Besides my day job for beijingkids, I also write a quasi-humorous column for The Beijinger, in which I take a sideways look at the magazine’s topic for the month. In July the topic was house hunting. However this was something I hadn’t yet experienced, since our first apartment in Beijing was provided for us by my wife’s school.
So I canvassed friends and colleagues for their apartment hunting horror stories, to use as material. I was deluged. Unfortunately the stories were variously depressing, shocking and frightening, and all completely lacking in any humorous potential. So I wrote instead a piece of frivolous nonsense about the “Central Baozi District” and a family of migrant workers living under the sink.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that finding our apartment in Shunyi was our first experience of house hunting in Beijing. And it was awful.
The first batch of apartments we were shown was clearly all the properties which had been literally gathering dust on their books for months. One contained a houseplant which had not only died, but had developed an afterlife in the form of a blossoming crown of mold.
Once we had worked through all of these, we moved onto the places which were just, well… strange. Whether they were so crowded with furniture you could barely move, smelling of fish, seemingly decorated by Dali, or looking like someone’s old granny had just died there and was probably laid out on a table in another room, none of them felt like home.
We thought our search had ended when we found a newly renovated studio apartment which was spacious, clean, and modern. Then we went up the stairs. The upper floor had apparently been planned by a toddler with a lego set. None of the walls connected with any others, so there were hardly any actual rooms, except for one which had a glass roof and wall and in summer could have been used as a slow cooker. There was a bathroom the size of the average living room, with a shower and a toilet at one, distant end, and nothing else in it… we could have wept. We nearly did.
To add insult to injury, everything seemed more expensive than apartments downtown. We found out why when we discovered the Lianjia app, and looked at the listings for the apartments we’d seen. They were all being advertised for substantially lower prices than we’d been quoted. The estate agents, on hearing that my wife is a teacher, had assumed we were on a massive housing allowance and jacked up all their prices. When we told them otherwise, one was so disbelieving he actually rang the school to check.
With the lease on our old apartment rapidly expiring, we finally found a place which was at least livable. The décor and furniture was relatively contemporary, the showers were in cubicles and appeared to have been installed this century, and the kitchen actually had western-style hobs, rather than the usual two huge burners the settings of which are “hot” and “feichang hot.” OK, it was on the fourth floor with no elevator, but you can’t have everything.
Did we all live happily ever after? Next week’s post will reveal the answer. But I think you can guess.