Finding a place to live in China
When I accepted my teaching role in China, it didn’t escape my notice that I was moving to a new country on the other side of the world with absolutely no idea where I was going to live! I had never found an apartment at home in the UK, how was I supposed to do it in a country where I didn’t even speak the language?! Luckily, it turns out I didn’t have to; I could choose to find my own apartment and be paid a monthly allowance towards it, or I’d be helped to find my apartment and it would be paid for. Both options had their appeal, but I was eager for any help offered to me! To read more on looking for an apartment yourself, check out this blog post.
Waiting for a suitable apartment meant staying in a hotel for a week, but it was 5 minutes from my school and I enjoyed the luxury of housekeeping, so it wasn’t a problem. After a week I got a message from my HR contact, Jennifer, telling me that they’d found a couple of apartments for me to look at. She picked me up and took me to a high-rise complex, nicer than most I’ve seen at home, and led me to the estate office to meet the viewing agent. There were two apartments for me to choose from: one was a more modern apartment with sleek furnishings and furniture that looked straight out of an IKEA showroom, or a traditionally furnished apartment with entirely brown furniture, fittings that looked to be at least a decade old, but also a balcony with a stunning view of the courtyard below and Lihua Tower to the right.
Making a decision
From the way I’ve described them, you’d think I went with the first one, but no. For whatever reason, I was drawn to the modest traditional apartment even in all its brown and beige-ness. It just had a certain charm to it that made it more welcoming and homely than the other totally pristine apartment. After making my choice, we went back to the estate office and Jennifer had a long and heated conversation with the agent to haggle down the price. Soon, I was holding the key to my own apartment.
After picking up my luggage from the hotel and saying goodbye to Jennifer, I went up to the 19th floor where my apartment was to have a proper look around my home for the next year. One thing that quickly became apparent was that carpet flooring was very much a rarity in China. Everywhere had either linoleum or tile flooring, which made cleaning a whole lot easier, and kept rooms a lot cooler in the blistering heat of summer (not as much fun in the winter, I will say, but nothing a big space heater and electric blanket couldn’t fix).
Once I opened the front door, I was greeted by an open plan dining room and living room, fully furnished with two well-worn sofas, a coffee table, a large flat screen TV, and a beautiful marble top dining table set with the typical Lazy Susan in the middle (a common fixture in Chinese dining to accommodate the many MANY sharing dishes).
By taking a quick right, I was met with the kitchen, which admittedly was the shabbiest room, but it was functional, so I didn’t mind. It consisted of a countertop stove with an extractor, several cupboards above and below, and a fridge perfectly sized for its single resident.
The kitchen had a door leading outside to a sheltered alcove which was where the washing machine was kept. I was expecting a UK-typical washing machine with the door on the front, but was surprised to see it had a lid on the top to put your laundry in instead, which I actually think is much more practical than the ones we have at home!
Adjoining the living room was the bathroom. This was more of a wetroom with a Western-style toilet, sink, wall-mounted mirror, and detachable shower-head. Simple, but functional! The only down-side was that the toilet would get wet whenever you used the shower, but it never proved to be much of an issue.
Going back inside, I had two bedrooms to choose from; one either side of the dining room/living room arrangement. Both were identical mirror images of each other, outfitted with a huge wardrobe, double bed, and a much needed air conditioning unit. The bed was luxuriously big for one person, and was decorated with beautifully ornate wood carvings on the headboard. I unfortunately had to ruin the picturesque setting by covering it in a mosquito net, because I had quickly discovered in my first week there that I was quite a delicious and popular hotspot for the local mosquito population, and I needed as many defenses as possible.
A room with a view
The last feature which was definitely my favorite, was the balcony. Luckily, heights aren’t an issue for me, because 19 floors up, the view was incredible. My apartment building was one of several making up a complex with a beautiful courtyard inside. I was fortunate enough to have an inward facing balcony so that I was directly overlooking the courtyard with its swimming pool and luscious greenery. Being so high also meant that I had prime viewing of the sunrise and sunset, as well as watching all the city lights turn on one by one as it started to get dark each night. I can’t tell you how many nights I just sat out on the balcony, listening to the sound of traffic alongside the cicadas song below.
Safety never felt like an issue while I was living there, as it was a gated and guarded complex which required a passcard to get in. You also needed the passcard to get into the actual apartment building or had to be buzzed in by a resident, so it was extremely secure from having just anyone walk in. The safety of the neighbourhood itself was an important factor for me, especially as a woman alone in a foreign country, but no matter what time of day it was, I always felt safe walking home. My apartment was about a 25 minute walk from the school I was teaching at, and the route was always very well populated with traffic and other pedestrians. At one point, I remember walking home from the town centre at two in the morning after seeing a midnight premiere at the cinema, and the streets were still just as busy and felt just as safe as they did in the daytime. I would go as far as saying I felt a lot safer in China than I did at home in the UK!
In terms of cost, I ended up not paying a thing; the company paid for my rent, utilities, and my internet, however friends informed me that these would typically total around RMB400 a month – and the apartment itself would likely be costing around RMB2000 a month. I know at first glance the apartment doesn’t look too impressive, but it quickly became my home. When it was time to leave, I was sad to leave my little sanctuary, and quietly thanked it for looking after me and for the wonderful memories it gave me.
Learn more about the 2022 Teach China Graduate Program here.Share: