The expat migration dance begins again
When my wife, Savvy, and I first moved to China four years ago, we had three days to find an apartment in Shenzhen. To my great frustration, the real estate agent that Savvy’s company assigned for us kept showing us apartments that were either smaller than we requested, more expensive, or both. “This one is beautiful,” he would say, even though it was shy one bedroom and twice our budget. Finally, the last place he took us to was spot on with respect to price and size. I wouldn’t say the place was perfect, but we made it work in spite of the two-tone, green vinyl living room set. After all, we’d only had three days.With our move to Beijing last summer, things were different. One big change – our baby Reina (then one-year-old). Together, the three of us wandered around the city poking about neighborhoods and inspecting more apartments than I care to remember. In the end, we settled on a flat at The Seasons near Wangjing Xi metro station – the large enclosed courtyard, numerous playgrounds and indoor pool would provide some space for Reina to romp around during the daytime with her ayi. The proximity to the subway was an added bonus as Savvy could use it to commute to her new job at Microsoft. We had our complaints at first, but we quickly settled into our new digs and made it feel like home. We had planned to renew our lease for an additional two years when our contract ended this June. Then the global financial crisis hit. Our South Korean landlord had to sell his investment property – our apartment – because he needed the cash. Before we knew it, the apartment, which we dutifully cared for as our own, was sold. So the search for a new place to call home begins again. As an expatriate, this will be my 13th move (there’s a sobering number), and I hope it will be my last in Beijing. For most of my adult life, I have lived abroad: in Israel (on two different occasions), Puerto Rico, Japan, Cambodia and China. With each new country my love of photography remained my focus. That, and now our daughter, of course. For Reina, this is only her second move and though she is only 2, we would like to minimize the stress on her while striking a balance between location, price and comfort. As a bachelor, looking for a place was simpler. If I liked an apartment in a basement because of the cheap rent, I never weighed the merits of that decision with anyone. With a family, everyone needs something. Savvy’s office will relocate later this year, so she’d like to move to within walking distance of the new location. Even at 2, Reina has a small band of tiny friends at The Seasons that she’s accustomed to seeing and playing with on a regular basis. And personally, I wouldn’t mind a bigger home office with a decent view. So we find ourselves weighing variables that do not add up to a perfect formula and looking at apartments in a price range that allows little time for deliberation. After calling so many places home, I’ve developed a simple philosophy – we will never find the perfect apartment. But with that in mind, I’ve begun asking Reina her opinion about the apartments we tour. So far, she likes apartments where her room includes a big closet where she can hide. I’m not sure it’s the best indicator, but it’s a start.
Christopher Lay, from the US, is the father of 2-year-old Reina. He is a freelance photographer and writer in Beijing.