Saturday, April 22, 2006


I went house-hunting today in the Shinzha Rd/People's Square/Henan Middle Road areas. Most houses are either expensive, or in poor condition, or unavailable. Highlights:

  • I peeked into a building north of Nanjing East Road and south of the Suzhou Creek, one of the ones just north of Beijing Rd that look like old colonial trading houses. There was a "guard" lady at the front, but she was watching TV, so I pretended to play with the mynah bird and then slipped up the stairs. At first I thought it looked like a mansion, but with stone sinks installed on the second floor for washing and cooking, and horribly dirty and run down. Then I went up to the third floor and turned the corner to find a long corridor, maybe 100 meters long, running off into the distance, filled with old dusty wooden furniture and doors opening off either side; sorta like a hotel. Friggin' amazing, but Chris and Alainna were waiting outside and there was an old lady using a sink halfway down, so I turned around the left.

  • I looked at a 老房子, an old-style home, in that same area, specifically on 无锡北路. It was like out of a dream: on the edge of an older neighborhood filled with mazelike alleys, but with a corner balcony overlooking the street outside. The whole "apartment" consisted of a single high-ceilinged room, like a studio, with a big make-shift loft and peeling wallpaper, a few random dark-wood cabinets lying around. Very dusty, it was clear that nobody has lived there in a while. From the ceiling hangs a fan (there is no A/C), and curtained windows line two sides of the room. A small run-down bathroom opens out of a corner of the room, and a little shack has been erected on the end of the balcony to serve as a kitchen. To get to the room, you need to climb a dingy staircase up a hallway lined with graffity and aging public service posters. It's probably a 15 minute walk from Henan Middle Road metro station. They were asking RMB 2500 a month, but even taking into account the central location, with the amount of work it would take to get the place in livable condition that asking price is a joke (we live in a 2 bedroom place with A/C and a huge kitchen now for RMB 1800). Besides the fact that we need a place we can move into immediately, I think Jodi's parents might be appalled when they come for the wedding that I took her to live in such a run-down place. And I'm not confident that I would be able to make it live-able by then. Maybe some day... (oh, and the place didn't have a bath/shower. Just use the public one!)

  • Had dinner with Joon at a Fujianese place. Good times.

  • Finally, the main reason we can't live in an older house is that most of them don't have their own kitchens or bathrooms. Generally there is a communal kitchen and public bathrooms, so who need their own? Um, Jodi and I do.

  • I don't know why I wrote this in list form, but no reason to go back and change it.

  • Still, the amount of very clean, orderly, well-maintained 龙堂 neighborhoods in Shanghai is higher than I expected. I'd seen a good example in the Shimen Yi Lu area, but today I saw several more examples.

  • We went to the pet market area (remember, Mom?) to look at houses there, and didn't have any luck with th real estate agents. But while Chris and I were eating lunch at the "2-meats-3-veggies-for-70-cents-US" (plus rice and soup) place, we started chatting with the workers and they got their boss to go check on a couple of houses in the neighborhood. I will go back on Monday to check with her on the status of one place. Actually, that seems to be the way it is with these old houses: sometimes they're just not listed, the only way to know about them is to strike up a conversation with the neighborhood guard, or with a set of old people lounging outside their house, or with one of the shopkeepers. And if nothing else, they can tell you where the nearest real estate office is; they're remarkably rare in these old neighborhoods.

  • One issue foreign-faces have to be aware of in consulting real estate agents about moving into an older style house in Shanghai is that they won't believe (the concept doesn't seem to be able to enter their heads) that you would actually want to live in an older house; to them, all expats have bottomless company expense accounts to draw from in choosing their house, and therefore would never stoop to living among the 老百姓, the common folk. I had to be real emphatic a couple of times.

In other news, I hear through the SMIC school grapevine that in the next issue of the school newspaper I am being compared to Napoleon Dynamite. I'm somewhat flattered.


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