Beijing Apartments – A Foreigner’s Perspective

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags:

Just wanted to add my two cents to Todd’s post.  You must remember, Todd lived in Taiwan (very much the same culture as China) for two years. It’s easy to forget how different things are.  Once you’ve been somewhere for a while, you just don’t see those differences anymore .  As a new missionary in Taiwan, someone told him, “If you see something interesting you better take a picture now, because it will seem normal in a month.”  Hopefully I can point out the things I’ve noticed, before it’s too late! :)

When searching for an apartment I decided long ago that I did NOT want to live in an expat area, a little “Westerntown” (akin to “Chinatown” in the U.S.).  I didn’t want to live in a little bubble for foreigners, where everyone speaks English and western stores and restaurants are around the corner.  No thanks.  We have the rest of our lives to live there.  Right now I want to experience China, have Chinese neighbors, shop at Chinese stores, learn the language, and live like a normal Beijinger.  (Mostly.  Having 5 kids is already a guarantee that we are anything but normal here.)  Anyway, I thought that upscale Chinese housing would be a good fit for us.

So, what is typical Chinese housing like in Beijing?  Of course the quality varies from uninhabitable to fit-for-an-emperor,  but typical Chinese housing has some common elements.  First, apartments.  Small, urban, high-rise apartments. (Someone asked me how the “house” hunting was going.  Sorry, no houses here.)  They sometimes have elevators, and never have carpet.  Flooring is usually wood, laminate, or tile.

Kitchens are tiny, with no dishwashers, no ovens, and non-potable water.  (The Chinese don’t bake; they steam and fry.  And you boil the water, or buy bottled.)  Kitchens are not the big “showrooms” that they are in the states.  In fact, the kitchen is generally a small, out of the way room behind a closed door.  Yeah, kitchens have a door.  Oh, and I haven’t found a lot of really “clean looking” kitchens here.  When looking at one apartment, I asked about the kitchen, asked if they were going to clean it.  “Why?”  “Well…because…it’s dirty.”  “Oh, ha ha ha.  Chinese kitchens are dirty because of the smoke, you know, from cooking in them.”  Like, duh (is the vibe I got).  Uhh…ok.  I guess kitchens in the states are clean because we don’t cook in them…?

Bathrooms in modest apartments consist of a completely tiled room (floor and walls) with a toilet in one corner, sink in another, shower head on one wall, and a drain in the middle of the floor.  So, when you shower, the entire room gets wet.  An upscale apartment will have an enclosed shower.  (Yep.  We’re high class–3 bathrooms, each with enclosed showers!  Fancy schmancy.)

You’ve probably heard of squatty potties.  Indeed they are very common in public restrooms, but most private residences here have western toilets.  We didn’t see squatties in any of the places we looked at.  (Although I did see some toilets that I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, much less set my exposed backside on!  Blech!  The thought alone gives me the heebee jeebees.)

Washing machines are very small and dryers are a rarity.  There is usually a small room, like an enclosed porch, to hang your laundry to dry.  If it’s a nicer room, there’s a cool rack on the ceiling where you can rotate the clothes, and windows that open so you can swing the laundry out into that yummy Beijing air to dry in summer! :)  (Driving through the city, you’ll see laundry hanging everywhere in the summer!  EVERYWHERE!)  So anyway, when you go to look at an apartment they point out the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the hang-up-the-laundry-to-dry room, etc.  So the hang-up-the-laundry-to-dry room is one of the typical rooms in a Chinese apartment.

Okay, I think that’s it, in a (really gigantic) nutshell.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some pictures of our current apartment (just so you can see how good we have it this first month) and then some of the new apartment complex we’ll be moving to shortly.  (If you want to see pics of the inside, see Todd’s last post.) Enjoy!

- Jill

Apartment hunt, check that off the list!

Todd Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

[Warning, this post got a little long-winded, I apologize in advance. Next time I need to write a bit more often in between post's it seems, as I still feel like I've left out quite a bit :)]

Photo we found online of the artwork at the center of our apartment's community.

The search is over… we’ve found our permanent apartment (at least for the next year) after a couple weeks of hunting. We are thrilled to begin moving into the apartment during and after the Chinese New Year as we’ll then be able to start settling into life here in Beijing. So, let me take you back to the start of the hunt.

Early last week, after my first or second day at work, I figured it was time to begin the hunt. Where to begin though? I wasn’t really sure, so I started asking around – new colleagues at work, new friends we’ve just met at church, and of course – the internet. Not all routes were equally fruitful. Most of the friends we met at church did not live near my work, and we’ve decided that we want to live closer rather than farther away from my work (all else equal). The internet seemed promising, with websites such as or having the ability to search for exactly what we want – albeit in Chinese. I spent quite some time scouring these sites, using google translate built into Chrome to hasten the process. Found several places that looked promising, and decided to make some phone calls.

Once I brought some local real estate 中介(zhōngjiè or agent – you’re new word for this post) into the picture, things started getting more interesting. I typically am very trusting of individuals, I give them the benefit of the doubt. From my colleagues at work though – I was warned that you cannot trust the real estate 中介’s in Beijing – but also got the message that you really had to work with them in order to locate and rent an apartment. So, what to do? Well, after all is said and done, I ended up talking to about five different 中介’s – here is a recap of that experience.

中介 1: I decided I might as well start calling, even though warned by colleagues it would be best to let them help with the calls. I wasn’t quite comfortable asking for such help yet (1 or 2 days on the job, so barely getting to know them as well). Plus, why not use this as a learning opportunity, should be fun, right? Well – I called the number on the listing and started to explain my situation, and how I found an apartment online with their name/number. After fumbling on many phrases, I eventually explained sufficiently (or so I thought) which apartment it was I was calling about. The gal on the line was seemingly kind, and said she’d look into it and get back with me. I gave her my number, but never heard back? Ahh well…

中介 2: After calling 中介 1, I also called another one I found online. We’ll call this individual 中介 2. He also took some information from me, seemed to not be interested at all in the link I was calling about online, but said that he’d like to set up some apartments for me to look at in the next day or two, so I agreed, leaving my email address as well as our phone number to the hotel. The next day I was talking to someone at work about my phone experiences and they were worried that I was directly calling them w/out help – and she ended up introducing an agent to me that she had used, thus onto …

中介 3: Kimberly was introduced to me by a colleague that had used her previously, she specialized in helping foreigners find housing in Beijing, and came highly recommended. I talked to Kimberly on the phone about our needs, and then met with her for lunch also at work. It was obvious that Kimberly was a woman on the go – always moving, getting work done, etc… I was grateful for the information she gave me – she talked me through (albeit at lightning speed) things such as how many months deposit places typically want (1,2, sometimes 3) plus the typical pay schedules (some ask 2 months at a time, some 6, some a whole year…). Also helped introduce me to the community fees sometimes required, and a few other tidbits I’ve already forgotten (or perhaps went in one ear – then 听不懂‘d [pinyin]ting1bu4dong3[pinyin]). In the end though – once she found out how much (or how little) I was wanting to spend on an apartment, she realized that she didn’t know areas that fit our needs, and I suspect that she also was contemplating the fact that she wouldn’t get the money she typically does out of the work required to book an apartment for foreigners in Beijing. (the 中介 typically gets 1 month rent out of helping find the apartment, etc…)

中介 2 returns: Meanwhile, #2 continued to work hard behind the scenes, looking for places for me to see. I actually went out 1:1 with him on 3 separate occasions (actually brought the whole family on one – read on). He spent quite a bit of time helping look for places that would work for us, and for that I’m grateful. There was one location in particular that I became interested in – it was for 7500元 per month located up north on line 13 of the subway/train system here in Beijing. It was a four bedroom two-story apartment on the 6th/7th floor of this particular apartment building. I decided to bring Jill out to see it, but we couldn’t find / figure out who would babysit, so decided to bring the whole family out. We braved the subway system with all 7 of us, and eventually made it there. On this particular trip, another colleague of mine who happened to live in the area came and picked us up at the subway station and helped bring us to the apartment complex. We all liked the place quite a bit, but my colleague afterward told me he thought it was overpriced. He owned a home in the area, and he wanted me to look at some other places there with the 中介 that he had used when purchasing his home. Someone who knew the area, and who he trusted. So, onto…

中介 4: The very next day I went back out to the area with Yuxiang (my colleague), and looked at a place that was available for only 5000元 per month. It was also four bedrooms, and similarly on the top floor of that particular apartment building. Sounded VERY promising – and would save us tons from what we had been budgeting for our apartment expenses. We went to this apartment, and well – while it was big enough, and at the right price, it needed quite a bit of work to make it feel like a home. One of the main issues for me was the bathroom – it had corrosion all over the base of the toilet, and tiles missing near the showering area (this was a more typical Chinese style bathroom – with the shower just in the wall of the bathroom, and the entire bathroom tiled). I asked the owner (who was there) if he’d fix this – and he looked at me as if to say, “What’s there to fix?” Anyhow – it was obvious that what was something that he was fine living with, and something that we wouldn’t want to.

The next day I brought Jill back to see this apartment (just in case my intuition on how she would feel about it was wrong – because it was a GREAT deal from a cost perspective). She pretty much agreed with my assessment, but we were still considering it in case we couldn’t find anything else. This 中介 had also set up for us to visit two other apartments that evening, so off we went.

The first of these two new ones was very large – 5 bedrooms and approximately 250 square meters of living space. It was also had a lot of built in wooden storage and nice wooden features throughout that just looked nice. It had just been used by a business though, and had several things that would need repairing before we’d be willing to move in (for example – an outlet in the bathroom hanging out from the ceiling directly into the shower area… think about what a shocking experience that shower would be). Also – there was not very much furniture, and the owner seemed extremely hesitant to furnish it for us – meaning we’d have to fork out some 元 for beds, couches, tv’s, pretty much everything. Even so though – this was a nice place, and Jill really really liked all the storage it had. They were asking 7000元.

The last apartment we visited that night was on the 19th floor of a building in a very nice and newer community (about 4 years old). They were also asking 7000元.  Out of all the apartments we had seen, the community of this one easily looked cleaner, newer, and in better shape by far than all the others. Another bonus – this one actually had an elevator (none of the others had)! I found out that only apartments higher than 7 stories require elevators to be installed. The style of this apartment was more modern (which wasn’t necessarily a good thing for Jill – she liked the more traditional style better, felt more cozy and homey). It also had five bedrooms, two small ones, a medium sized, and two larger. It lacked the storage as well that the previous one had, although not completely devoid of it. I personally felt this would be the place for us after walking upstairs to the deck. The 20th floor was the top, and this one had a quite large deck with a decent view. I could already imagine BBQ’s this summer :) Another positive – there is an elementary school in the community itself – and I learned from the owner that this school had accepted foreign students in the past. Anyhow – we’ve decided to move forward on this apartment, and are excited about beginning the process of settling down!  Ohh, one more thing–Yuxiang (my colleague from work) was able to help negotiate the monthly cost down to 6500元 so all is looking great :)

Here are some photos (taken from a camera phone, some in low light… pardon the low quality) I took when doing a walkthrough night before last (right before giving an initial 3000元 down to hold the place). We’ll hopefully be in and ready in a few weeks, so start making plans to come visit – we’ve got space and would love to have visitors :)  I’ll post better photos once we’ve cleaned the place up, moved in, and well – have the time to take and post them.  For now these will have to do:

Until next time ;)  That’s all fer now!

- Todd

Week 1 – Food, Fun, Phone, and Freezing Our Fannies Off

Jill Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Exquisite gift from Yugeng's family (our exchange student). Bigger than it looks in this picture. Notice it takes up a third of our dining table?

[Note to reader: my picture gallery is driving me bonkers.  Please ignore the duplicate pictures.  Can't figure out why it won't cooperate. :(]

Hello from Beijing!  We’ve been here 1 week!  Here’s a recap by topic. :)

WEATHER.  I’m excited.  I just checked the weather and tomorrow will be a balmy 36 degrees Fahrenheit!  We’ve been here 1 week today, and this will be the first day with a high above freezing.  Yea!   Highs have been in the twenties–and that’s normal for this time of year.  Eek.

BANANA BREAD(-ISH).  I was feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen today.  My overly ripe bananas had been begging me to do something with them for a couple days.  So, I made Banana Sour Cream bread.  Sort of.  I had to improvise.  I didn’t have a mixing bowl or bakeware of any sort.  (We won’t get our shipment until we’re in our permanent place.)  I had about half of the ingredients, and then made do with 5 substitutions:

  • sour cream: plain Chinese style yogurt
  • white sugar: soft white sugar.  It’s white but has the consistency of brown sugar.  Never seen anything like it until now.
  • baking soda: umm…I couldn’t find a suitable substitute.  Just decided to be okay with “unleavened” bread :)
  • vanilla extract: almond extract.  glad I tucked it in my suitcase full of spices!
  • nuts: didn’t have any, oh well.

So, besides those ingredients I had everything else!  Ha ha!  It was definitely different, but still yummy enough that the kids and I devoured it at snack time.  Todd’s comment, “Wow.  It’s very….Chinese!”  Thanks! I think?


FOOD.  I am so glad that I like Chinese food!  Actually, I’m glad that most of our family likes Chinese food.  The kids are totally digging the noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns.  We promptly bought a new rice cooker when we arrived.  It has a steamer basket inside so we can cook our frozen dumplings and buns.  Yea!  And if you haven’t heard, your rice cooker can also double as a mixing bowl when you need to make banana bread.  :)

The breakfast menu, in order of frequency eaten: yogurt (drunk through a straw), baozi (steamed stuffed buns), toast, oatmeal, jiaozi (dumplings).  We have 2 tickets for breakfast each morning, and the lucky 2 people who eat at the buffet get to choose from lots of Chinese food with a few western things thrown in for good measure–namely cereal, toast, and bacon.

For lunch it’s noodles, fruit, and an occasional peanut butter sandwich or jiaozi.  Dinner is whatever I can scrounge together from our meager ingredients.  (I forgot how hard it is to start a kitchen from scratch.)  Chao fan (fried rice), jiaozi, baozi, rice, chao mian (fried noodles),  soup, McDonalds.  Yes, we did McDonald’s once right after we got here since we hadn’t been to the store yet.  Which leads me to our outings…

OUTINGS.  Now those are fun!  Ok, and a little scary.  Todd and I have 4 hands between us, and 5 kids.  No way to hang on to all the hands when we’re out and about.  So I find myself constantly counting heads, making sure everyone got on the subway, off the subway, on the escalator, off the escalator, across the street, in the building, on the elevator, off the elevator, out of the way of the crazy taxi drivers.  You get the picture.  And it’s great having a herd of kids with us.  With 2 children, people stare.  Wow!  Two kids!  “Liang ge xiao har!”  (Not sure how to spell “har.”) So we come along with our troop, see people counting, then hear them ask “4 kids!?!”  Then we get to say, “No…five!”  (Somehow they always miss one.)  Ha ha!

Bundled up!

Because it’s the dead of winter we bundle everyone up in 3 or 4 layers, and complete their already-poofy outfits with hats, coats, and mittens.  If the wind is blowing that’s really not fun.  It cuts right through those layers, and I feel like I can hardly smile sometimes because my face is frozen.  (Guess we need to get something to cover our faces?)

On the way to the store.

We walked to McDonald’s last Friday evening, walked to the grocery store on Saturday, and took the subway to church on Sunday.  Taking the subway also requires a little walking, so the girls and I wore pants to church and changed into our dresses in the bathroom after we arrived.  Fun stuff. :)  The trip to church is about 45 minutes on the subway, but we’ll need to leave a bit earlier so we can change clothes and comb out everyone’s hat hair after we arrive.

