Apartment Hunting in Beijing

So it’s been a while, and a lot has happened, and I don’t have the time right now to write about all of them so I think I’m going to settle for making some updates and filling in the rest later, albeit out of order. That should be acceptable.

One of our primary concerns especially this early on, though we’ve been here for just about ten days now already, is to find an apartment. We would like to be in the North part of town, in the district called Haidian, which is where Maria’s possible MBA schools are. It’s actually where all the universities are, so it makes for a nice pseudo-collegiate atmosphere. Plus, Maria’s friend B., more on him at a later point I’m sure, lives there and would be nice to have friends around.

Our search has taken us onto all the usual internet sites, places like Craigslist, and lesser known expat sites like Beijinger, CityWeekend, etc. (look, I’m using links!) My step mother has been gracious and kind enough to help us with making the all important phone call to follow up on the ads we’ve found.

So the other day, we did a bunch of research online, got a bunch of phone numbers written down, made the necessary calls, then headed out. We ended up seeing four different places that day.

The first one was the most expensive, 4500 RMB for a 2 bd./2 ba. It was on the campus of the Geosciences University, where incidentally B. had lived before and had told us horror stories about frozen winters. It was, “nice,” in a way; a 6th story walk up. It came “furnished,” read into that whatever you’d like, and I think from now on, whenever quotes are employed, feel free to read into them whatever you feel is appropriate. These “furniture,” especially the “bed,” made me realize that hard though my father’s be, there are worse, shudder though I at that realization. It was, otherwise, modest for what it was, and obviously expensive for what it was.

And Maria just read this and said it was in no way “nice,” which, as I pointed out after correcting it, was why it was in quotes.

The next place was a decent walk away, and was next to the Forestry University. It’s entrance can be best characterized as a dungeon, overhanging detritus and all. As a general description, all these places appeared “Soviet” to me, no offense intended. Sort of, winter and/or nuclear wasteland type. This was a 1 bd./ 1 ba. for 3300 RMB. The funniest thing about this one was that it had been occupied previously by English speaking students, and probably a young girl who liked K-Pop stars judging by the stickers on the dresser mirror. This also meant there was a neat little printout guide on “How-to” do this and that, like pay for the water bill, pay the electric bill, etc., with cute-sy type remarks like “Good boy, you just paid your electric bill!” I should point out that I actually liked NONE of these. They all had their flaws, the most specific of which is “I don’t like them.” They’re too, “Chinese,” for lack of a better term, and again, no offense intended.

The third one wasn’t bad. It was in a suburby feeling kind of area, three story tall buildings in rows with vegetation and actual vegetables growing between them, kind of like English row houses actually. It was tiny, but we could’ve gotten it for 1800 RMB. No kitchen, per se, but it had a space where we could set up an electric stove. The bedroom was also up some steep stairs in what I could only imagine was the attic with low enough hanging ceilings that you actually couldn’t use half the available space. But at least it was, clean, less “Chinese” in some ways, almost like a dorm room.

Moving on the fourth one was just bad. It was still a little further away, 1 bd./ 1 ba. for 2200 RMB, very “Chinese,” and so I don’t sound like a broken record, just not right, yet again.

Then we went and looked at guitars for me :) Then we went to my father’s restaurant, Connections Bar and Grill and I actually bought a guitar. This was a whole interesting evening in and of itself but that will have to wait until another post. Back to apartments.

I think what we learned is that our standards are higher than “Chinese.” We’ve said that we want to live here, but we don’t want to become “locals” or “natives” per se. Reading what I just wrote I think that makes me sound like a horrible person, but the facts are that I’ve gotten used to some standard of living in the US and I’m not entirely comfortable shedding it. It’s like the needs we’ve developed in the States; no reason to leave them behind, plus we shouldn’t.

But it was still good to see these because I think it’s given us perspective on what it is we do and do not want in an apartment. Going forward, we should be much better prepared to identify what it is we do or do not like. As it stands, I think I can sum it up a little:

1) It needs to be in a “complex,” one with a guard, for safety reasons.
2) It needs to be a “high rise,” meaning something build relatively recently, probably within the past ten years or so, at most.
3) It needs to be near you want to be, and sometimes that may mean not near any other forms of public transportation. It’s OK to commute and travel a little when you want to go out, but if you’re going to school, save the travel time as best as possible.
4) Do stick to your standards. Just because you’re living in another country, doesn’t mean you need to change who you are. You are neither in that dire of straits or that constrained of time to have to settle for anything less than you are comfortable with.
5) Get an agent, or at least have one show you around, and if you can, get a “seller’s” agent, one that you won’t have to pay a fee to. They know the area, what’s available, have all the required phone numbers, and can get you better deal. We had an agent, a lovely Chinese girl who accompanied us on bicycle.
6) The higher up you are, the less likely it is you’ll have bugs, and the more control you will have on your ambient temperature; during the winter, the heat accumulates up high so you can at least open your windows to regulate instead of freezing down below (Thanks B. for the tip! He lives in quite a nice place by the way, in BLCU).

Whew! I’m exhausted! We’ve had so many late nights, all of them fun, so I’m going to stop now. I think I’ll exercise some form of mental discipline and try to at least update this once a night going forward until we are caught up.

Some things to look forward to:

1) Our time spent with B.
2) National Day (Happy Birthday New China!)
3) Additional business schemes
4) Job hunting news

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