Beijing Apartments – A Foreigner’s Perspective

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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

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