While my dad and I were opening bank accounts and checking out preschools KC had gone to meet some Korean students at CEIBS (China European International Business School). We had scheduled a 2:00 appointment to sign on an apartment near Pinghe in JinQiao. At 1:30 or so we were wrapping things up at Okiki and KC called to say that we needed to postpone the signing to 4; all the Koreans he had talked to were urging us to look at Lianyang again.
We had really liked Lianyang when we first looked there last October or November -- it just seemed like a vibrant, livable neighborhood, with a lot of foreigners but not just a foreigner area, and close to Century Park. But once we decided to go with Pinghe (instead of JinCai) we began looking at JinQiao for apartments because we wanted Aiden to be able to walk to school, as he does now. Long story short, we met KC back at Lianyang where a few of the Korean students helped us find a Korean real estate agent (two, actually) and we madly looked at apartments there.
We spent the next 5-6 hours looking there and meeting more Koreans through the two who accompanied us. It was the birthday of the wife of one guy and yet he still stayed with us for hours, advising us on what to look for and what to be wary of and introducing us to more people. One guy we met later has a son the same age as Aiden so I got to know a little bit about what programs are available for him: swimming, taekwondo, piano, in Korean or Chinese. He also helped us a lot with visa procedures -- I’ll probably have to write another post about this but I’m having a hell of a time getting our documents authorized in the U.S. and since the kids have two passports we’ve been going back and forth between which passport we should use for their visas, which makes a difference because of visa fees and document authorization. Anyway. They told me that language classes developed for English-speaking foreigners are about three times more expensive than Chinese classes for Koreans. These guys immediately started calling KC “hyung” and “da ge”; we were incorporated into the network right away and it was both helpful and psychologically reassuring. I could picture myself in that neighborhood, working the ajuma network, finding Korean playmates for the kids and finding about all the things I needed to find out through them. Between that group and the ShanghaiMamas I felt good about my prospects for hitting the ground running.
The Korean network feels qualitatively different and in writing this quick post (no editing, sorry) I’m trying to put my finger on why. Partially I’m sure it is because I’ve spent the last 5 years learning how to traverse the social networks here in Seoul, and I know how resourceful ajumas are and how much they rely upon word-of-mouth and the rapid spread of information to get things done. Partially it is because of the inescapable status relationships that come with the network. Because I’m coming from Seoul and I am a native English speaker I kind of know where I will fall in that network (many are coming to China with the goal of having their kids learn English -- they want to escape the Korean school system but can’t go to the U.S. or Canada).
The other big difference is that many of the Koreans are their on their own dime, as we are. Reading the English language ex-pat forums yield a lot of useful information but skewed towards people who are there on a fat package, with housing allowances, moving allowances, and often drivers. We are paying for all of this out of our own pockets so what we’re looking for is pretty different. Reading the Korean forums (I leave this to KC, mostly) on schools and neighborhoods has been really helpful. In any case, I feel lucky to have a number of different networks to fall back upon, and really grateful to all of those who have helped us out so far.
Anyway, at around 6pm we decided to make an offer on one apartment. It was in a complex that seemed great for families and the family with the kid Aiden’s age lives in the same complex. The students urged us to look at Yanlord Town too, although it was out of our budget. So we went for a quick look; it was a Tower Palace kind of feel, lots of marble, security codes for the elevators, that sort of thing. Not our style, but it was fun to look at. After looking in one building we descended to the parking garage to take a golf cart (there are men waiting to shuttle people from place to place in the parking garage) to another building on the other side of the complex. They have a car wash, playground, and swimming pool underground, which is why it is very attractive to people with families.
One of the things real estate agents told us to consider is who owns the apartment. Our first agent is from Shanghai and she urged us towards one apartment and not another because the owner of one was “not a Shanghai person, but living in Shanghai” and the owner of the other was “not a Shanghai person, and not living in Shanghai.” I forgot where that owner was from, but she said in case of problems, it might be hard to get the owner to respond.
The two apartments we ended up bidding on in Lianyang were both owned by Koreans living in Shanghai, which will good if we have any problems. Both apartments are ondol apartments -- that is, they both have heated floors. You know there are a lot of Koreans in the area when you can easily find an ondol apartment. Since we sleep on the floor this was important to us; also many people commented that because buildings are built more cheaply the wind and cold really come through the walls in the winter. Ondol apartments are more expensive but it was worth it for us.
The first apartment we bid on in Lianyang had beautiful interior decoration, including a bed built into a wall unit with night tables. This was the big issue, since we needed the bed taken out so that we could sleep on the floor. (We’re renting a furnished apartment.) The owner came and we debated about this until about 9pm, when we finally got to have dinner. It came down to the bed problem; because it was built to his specification it would be too hard to remove, he felt. We could certainly understand that.
The next day KC played golf with Dad while I went with Dad’s friend Annie to deposit 2 suitcases loaded with fall clothes, a few pans, some utensils, and books in their Marriott storage unit. It was nice to be back in Dad’s old stomping grounds, though they tell me the Marriott is losing a lot of business because of all the visa restrictions. Both suitcases were well over 15 years old and on their last legs but I hadn’t had time to repack the stuff into boxes so that I could take the suitcases back with me. We decided to go and buy 2 more cheap suitcases. We had just about finished that when KC called to tell me that the owner had talked with his interior design company and said the bed was not possible to disassemble in any easy way.
So after a quick but delicious lunch at Crystal Jade we went back to Lianyang to look at our second choice, which, upon further reflection, was probably a better choice. Different apartment complex, better floor plan, ugly furniture, but no bed in the master bedroom, just a mattress which the owner is happy to move to the guest room. Good thing again for my dad and his driver since we had to coordinate getting my dad to his 5:00 flight from Pudong while we had a 6:00 from Hongqiao. We were to leave at 4; at 4:05 the owner verbally agreed on the phone, we left the real estate agent with all the remaining cash we had and we hopped in the van and took off for the airport. We were at the gate by 5pm. I love Hongqiao airport. Since we’ve been back we’ve signed the final papers by fax. We’re set to move in on July 31. Mission accomplished; as Emily would say it was a “typical Jen and KC trip: a lot of running around, everything finished at the last minute.” Except that we usually eat a lot better -- we barely fit three meals in each day between the 12 hours of walking around and hopping into taxis. Now I just have to pack.