Here it is, the long overdue update on house hunting in China. Our saga left off with me sitting in the SOS office in Flint in pursuit of the illusive gold sticker followed by our arrival in Shanghai where we almost left with the wrong driver. (He was also holding up a “David Williams” sign.) After slogging through rush hour in Shanghai we finally made it to Suzhou and our hotel.
We managed to stay awake long enough to meet a coworker for dinner, and then promptly fell asleep…until ~4 am when my body decided it was time to be wide awake. This was made worse by the fact that we were not supposed to eat until after our medical exam at 9am. The medical exam itself turned out to be like a scavenger hunt where you could only read half the clue, and still didn’t know what it meant. We were ushered in and out of different exam rooms with our translator to get our eyes, height, weight, blood etc checked out to make sure we were healthy and not bringing any strange diseases into China I suppose. The woman conducting our eye exams was impressed by how well we could read the tiny symbols, but David had some trouble with the color test as he thought a picture of an umbrella was a number 12 and insisted the cow picture was a chicken. Even with her limited English the nurse got a good laugh out of that one.
Next we went to set up our bank accounts which resulted in a long wait, but it was well worth it when we got our bright green cards with the ping pong cartoon logo on them! We tested them out in the ATMs to make sure they worked and learned a valuable lesson: select “English” before entering your pin number or you will be locked in a glass phone booth with Chinese symbols on the screen. Our translator had to rescue David from this fate. I had the benefit of learning from his mistake. 🙂 After surviving the bank we went off to lunch where our translator ordered 5 dishes for the three of us, causing an excessive amount of leftovers to be generated. The food was really good though!
Up next were driver interviews. When living abroad in China our company has deemed it necessary to provide a vehicle and a driver rather than deal with the liability of an expat driving. After seeing some driving in China, I am not at all surprised. The interviews themselves were awkward because: what do you ask someone about how they’re going to drive you around without having a test drive? We ended up asking generic “tell us about your family,” “do you smoke in the car,” “are you ok with dogs,” “have you ever had an accident,” “how close do you live to this area” etc. Most drivers leaned fairly heavily on the translator, but one was able to answer at least half of the questions in English, so he became our our top choice. His name is Jacky and we will start getting to know him better when we arrive in July/August! At this point in our day we had just enough time to get back to our hotel and get ready for dinner with the plant operations manager.
Day two and three we set off on our real house hunting adventure and looked at 7 different apartment complexes all around Jinji Lake. I’ll spare you a majority of details on the other complexes, but we decided on our favorite one (Marina Cove) and made a list of items we would want changed/fixed before moving in.
This list would be very important we were told because anything that didn’t make it into the contract in writing could not be guaranteed. On the top of our list was requesting a club membership to use the extensive workout/pool facilities in the complex as well as a large TV in the living room with satellite service. We also requested an underground parking spot so our driver wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of calling us or checking in at the guard shack every time he came to get us. Other items on our list included softer mattresses (the Chinese standard is more or less a large wooden box with fabric over it), a water cooler (because drinking tap water there is not recommended), a toaster (an item we didn’t care about that they could reject), washer and dryer (this is important because they make combo units that can’t really dry clothes as there is no vent for the hot moist air), and we requested a broken gate be fixed. Our first pass at requesting these items went well as all items that were important to us were accepted (no new mattress, toaster, or internet fee included though). We were then told they wanted us to start the lease two weeks early because there was other interest in the unit and it would be 2.5 months before we would actually move there.
We were aware that others were looking at the unit because they happened to be waiting outside the apartment when we arrived to take a tour. We were allowed in first for some reason and reminded by the realtor once or twice after the fact that others were looking at this unit too. I cannot tell if this was a staged event to cause us to “offer more” or if it is standard to conduct walk-throughs in this fashion. Either way, I am sure if the other couple was willing to pay more we would be out of luck, so the fact that we’re still negotiating means we might be in ok shape. Either way we are still in negotiation at this point as neither us or our company are willing to start the lease early. It is possible we will end up having to explore other units in the same complex, but we really hope not.
During our travels we also got to enjoy some of the incorrectly translated English signs around a majority of the properties we visited. Time to learn some Chinese characters I guess!?
UPDATE: as of 4am the landlord has agreed to an August 1st start date and they are starting to work on the contract!