17 januari 2015
How time flies – in the previous post I wrote next post would be on Sunday (11/01), instead it’s now almost a week later… Definitely time to post an update! Starting with an account of the search for an apartment.
A few months ago I started looking at Shanghai apartments for rent online, just to get an idea of what it would cost and, as Shanghai is a pretty big place, to figure out in what area I’d want to rent. First decision, “Pudong or Puxi?”, meaning which side of the Huangpu river. Puxi is the older part on the west bank of the river, with more historical landmarks, many nice restaurants, most of the (expat) nightlife; whereas in Pudong, the east bank, major development only took off in the 1990′s. As you can imagine, the atmosphere can be quite different – look for some pictures online, you’ll see. As much as many people would advise, nay, recommend living in Puxi, I still made the decision to rent in Pudong. I could go into reasons, but won’t so much – it just makes more sense, practically, with the office also being in Pudong. Next decision then: “Whereabout in Pudong?”. Closer to the office, in Jinqiao, in an area that is apparently known online for housing many expats? Or closer towards the river & Puxi, in Lujiazui? Or somewhere in between perhaps, near Century Park? Or elsewhere along the river, again somewhat closer to the office? Well, though rental prices can definitely be staggering in Lujiazui, I decided to try my luck of finding an apartment there that fit my budget. Online, it seemed that I would very much be able to find something very very decent for that kind of money, but (oh my!) – real life is quite different from what’s offered online. The management assistant had arranged for two agencies to show me a few places. She had asked me for my requirements (furnished, Lujiazui, 1 bedroom), budget, etc.. so off we went last Monday (6 Jan). The very first bit of information: there are no single bedroom apartments available. ‘There was one this morning but it’s already rented out to a Japanese guy.’ – oh well, if they’d show me 2 bedroom apartments that still fit every other requirement that’d be fine. Then I was shown a first apartment at the ‘Jianglin’ compound at 377 Pucheng Road. (Oh hey, if that link doesn’t work.. China.. ) — it was so disappointing. Sure, it was in a nice area, but the apartment itself was very unappealing; the furniture was no good, it didn’t look very clean. The real shocker came when they named the asking price; well above my budget. Well, good thing prices and other arrangements are negotiable in China, but for this one they’d have to lower their price quite a bit and/or refurnished the place before I’d have said yes to it. The second apartment then; an absolute beauty. Very recently reworked, spacious, clean, great furniture – oh if only the asking price could be lower… then the agent said some magic words that stuck with me for the rest of the next 48hrs: ‘We can get you a discount of 2000 RMB.’ – unfortunately, that was still (just) above my initial budget, but close enough to make want to reconsider my budgeting. On to a third apartment; which was also very nice – with a few quirks – but – do you start to see a pattern here? – again above the budget I had set for myself. And a fourth, across the road (at the ‘Juyuan’ compound), upheld my experience so far. Yes, my research online held so much promise for finding a decent place at a reasonable price, but here was the cold hard Chinese truth. We also went to see some apartments near Century Park, just for comparison. Well, suffice to say I remember walking out of those apartments thinking ‘What is wrong with these people?’ (the owners) – asking so much money for such bland apartments. The next day, we were going around with an agent from a different agency, the first apartment she wanted to show me was one I had already seen the day before at ‘Juyuan’. This did not bode well. My mind was therefore still on the second apartment then, and seriously considering… so I had the company assistant who was with me as translator call up the agency of the day before and ask about that place. That option got scrapped as soon as she was told they wouldn’t be able to give the discount after all. Disheartened, we set forth to see a few more places at ‘Juyuan’. Finally some good news, the prices were right around my budget! The apartments were still rubbish, mind you. Typical Chinese style furniture? Not really for me, thank you. Eventually though, we visited one that had only become available the day before. Quite cozy, definitely clean, with a good kitchen, flatscreen TV, normal furniture… aside from a pink couch. There were even other people visiting the place at the same time and saying how much they liked it. In Chinese. I don’t know if they were for real. I can imagine agencies here gently giving a laowai (foreigner) the impression he’s going to have to act fast or he might miss out on the chance to rent it. More so if the alternative is that he would ‘have to’ go for one of the more hideous ones he has been shown so far. I dismissed the place and we went to see another one. Very spacious living room.. because it was mostly empty, with a widescreen CRT TV and some old couches. The kitchen was big too, but not very convenient. Anyway, the floor looked nice, and as I wasn’t too happy about the furniture in most other places I’d seen, I imagined I could at least make this one work by adding some things of my own. I had to think about it. Later on the same day, the assistant got a call. The pink couch apartment would be rented out to the other couple, unless I’d want to rent it. We went to take another look in the evening; and the moment I walked in, it felt more like a home than any other apartment I’d seen. Had another careful look around; pointed out some things to be fixed, asked for the couch covers to be changed to something else. And then I said ‘yes’ to a one-year contract.
On Wednesday we met up again to fill out the paperwork, which was both in Chinese and English (but probably only the Chinese text would hold up?). While in their office, someone came by to let me choose the fabric for the sofa’s new covers. I’d move in on Saturday (one week ago) and have first month’s rent transferred by then, including a deposit – which meant I had to go open a bank account. The agent helped out a lot, including with the paperwork at the bank, which was only in Chinese. She’d also arrange the internet connection, and help me out with any bills that need paying. On Saturday morning we met up again to have another check (internet connectivity, airco,..) and hand over the keys, a cardkey for the entrance gates to the compound and one for my mailbox. Actually, someone came by to completely replace the lock and handed me all 6 keys that came with it. Knowing me, I’ll sure lose a few of them. (Funny story coming up next!) — I haven’t checked my mailbox so far, come to think of it… and do I even know where it is?.. I spent my first night here on Saturday.. but kind of forgot I didn’t bring any sheets or covers.. got some on Sunday, and some more this past Thursday. The sofa’s covers haven’t been replaced yet, that should happen this coming week. I didn’t get much else yet either, except for some bare essentials – still it’s a home.
I have some more pictures, but gotta run! It’s Sat evening!