Our Digs

Our Digs

We have been in our apartment for one year.  To celebrate, I want to show you where we live.  I also want to remember. And show the kids later, so they can remember.

One thing I regret not doing before we moved here was taking pictures of all the people and places we love so the kids could look at them and remember. I hope people aren’t offended when we get home and we have to reintroduce some of you. They are young, and a lot has happened. Their memories are not like ours.

So, as a record of our life here, this blog will help us all remember.

Full disclosure. We just returned from our Chinese New Year holiday in Northern Thailand.  We had a wonderful trip by the way, Jannie came for three weeks, and my dad and step-mom met us in Chiang Mai for our two week holiday. It is a gorgeous Thai city with many temples; welcoming, kind people; and amazing day and night markets.  I highly recommend a visit.

Now back to my disclosure.  The Ayi is still on her Chinese New Year holiday and will be for another week.  So, these pictures I am going to share with you here are post-vacation.  Our suitcases have coughed up all the dirty clothes and souvenirs and they are strewn about our tiny little apartment, along with all the stuff that was lying around when we left. I know that many of you people live in varying degrees of mess, just like us.  So I am just putting it all out there. What is it they say about people who live in glass houses?

If you have visited our home in Oregon, I would hope you noticed that I tried to keep it picked up. These pictures, as a I look at them again, are far from picked up. It only leads me to believe the Ayi has enabled me. I’ve let myself go.

On that note, on with the tour.

We are on the third floor (of six) of building seventy-nine (of a huge number, like 180?) of our Chinese apartment compound called Mei Lin Yuan (something about a beautiful garden, which is a bit of a stretch). It is not high end, but my Zambian friend Eubin, the IB Economics teacher, tells me the prices are going up. The compound just replaced pipes under the streets, re-paved, updated plantings, and even put in a little grass–like, along the curbs, so don’t let your mind wander to picnics in the park or anything, more like green areas for dogs to shit with out getting their feet muddy.

The owner of our apartment lives in the near by city of Suzhou and our Chinese friend who helped us rent the place says he is more reasonable than a Shanghai owner would be. It has been implied multiple times that people not from Shanghai generally are more reasonable people to work with. I honestly can’t say.

These apartments are very expensive to buy. An apartment like this would sell for around 1 million USD, so I’ve been told. Rent is 6, 500 RMB per month, which is 963 USD. I will remind you, we were paying double that at our first place, and now we pocket what we don’t spend.  Totally worth it.

Here is our front door.  You can see the kids in the living room enjoying popcorn and a movie. As small as this three bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment is, it has better storage than our four bedroom, three bathroom place we originally moved into when we first arrived in Shanghai.  Good tiny places have smart storage solutions, and this place is good. It also has nice lighting.

The windows are horrible, and the heating impossible, but the storage…that’s where it’s at in this place. The finishes are nice too, but don’t look too closely. That is generally true about Chinese construction.

Here is a better look at the living room. So it came furnished. I don’t love the furnishings, but for the price, it totally meets our needs. In the winter the laundry dries in the living room, otherwise it doesn’t dry.  In the other three seasons, you can see there is an enclosed laundry porch, clothes dry very quickly out there and it is great for storage and letting in natural light.

We have to drink the water from the jugs, the tap water probably won’t make you sick, it does go through water treatment plants. There are concerns, however, including metals from old pipes through out the city and the storage tanks used within apartment compounds/complexes are not cleaned as regularly as they should be and/or the water quality checks required by the government are fibbed. The water jugs are cheap, and delivered, and Ayi calls for replacements. Easy.

Here is a little Christmas in Shanghai this year.

And here is the laundry porch. We store our suitcases and the Christmas tree out there, along with cleaning supplies. There are metal racks along the ceiling for hanging clothes and has a million dollar view of the pinkish apartment buildings around us. Washer, yes. Dryer, no. Normal for this part of the world.

Here is the eating area, again, note the storage behind the table. To the left is the kitchen.

The kitchen is tiny, and super cold, but we can shut the doors going into the kitchen which helps keep a little heat in.

Ovens are not common in Chinese apartments, below the gas stove top is what they tell me is a dish sanitizer.  Not a dish washer, mind you. I have not tired to use it for anything but storage. I have a little toaster oven there on the counter. It has made cakes, and cookies, roasted veggies and sandwich melts.  It works fine as long as what you are making is small.  And of course a rice cooker.  It is low-end, there are really nice ones out there. This is not one of those. But it makes rice.

Big refrigerator!  Good storage.

The hallway to a bathroom and three bedrooms. That looks clean! Don’t be fooled.

Bathroom. I like this one for the shower that doesn’t get cold quickly and the storage closet off the hallway.  A storage closet!  Seriously a luxury after the last place.

