My apartment hunt has been temporarily put on hold, pending the end of my first intensive week of classes next week. This morning, however, I received a call from the friendly, non-English speaking broker at Wo Ai Wo Jia. He had two apartments to show me. I scheduled an appointment to meet him this afternoon.
After my frustrations while looking at apartments last week I put together a list of things that are important to me to have in an apartment. I wrote it down, then a fabulous translator friend typed it in Chinese. We printed it out and now I can show it to Chinese brokers so that they know what I want:
"I am looking for a 2 bedroom furnished apartment, preferably in a Chinese complex (not an international compound), in Dongzhimen, Dongsishitiao or Yonghegong, with a one-year lease.
The apartment should have:
24 hr hot water
heat included in the rent
a western toilet
an enclosed shower (shower cabinet) or a bathtub
natural light during the daytime
tile, parquet or wood floors (no wall to wall carpets)
elevator if above the third floor (24 hrs)
high speed internet access
An oven (for baking) would be nice but is not a requirement.
I am ready to move in immediately upon identifying an apartment and signing the lease but do not need to move until I find the right place.
I have Chinese and foreigner friends who speak and read both Chinese and English and can help me understand the contract before I sign it."
You may have laughed when you read the list. Some older homes here don't even have running water, so I want to make sure that a realtor knows that it's important to me, and that I want it 24 hours a day. The hot water in some places turns off after a certain hour, so again I decided to specify. Many apartments have bathrooms with 'open' showers, which means the shower head is just a spigot or a handheld showerhead mounted on a wall, with no tub or compartment to separate the 'shower' from the rest of the bathroom. It can be a nightmare to clean, and one that I saw had the showerhead pointed right at the toilet, with not enough room to stand up or turn around. No thank you. Some buildings with elevators turn them off after a certain hour. I don't want to ever have to make a decision to leave somewhere early, or to stay out until five or six in the morning, because of an elevator being turned off.
High speed internet access is necessary because, well, because I want internet access at home and it can take months to have installed if an apartment does not already have it.
This afternoon the broker took me to two apartments. One had two bedrooms, two living rooms, a long enclosed porch and lots of great light. Unfortunately, the shower looked, um, 'nasty,' there were plastic grape vines and bunchs of grapes attached to the ceiling of one of the living rooms - a dusting nightmare, and the apartment required climbing seven flights of stairs. The second place had an elevator, two bedrooms and a view over a small hidden park with a lake from the master bedroom. The pitfalls were that the second bedroom and the living room both faced an unpleasant looking airshaft, there was very little light, the furniture was old and dark, and the layout made the place feel smaller than it was.
I explained to broker, in bad Chinese and with lots of hand gestures and laughter, that I like to have friends over but few would walk up seven flights, and that the other place felt very dark. Now he has my email address so he's going to take photos of places and send them to me. I also pulled out a calendar and explained that I'll be 'studying' all next week, from morning until night. We're going to resume apartment viewing after that.
It's an adventure, but I know I'll find a place I love if I'm patient and keep looking. If not, there's always the luxury foreigner ghettos.