Finding an Apartment in Beijing

It all started because I wanted to buy a new couch.  I don't know if you know this about Beijing, but it is almost impossible to get an unfurnished apartment.  In fact, it is almost impossible to get an apartment that isn't stuffed to the ceiling with way too much furniture and all of the someone's crap. 

The couch in my apartment is old, breaking, and ugly.  My friend Mary is moving to Germany and selling her couch.  "Yay!" I think.  I texted my landlord (who I have had no contact with since signing my lease to make sure that I could get rid of the old crappy couch.  I didn't ask so much as tell but that is a China survival strategy. "You might not want to buy a couch because I might need you to move out of the apartment." A YEAR EARLY.  Cue panic. 

Reasons for panic:
1) It is the end of the school year, and I do not have time for this.
2) Apartment prices continually skyrocket in Beijing.  When we re-upped our lease last May we ended up paying 300$ more a month.  It is possible that we will pay twice what we are paying now.  Which is already ridiculous. I cannot even.
3) Apartment hunting sucks
4) We love our neighborhood
5) Finding this apartment in the first place felt like a miracle.

It has been six weeks now, and we still don't know if we have to move.  Which is stressing me out.  Honestly, if we wouldn't have to pay something like five months rent in penalties for breaking our lease early, I would have just planned on moving.  The uncertainty is killing me. We are supposed to find out FOR SURE tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, we have been looking at other apartments in the area. Beijing, and maybe China, has an entirely different system than the US when it comes to agents.  The house owner pays the agent and not the buyer. That means that we have about eight agents looking for us at the moment.  Good for us in one sense but bad for us because the agents get paid on commission based on how much your rent is.  So many of them have been trying to gouge us.  *Sigh.

Can you see the Glass wall between LIving room and bedroom? No.

Can you see the Glass wall between LIving room and bedroom? No.

The first two apartments that we looked at were absolute pits.  They didn't look that bad in photos. We rejected a couple just based on the pictures.  The first place we looked at was where we wanted to be exactly.  It is half a block from our current apartment, within walking distance of the bus we take to school, near friends, grocery stores and restaurants.  But the apartment itself was terrible. We have asked to see two bedroom apartments. We have visitors and stuff that needs storage, man.  There were two bedrooms.  Sort of.  Some genius had glassed off half of the living room and put a bed in there. There was also no space for a fridge in the kitchen, so it was in the already minimal living room. A Fridge in the kitchen is more common that you would think as several photos rejected apartments had this fun feature.  And a wet shower bathroom. Significantly smaller than our current apartment and 600$ more a month. Nope.

This is the kitchen in it's entirety.  Also, it looks clean but was so gross I cannot even describe it.

This is the kitchen in it's entirety.  Also, it looks clean but was so gross I cannot even describe it.

The second apartment was one that drove us down into an apartment search depression. It is reasonably close to where we want to be.  The entry way was gross.  I mean, all entryways in China are sketchy.  You really cannot tell what an apartment is going to be like from the outside of the building, stairs, or hallways.  But it was pitch black, and I was confident that we were going to be attacked by cockroaches at any moment.  That sort of feeling.  The halls were filled with random shit.  I think that people were using them as storage. The halls were also straight on from the outside of the building, so there was no chance of natural light.  People were currently living there.  Which always sucks.  Apparently, one of them wanted to move, but the other one didn't. So we looked around the sty, for form's sake I guess, while they smoked (ew, not inside!). So much no.  Less expensive, yes.  Disgusting kitchen. The bathroom was so dirty it needed to be boiled. Not a spare inch of space that wasn't crammed with furniture. It had no windows at all. Also, it smelled.  I think that the pictures that the agent sent to us were of the apartment before these two had moved in and without furniture.  Not happening.

That was last Wednesday.  Nothing we saw topped either ot those places.  We have been stewing since then in the fear that we would not be able to find something. Carten even made sure that we could move back into the long term hotel/apartment that we stayed in when we first got to Beijing (Price astronomical). Cue much whining on my part and praying that the landlord would not kick us out.

Cue much whining on my part and praying that the landlord would not kick us out.

We saw four different places today.  Two of them were hutongs.  Hutongs are the traditional courtyard homes of Beijing.  They are super local and if they are apartments have been renovated very recently.  Drawbacks are the fact that there are people  living their lives right outside your window.  ALL the time.  Also because the hutongs are always threatened by urbanization, it is impossible to know if they are going to be randomly torn down with a weeks notice, if you will have no water for a month just because, and other fun details like that.  Neither of these was an option.  1)they were construction sites. Literally.  No walls, cement floors, dust and debris everywhere. We were assured that they would be, but I am not a gambler 2) tiny. Pass.

The next place had potential. It was a third-floor walk-up. Not in the neighborhood we wanted to be in. Weird layout.  Entirely too much furniture. But it was large and quiet.  The bathroom was a wet stall but had been completely redone the year before so it wasn't gross. The kitchen was useless. 450$ more than we are paying now. 

Angels sing.  Light, high, ceilings, Built in storage, my Friends!

Angels sing.  Light, high, ceilings, Built in storage, my Friends!

But then we found it.  It is not completely where we want to be.  There has to be some compromise.  And it is a sixth-floor walk-up.  Not the best.  The landlady is asking for the same rent as we are currently paying. Ah, yeah. But the apartment itself was beautiful.  North and South facing windows.  Natural light! Looking out over a courtyard and a quiet street.  Huge! Built in fricking storage. It is a miracle!  No, knick knacks! As some of the landlords have wanted us to keep their clothes and shoes in the closet for them, this is a big deal. Furniture I am not wild about but don't want to burn for kindling. A bathroom and kitchen that is as good as any that we would be able to find in Beijing (they must not be selling points the way that they are at home.  I like it more than our current apartment. Which probably means that after all of this we will probably end up staying where we are...


Eating My Way Around Beijing

Eating My Way Around Beijing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you come to Beijing, you will accidentally eat until you are sick. At every meal.  Accept it.  Love it.  It just might be my favorite part of living here.  I thought I would do a rundown of all the food places that both go to regularly and take guests to.

dumplings china

Baoyuan Dumplings

Chopstick Difficulty: high- dumplings are slippery little buggers.

My favorite eatery in Beijing.  It is a hole in the wall kind of place, but the food cannot be beaten. It is the perfect mix of a local Chinese restaurant and with a menu that you can understand. Whenever we have guests, this is the first place that we take them. It helps to get you over the initial chopstick shyness and the because it is awesome first food impression. Order the purple dumplings.  There is crunchy rice in them and some kind of magic in them.  I also, HIGHLY recommend the dry fried green beans.  Which sounds boring but is anything but.  What the Chinese can do to vegetables...  Bliss.

Food Tour

Chopstick Difficulty: medium- you get the hang of it.

I am a huge fan of walking food tours.  I don't know if there is any better way to see a city that through its food.  A year ago we went on a food tour in Shanghai with Untours and then beta tested with them when they expanded to Beijing.  I took my dad when he visited last week. It is a great overview of street eating in Beijing.  The chicken wings at the end of the night are a highlight and Carsten, and I have gone there on our own sometimes since the tour introduced it to us.  Bring wet wipes.

SO much of a mess

SO much of a mess


Chopstick Difficulty: high- accept that you are going to be a mess- there is a reason they gave you an apron.

Who doesn't want to spend three hours fishing for their food in a hellbroth of fiery chilly oil? HaiDiLao is the classic.  24 hours a day, five stories, multiple locations.  It is, however, kind of overpriced and insanely crowded ALL THE TIME.  We discovered Jungle & Skewers last year, and we haven't looked back.  It is two minutes walk from our apartment, skewers instead of loose making it much easier, so cheap, and superb.  You also get to make your own dipping sauce. #alltheseasamepasteplease


Jingzun Beijing Duck Restaurant

Chopstick Difficulty: Medium

I have been to Da Dong the highly hyped up duck restaurant, but I actually prefer the one right across from the Holiday Inn Express Sanlitun.  Honestly, I didn't even know it's name until I looked it up on a map just now.  We have been referring to it as the "red lantern duck place" for the last three years.  All the food is good, but the duck is truly impressive.  Have your camera ready because the carving presentation is nothing less than art.



Chopstick Difficulty: super easy with chopsticks or with fingers.

It might interest you to know that in the north of China, where Beijing is, the staple grain is wheat, not rice.  Boucha is steamed buns. The bread part is incredibly soft and slightly sweet. In Bejing, they are usually stuffed with barbecued pork.  It is a little like a sandwich. Keep an eye out for large bamboo steamers to buy them at.  Cheap as chips and highly addictive.

Brew Pubs

Chopstick Difficulty: low- fork and knives and fingers

I am smooshing all four main craft beer pubs into one here.  Whichever one that you are closest to will do.  I happen to live almost on top of Great Leap Brewery, so I end up there most often. I like the burgers best at Slowboat, the brunch options best at Jing A, and the rooftop seating at Arrow Factory.  All the food is Western which might be tempting if you need a change from all Chinese food all the time.

dim sum

Dim Sum

Chopstick Difficulty: high

Dim Sum is basically Cantonese brunch.  Tea and small snacks.  My favorite one in Beijing is in the basement of the opposite house.  I went there with my father recently and ordered everything on the menu so he could try it.  Everything is delicious. The steamed shrimp dumplings are something that I never get tired of.  It is not cheap, but it is a flat rate. I recommend skipping breakfast and going at noon.  



In & Out

Chopstick Difficulty: high

Another restaurant that is practically on my doorstep.  This is a Yunan restaurant. Their specialty of over the bridge soup which is put together right in front of you.  Favorites include the fried goat cheese and pineapple rice.

Jian Bing:

Chopstick Difficulty: low- you eat with your fingers

There is something balletic and hypnotizing about watching this being made.  Each one takes about two minutes, and I can never look away.Our Jian Bing lady was gone for like three months for Chinese New Year, and we were afraid that she wasn't coming back.  But return she did to again make us this crepe/omelet hybrid.  There is a crunchy fried wonton in the middle, spring onions, and sauces of various origin.  There is a spicy paste involved so if that isn't your thing remember to ask for it not spicy (terrible Chinese pronunciation: BOO-la)

TBR Forbidden City

Chopstick Difficulty: low- knives and forks 

This is not a cheap option.  It is, however, inexpensive when it comes to fine dining.  The restaurant literally looks over the moat of the Forbidden City.  It fills sp so make sure that you make a reservation (super easy from their website).  The service is unrivaled in Beijing, and the food is excellent.  It is a great ending to a day touring the Forbidden City although you will have to wander for about an hour between the city closing and the restaurant opening at 5:30. 

I am still looking for a convenient noodle restaurant so if you have any suggestions in the Sanlitun area please, hit me up.

Reading Around the World: China

Reading Around the World- China.png

My father is visiting me this week and that has made relook at China as a traveller.  It is very easy to get sidetracked by life, to do lists, and my job and forget that I live someplace special.  In that spirit I have made a reading list for China. 

Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin cover

Nanjing Requiem
by Ha Jin

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: October 18th 2011

"I didn’t respond, knowing that some foreigners had their doubts about the Chinese, especially the elite and the educated among us. Most of those people were gone."

Why: I am interested in what happened in Nanjing during WWII but really don't know much about it. This one promises to be an emotional read.

China Underground by Zachary Mexico cover

China Underground
by Zachary Mexico

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: January 27th 2009

"There’s a click, and the would-be handyman hangs up. The driver looks back at me quizzically. The garlic quotient of his breath has increased exponentially, and it’s somewhat alarming that he’s not looking at the road. A queasy, acidic feeling, born of halitosis and fear, begins to take hold in my gut."

Why: Because I have to jump through 100,00 hoops to get anything done on the internet and sometimes it just doesn't work.  

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah cover

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors
by Adeline Yen Mah

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: June 9th 2009 

"Let’s start before recorded history in the mythical times when dragons were supposed to exist. They were said to have the eyes of a demon and the claws of an eagle."

Why: This is a children's history of China. Which means that I might just be able to handle it.  Because OMG complicated.

February Flowers by Fan Wu cover

February Flowers
by Fan Wu 

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: August 7th 2007

“You can never forget the past unless you face up to it.” 

Why: It is YA set in modern China with Chinese characters.  What?! I am surprised it has taken me thins long to find it.

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution by Moying Li

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution
by Moying Li

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: March 18th 2008 

"Soon my freedom, together with that of our rabbits and rooster, was restricted."

Why: The Cultural Revolution.  'Nuf said.

Buy Me the Sky: The remarkable truth of China’s one-child generations by Xinran cover

Buy Me the Sky: The remarkable truth of China’s one-child generations
by Xinran

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: May 7th 2015 

Why: I spend an awful lot of time dealing with this.  So much time. 

Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage by Kay Bratt cover

Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
by Kay Bratt

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: July 3rd 2008 

"Or the Chinese method, the outside of a high-rise building. They wrapped their legs around a rope while sitting on the paint bucket attached...”

Why: I am a sucker for an adoption/orphanage story.

When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind Or Destroy It by Jonathan Watts cover

When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind Or Destroy It
by Jonathan Watts

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: July 1st 2010 

“There are few sharper contrasts in China between the desire to find harmony and the instinct to impose order.”

Why: One of the boys in my book club read this book last year and talked it up enough to where  I have had it on my list ever since.  Middle Schooler recs FTW.  Also, the title is not a lie.

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer cover

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
by Michael Meyer


Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: June 24th 2008

"It is a typical morning in a typical Beijing hutong. The only thing exceptional is the weather, which is neither sweltering nor frigid, and the air unpolluted."

Why: I have been here for three years and even I have been able to witness the dramatic destruction of the old traditional neighborhoods.  It is heartbreaking.  On the one hand, indoor plumbing and heat are awesome.  On the other a way of life is being lost.

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran cover

The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
by Xinran

Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: November 11th 2003 

“Everybody says women are like water. I think it's because water is the source of life, and it adapts itself to its environment. Like women, water also gives of itself wherever it goes to nurture life....”

Why: I have already read this one. The Cultural Revolution has had a profound and lasting impact on China. Through anecdotes about women trying to live their lives through it, we start to see it's human face as well as the misogynistic attitudes that presented it. It is both fascinating and disturbing.

Has anyone read Red Scarf Girl? We use it in a Unit with the grade 7 students but they HATE IT. If you have any reccommendations for a book about personal responsibility and activism with a China connection please shoot them my way.