CELL PHONE.  Ug.  Almost forgot about this experience.  Kind of wish I could.  Todd was so nice.  He went out last Saturday evening and spent hours in the tech district shopping for a cell phone.  Well, he brought home this shiny, red smart phone on Saturday night.  Spent a lot more money on it than I felt we had.  And gave it to me!  Wow!  My cell phone is going to be my lifeline!  It has directions and maps, Chinese dictionaries and translators, people’s phone numbers in case I get lost.  Yeah, can’t live without it.  Needless to say, I felt pretty special.  So special that I left that shiny new phone in the bathroom at the church building the following morning.  (FYI, we attend church in one area of a building that is open to the public and houses other things.)   Well, no big deal.  I realized it while we were on the subway home.  We got home and quickly called back to the church and talked to someone there.  “Yeah, if you leave your cell phone somewhere, you can kiss it goodbye.”  Sure enough, we tried calling it and it had been turned off.  Someone had already pulled the battery.  I owned it for a whole 12 hours. :(  So, I’m still without a cell phone, and haven’t ventured out without Todd because of it.  I can say “oh well” now, but on Sunday I felt totally sick over it and had to cry it out of my system.  At least I have the box to look at…? :)

There’s so much more I should write, but I’ll have to save it for my next post.  Zai jian!

- Jill

It is the day that never ends…

Todd Posted in Uncategorized,Tags:

Funny Faces @ LAX

… it will go on and on my friends.  Some people started flying, not knowing how long it’d be, and they just keep on flying forever just because – it is the day that never ends…

Wow – that was one super duper ooper long day.  It started at about 3:30 am in Albuquerque on Tuesday morning, the sun came up at about 6:30 am while on our first flight, and the sun didn’t set until just before we finally arrived three flights later in Beijing on Wednesday evening at 8 pm.  Although the sun was up the entire time as we followed it (or it followed us) from Tuesday morning until Wednesday evening – seems we somehow lost an entire day (or night I guess) in the process.  One tired group of travelers finally arrived at our temporary apartments in Beijing close to 10:30 pm Beijing time.  Boy, were we exhausted.

The Technology that made the 14 hours bearable for all.

Thursday morning has arrived, kids are starting to stir – but made it until just after 6 am, pretty good all things considered.  I’d have to say that although the flights lasted seemingly forever, I’m very impressed with Korean Air.  Each seat back had a personal movie/game/etc… station that made things bearable for each of us on the 14 hour flight.  Plus, the meals were great, and they gave some nice toys and other items to each of the kids on the flight.  Would highly recommend Korean Air for oversea flights – much much better than our experiences on United w/out the aid in having technology for everyone.

Here are a few more photos of the trip:

Michael had the flight attendants serving him the whole flight!

Food on flight.

More Funny Faces @ LAX

Kids give-away from Korean Air

A couple of videos as well:

- Todd

The Journey Begins

Todd Posted in Uncategorized,Tags: ,

Waiting at the Albuquerque Airport

My left hand man on the flight!

The journey has officially begun. I’m sitting here at altitude in our first flight, just left Albuquerque five minutes ago on our way to Los Angeles. Trevin is sitting next to me at my left, simply awed by the view at six in the morning seeing the city lights glitter as we leave behind the city, experiences and friendships of the past six years. Michael commented “I’ve never seen Albuquerque from the air, it’s cool!” I must agree – Albuquerque does look rather cool this morning, especially as I look at it through the eyes of our kids for the first time. This is the first flight that Spencer has been on, and Trevin’s first that he’ll remember. I’m feeling rather calm for all the change that we are currently undertaking. Perhaps in some degree I’m still suspending reality in my mind, as Idon’t think it really has hit me fully that I won’t be in Albuquerque any longer, let alone that I won’t be in the United States. I won’t be going into work each day in my own car in a very familiar area, I won’t be frequenting familiar restaurants (although KFC and McDonald’s will still be available in China), I won’t be speaking English with everyone, I won’t … the list goes on.

(landed in LA)

McDonalds @ LAX (aka EXPENSIVE)

Well, one down, two more to go.  We’ll be boarding our next flight at 11am – this one’s the long one.  It’ll be 13 1/2 hours to get from LA to Seoul, Korea.  Fortunately, our plane *should* have personal televisions in each seat, this will be a lifesaver for our family of 7 with 5 kids between 4 and 10.  An aside… we just ate breakfast here in LA from McDonalds – the most expensive McDonald’s breakfast I’ve ever paid for.  Ahh well – at least we are all fed and feeling good :)  Time to head over to our terminal now!

- Todd