Pretty normal stuff here. Right? Totally livable.

Kids room. I love these built-in desks, and yes, they do homework there, and build legos, and color…you wouldn’t knowing it by looking at it. But I promise it happens.  I wish those were my work spaces, but they’re not. And the bunks were built in that room and can not be moved into another room.  So, kids have a perfect place to engineer their dream lego ships and practice their spelling words…

And you know what, thanks to Ayi those beds are made everyday, the work space cleaned off, books stacked neatly, and laundry folded and put away.

I really should have waited a week to write this…then you could see what sort of luxury I live in here.

But in a week I will be dreaming about warm Thai vacations with loved ones and barely keeping my head above water at work. So, you see it like this.  Better than not at all, I figure.

Master bedroom has great storage and a lovely bathroom.

Our room, the kids room and the living room all have air filters (see it on the wall behind Magnus). These are very important, because the windows and the heating/cooling systems do not keep these harmful pollutants out of our house. One thing I definitely will not miss. Although by the sounds of things we need them in Oregon during wild fire season as well.

Did you see that nice, big,  built-in closet? There is one on both sides of the bed, and they’re all mine! Aaron keeps his clothes in the spare room closet.

Jannie is still here.  We let our guests stay in the room with a private bathroom. I will be happy to remember this room with suitcases on the floor and grandmas and grandpas and tantes in the house. It’s better that way.

This bathroom would be my favorite place if the hot water lasted longer than 4 minutes. This apartment is so cold in the winter.  I can not risk ending a shower with cold water as I try to rinse the conditioner out of my hair.  I am telling you, I can not live my life this way. I know other people can. They are made of stronger stuff than I.

Spring, Summer, early Fall, love it in here.  Nobody wants a hot shower in Shanghai during those times of the year. But right now, it is only for Aaron’s fast showers and Magnus’s baths. Nora and I enjoy our hot showers being longer than 4 minutes long. Thank you very much.

Spare room is super sparse. Originally, Aaron and I thought we would sleep in the spare room because the master bedroom has a small bed made for small Chinese people.  Aaron and I are not small, especially by Chinese standards.  So, we specifically asked the landlord to put a big bed in, even if it filled the whole room.  Well, what you can’t tell by looking at them, is that Chinese mattresses are like sleeping on the ground.  And this bed, while providing us room to stretch out a bit, is as hard as a rock.  Now, don’t be fooled. The master bed is hard, too, but not as hard a this sucker. So, we sleep closer together on a bed just slightly softer than sleeping on the ground.

Now, the compound is looking better than it did when we first moved in, but I will tell you this is no place for children to run and play. There is no green space.  There is no play ground.  The closest thing to a play ground is the exercise area where older Chinese women do their synchronized dance-marching early in the morning and use the equipment to maintain their unbelievable flexibility. I really should take a picture of these old ladies with their feet above their heads stretching, but they aren’t the warmest women, and I don’t enjoy being told off by old Chinese ladies. They aren’t shy, either. They are not afraid to let you know what you may be doing wrong.

So we ride bikes and scooters, we play ball a bit, we watch out for cars and the fast moving delivery scooters that zip around in the compound day and night. The kids have named all the stray cats and we avoid the not-so-stray dogs. We don’t avoid them because they are mean, but because they look rough around the edges and the kids think because they look tough they must be tough. The dogs are not trying too hard to prove us wrong, either. My kids have developed a healthy fear of dogs, which they lacked when we came to China.  I don’t think it is a bad thing, actually. Dogs can be unpredictable and so can small children. There is benefit in a healthy dose of uncertainty, and I do not regret the rabies vaccines the kids had to endure before we moved here. Just saying.

Kids playing a little football (soccer).

Halloween time, on our way to school!

The Chinese people within our compound stare at us everyday. It is a Chinese thing. They either are a little surprised we are there or have gotten used to us, either way they stare. Some smile when we pass, which is not actually a normal thing for Chinese people to do. Some try to engage us in conversations, where I use all my best Chinese apologies because even after months of weekly lessons I can’t understand most things they say to me. (silent whimper of sadness)

Its a good little life we have here.  The learning, the wealth of experiences this life has allowed us to have, the amazing international community of friends, it really has been a gift.

We ache for home, the back yard, grandparents, and friends.  We will have these soon enough though. So until July first, when we return to Oregon, I try to remind myself (and the family) to enjoy every bit of this life while we have it. It is a blessed and rich life that I want us to remember.



2 thoughts on “Our Digs

  1. Kate, so enjoyed your writing again. Glad the vacation jn Thailand was wonderful. Happy new year! Tom’s and my team name for RAGBRAI (cycle across Iowa) this year is PDX DuiZhu – Portland Team Pig! Keep making all those great memories. Magnus and Nora look so adorable in all the photos.

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