The owner of our flat (“You can call me Christina”) has worked for General Motors for most of the 10 years since her graduation from university and speaks a little English. Her husband is the General Manager of Land Rover’s service operations in China. Just after her marriage in 2002, she had purchased the 30th floor apartment in the then-new complex. (It is common for thrifty parents to dip into their substantial savings to help their child purchase a first home.) Her flat had been on the market for two months, and she had already nixed three prospective renters as unsuitable.
Christina agreed to provide a desk for Tom and a foam pad for the king size bed, which like many Chinese beds was hard as a rock. Immediately after concluding the lease agreement, Christina drove us in her luxurious new Buick way out in the suburbs to the largest Ikea we had ever seen. But apart from its scale, it was exactly like the Ikea in Oakland – same layout, same products, same Swedish meatballs.
Christina was obviously an Ikea veteran. She steered us at top speed through the store to the required items, picked up the merchandise, paid using her Ikea member discount card, and arranged for delivery the following weekend. She whisked us back into central Shanghai at 9:30pm. We were gaga from jet lag, but finished with a major task of getting settled.
Following many upwardly mobile Chinese, Christina and her husband recently purchased a new flat in a suburban high-rise complex. Christina is outfitting their new house with all new things, no doubt also purchased at Ikea, so she is glad to leave behind all her furniture, dishes and kitchenware. She even loaned us her huge collection of pirated DVDs. Since we arrived in Shanghai with only clothes, books, and a few personal items, this made getting settled much easier. We moved in only one week after arriving in Shanghai.
Unlike Christina, we prefer living in the middle of the big city close to the narrow streets with open-front shops and ordinary Chinese people going about their business. We’ll have a great opportunity while still living in a modern flat.
Happy to make it to Shanghai, we deposited our bags in our hotel room, revived ourselves with bowls of delicious wonton soup (called huntun in standard Mandarin) in a room full of slurping locals, then set out to look for rentals in neighborhoods we had already identified. We recruited a couple of English-speaking brokers but also talked in Chinese with local agents who have tiny offices near residential complexes.
Late Tuesday afternoon, we visited the seventh of the flats, this time with a local agent who had previously shown us a room in an older building that was so dingy we were scared to go inside. Our expectations were low because the quoted price was the cheapest of all the places we had seen, but we figured we’d at least get a free Chinese lesson. And the location was good, just south of the Puxi old town, near the French Concession area and only a few subway stops from Tom’s work across the river in the Pudong district.
To our surprise, we were ushered into a very nice 30th-floor flat in a relatively new complex of high-rise buildings. The owner, a fashionable 30-something Chinese woman, was there to “look us over”. She seemed to like us, and we decided on the spot that her flat would be our new home. That evening we initiated the lease process.
The next evening, we completed the lease agreement and handed over a stack of 100 yuan ($15) notes for three months’ rent and a deposit. We were impressed with the efficiency of the nascent Shanghai legal system. The rental agreements and process are standardized, and the agent insisted we bring a Chinese-speaking colleague to ensure we understood the agreements we were signing.
We arrived in Shanghai Monday, October 23, after an overnight delay in Beijing of a connecting flight to Shanghai whose Airbus had developed some kind of equipment problem. We arrived back at the gate after a night in the hotel only to see the airplane pulling away to the surprise even of the gate agent. A few phone minutes later, Air China announced they were “taking it out for a test flight” and gave us each the equivalent of $50 in cash to make us feel better. We didn’t.
As many of you already know, we have moved to Shanghai. With Tom’s expertise and contacts from 25 years in the industry, we are starting a consulting business focused on information management systems for pharmaceutical and chemical research. Our target customers are Western companies conducting research in China.
As life unfolds for us here in Shanghai, we will post notes and photos about our personal experience of daily life among the locals in one of China’s great cities. If you’d like our blog to ping you by email when we post a new note, you can “join this site”.
If our notes pique your interest and you want to learn more about contemporary China, Marcia can email you her list of recommended books (email@example.com)