In any country in which you are living, a landlord is very much like a kidney: A healthy, properly functioning one is silent, and allows both organ and body to go about their respective business in blissful ignorance of one another's existence. If, however, something should go wrong, you are made all too aware by a sharp, stabbing pain which you cannot, and would be incredibly unwise, to ignore.
When I was living in South Korea, one of my friends had a sharp, stabbing pain called Mr Park. Much as my friend would love to have been able to ignore him, he - unfortunately for my friend - lived just upstairs.
Mr Park was a square-shaped, angry, middle-aged character. He made loud, incomprehensible demands and complaints in what my friend could only assume was Korean. His staccato grunts were often accompanied by the odd push. Mr Park was very much a kidney in distress, and there was little my friend could do by way of treatment.
By contrast, my experiences in China have been very different. When I lived in Guangzhou, I had the most perfectly functioning kidney I've ever had. Her functional silence allowed both of us to go about our own business untroubled by such petty things as one-day late rental payments, unfixed light switches or cultural differences.
Everything was perfect in kidneyland, until one day I discovered that my garden ID, without which I would be unable to enter my gated compound, was out of date. I decided to send my landlady a text message to ask for her help in obtaining a new ID. I thought it shouldn't be a problem, as the management office only needed her signature.
However, this required her to pay a visit to the garden, which she hadn't done in my year of residence so far.
Several hours went by, and there was still no answer to my text message. She might have changed her phone number. Nervously, I rubbed my kidney and paced up and down the hallway.
As the sun set, leaving its sticky heat behind, I grew more and more worried.
Tomorrow was rent day. What should I do?
Finally, I decided to leave my rent unpaid, and then my landlady would have to contact me on her new number. Then, I could ask her to come and sign for a new ID, and I could pay the rent at the same time. This was, of course, assuming that she didn't go Mr Park on me.
The next day, I didn't hear anything. My kidney started to rumble gently, like Krakatoa turning over in its sleep. At midday the following day, I received a wonderfully succinct and polite text: "Please pay the amount! Thank you!"
Oh, joy of joys, I had her new number, and she wasn't angry!
I sent my response, something along the lines of: Of course, I am so sorry, I just had no other way to get your new number, and I need a new garden ID. Could you come and sign for it and I'll give you this month's rent in cash? Sorry again "
"OK, I come tomorrow at 9," she replied.
Sure enough, next morning at 9, she drove up, with her infant grandson in tow.
After greeting each other, we walked in companionable silence to the management office and she signed for a new gate ID; she also paid the 50 yuan ($7.70) fee. I reached into my wallet, and pulled out 1,250 yuan: 1,200 for the rent, 50 for the ID card.
She smiled, thanked me and took only 1,200. She explained that the 50 yuan fee for the new ID was "her problem".
If only Mr Park could be here to see how things should really be done. I patted her grandson on the head, and we smilingly bade each other a fond farewell.
As she drove away, I felt the uneasy rumbling die slowly, to be replaced by healthy silence. Organ and body were in perfect harmony once more.