Are You a Foreigner?

Yesterday a friend and I went to a new housing estate that's being built down the alley from where I live.  I've watched these buildings go up and was curious to see what the apartments are like.  None of the buildings are completed, but they have an active sales office on the main floor, so I assumed that they must have some model apartments ready to show prospective buyers.  That doesn't describe me, but the lease on my current apartment is up in August, and I just want to look around to see what else is out there.  Never hurts to shop around, right?

My American friend (very blond hair) and I walked into the lobby sales office and said we were interested in taking a look at an apartment.  The woman behind the counter looked at me in a state of semi-shock and asked "are you a foreigner?"  Now I've been in China for 25 years and have had virtually every imaginable question thrown at me, from 'can you use chopsticks' to 'why are you so fat,' but I have never, EVER been asked if I am a foreigner.  I stopped for a moment to ascertain if this woman in front of me who was busy filling out forms and reading papers might in fact be blind as a bat, but no, she wasn't—she looked right at me and asked the question. 

I replied that yes, we were foreigners, whereupon she informed me that since this complex was being  developed by a military work unit, they weren't allowed to sell to foreigners.  No problem, I said.  I woudn't want to buy anything, maybe just rent in the future.  She sucked her teeth (a Chinese non-verbal that means 'there is a problem'). Now the battle was joined.  "All the apartments are under construction.  There's nothing to see."  "Really?  Not even one?"  "No, there's nothing to see."  "But don't you have one or two model apartments to show prospective buyers?" "Well, yes."  "Ok, then can you show them to us?"  More sucking of teeth.  Once she realized that these two foreign women weren't going to leave until they'd seen an apartment, she gave up and took us to see the model apartments. 

They were gorgeous.  Too bad they can't sell to foreigners.