Apartment Hunting: Beijing Style Part I

21 05 2011

By Chris Lam

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since I arrived in Beijing 5 days ago.  So much has happened between Tuesday and Saturday, I just haven’t had a chance to blog about any of it until now.  So I will do my best to recap for everyone.  The first 2 days I was pretty jet-lagged; but I think my sleep schedule has finally begun to adjust to being 12 hours ahead (of EST). This past Wednesday, I went in for my first day at the George Institute (GI); where I will be interning for the summer and met up with my mentor and colleagues.  The folks at the GI have been super welcoming and helpful in my adjustment to life here in China.  The food has been great so check out my personal blog (dogdaysindurham.wordpress.com) where I will post non-project related stuff. A bunch of folks from the GI have definitely eased my initial feelings of being homesick and adjusting to the hustle and bustle of Beijing. I had to unfortunately miss this sightseeing trip to Shanxi that my mentor had organized for the institute (Thursday through today); because of a more pressing need, housing!

The pressing issue for me to handle by the end of the weekend was to find my long term accommodations for the summer. I have been staying at Xi Hua hotel near  Peking University (PKU) for a couple of days until I could find a suitable place in Beijing. The folks at the George Institute (GI) had been trying really desperately to find a long term place for me near their office in the Haidian District; but there is a lot of demand due to the summer influx of foreign students, expats, and ever expanding population. I think there are 20 million people that live within the city limits of Beijing. While there were some vacancies at these crazy western style apartments (that are serviced like a hotel) that would cost at least 2 to 10 times what my rent is back in Durham. The ones within my budget were getting snapped up like hot cakes. On my first official day at GI, their HR folks had set up an apartment visit; but after my guide and translator arrived in the early afternoon, the unit had been already rented out (despite being available that morning). This had happened numerous times earlier when the folks at GI had tried to get photos of potential places to send me when I was still stateside. But before they could even get in to take a picture the place would be taken!

Just FYI, Haidian District is in the NW portion of Beijing and contains a huge concentration software and computer companies (and is known as China’s version of Silicon Valley with offices / local HQs for companies like Google, Microsoft, among others). Also, a lot of the area is located within the third “ring”; which are concentric roads connecting the city. The areas in the central part of Beijing known as CBU are very popular with expats and others so as your commute increases from this area, the rent tends to go down. Thus, I had set out for a much wider net (geographically) with the help of a local apartment rental agency. I stumbled upon a rental agency via internet when I was back in Durham and just browsing for fun. So I was advised by folks that I might have to look at a place that was a little further outside the third ring (so 4th ring it was). The neighborhood the rental agents had suggested was Wuodaokou. After following up with the agents I was set to meet with them at the Wudaokou subway station the following day (Thursday).  Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure which route to take on the subway so I decided to go by foot to the station from my hotel. It’s about a 6 to 7 km walk from my hotel; but I figure it would be great exercise. The weather isn’t too warm yet in Beijing and I figured I save money versus getting

a taxi. After downloading a map to my phone (which doesn’t work in China, thanks Verizon …).  I had to first had to cut through PKU; which has an amazingly beautiful campus. I thought I had gotten lost and was walking through the Summer Palace or something.  There were these newer buildings on campus that still retains the traditional styling cues of Imperial Palace that I really liked. There was a great visual balance between modern and traditional China. There was also this really beautiful lake and pagoda right on campus.  I forgot to take pictures of  some of the much older buildings located in the interior of the campus, so I will try to include some more pictures in another post.

Well, after exiting on the other side of campus, I proceeded to make a wrong turn. I ended up walking through Tsinghua University and having to double back to get on the right street that would lead me to Wuodaokou station. This added like 30 minutes to my walk; but fortunately the rental agents were super understanding. Well I guess I blogged for long enough, stay tuned for part II of Apartment Hunting.

BTW, the traffic here is a lot more congested and chaotic than what I had expected.  Though with a population of nearly 20 million people it’s jammed packed. As a pedestrian here in Beijing, you are the lowest person on the totem pole (i.e. cars, motorcycles, bicycles don’t yield to you at cross walks, even if you have the cross walk light).   I also almost got hit my second day in Beijing by a bright yellow Lamborghini making a right turn. Note how the cars and bicycles seem to ignore the traffic signals.

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3 responses

21 05 2011
Joy Ogunmuyiwa

Sounds intense! I’m almost postive I wouldn’t be able to compose myself as well as you seem to be in your situation. I hope everything works out soon though.

-a fellow DGHI grant student!

23 05 2011
dogdaysindurham

Joy, It kind of went by in a blur and I knew that I had to pick a place no matter what; because it was too expensive to stay in a hotel for much longer.

P.S. I’m glad you didn’t lose your luggage after all! But that is such a huge pain to have to go pick them up yourself!

26 05 2011
Alyssa

You got hit by a yellow Lamborghini? I suppose you are okay since it was a brief comment at the end of your post. I hope you find a place soon enough! Can’t wait to hear more about your internship at the GI!

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