 but we were permitted to shop at Ikea (pronounced Ick - E - Uh) if we wished.  This resulted in our second trip to Ikea in a month.  It was heaving, and I had a major panic attack when I had to figure out the 943 separate items required to make up the entertainment centre we wanted. My heart was beating, my palms were sweating and I seriously considered abandoning both my boyfriend and my child in a dash for air. David managed to talk me down (it was like talking someone off the roof of a 85 story building not someone in between the Besta TV Benches and the Hulska Sofas) and we managed to make a get through the shop and make a list of all of our required furniture items.

On the Monday, I emailed Man Kei with our choices and said that they came to under $40,000 but some of it wasn't very nice and could we mix and match Ikea and Indigo furniture.  After consulting with her boss, Man Kei informs us that she will need to come inspect our furniture to see if we can keep any of it. The fact that this makes no sense whatsoever  and has absolutely nothing to do with what I asked is, I guess, beside the point. She comes to inspect the furniture (or maybe she just wanted to inspect David) and decides that we can keep the beds, the bookcases and the chests of drawers but the rest are indeed too manky (sorry) to keep. She needed to speak to her boss about how much money we could now spend on new stuff.  A few days ago we had an email informing us that we could keep the beds, the bookcases, the chests of drawers and the lamps, but we could buy new sofa/chairs, dining table/chairs, desks and sideboard.  They would now give us HK$70,000 to buy the required items.  This is almost twice the amount for half of what we thought we had to buy! I felt like I was on "Let's Make a Deal".  Everything is a negotiation in Hong Kong.

David, Sadie and I made our third trip to Ikea yesterday. We are going to Indigo this afternoon. Tomorrow, we will place our final order with Man Kei so ECH can buy the stuff we want. None of it is beige.

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