Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Pad - Our Place in Shanghai

Shanghai is both a city and a province in China. Depending on where you look, the population of the metropolitan area is between 15 and 20 million people. The city is divided by the Huangpu River - the area to the west is called Puxi (poo-shee) while the area to the east, where we live and work, is called Pudong. Pudong is new (basically built in the last 20 years) and has wide streets, a fair amount of open space, and the Lu Jia Zui financial district. Puxi is more like what we would call traditional China, with lots of people, crowded streets, and a more vibrant night-life.

Our apartment is at a complex called Seasons Villas, which is more or less a compound full of expats. It is located about 20 minutes (with no traffic) southeast of downtown Pudong, where Matt's office is located. The Yew Chung International School, where Karen works, is located across the street and is basically a part of our complex. Everyone we talk to is very curious about what things look like here - both in and around our new home, so here is our response.

We live on the 10th floor of one of 12 apartment buildings within a community of homes, townhomes, and apartment buildings. A photo of the building next to ours (ours looks the same) is provided and there is a yellow rectangle around the part that we live in. After this are a series of photos with commentary that provide a visual tour of our apartment. According to our real estate agent, who provided incomplete and incorrect information as a matter of practice, our apartment is about 1,400 SF. This is probably a stretch, but we haven't measured. Regardless, it is much larger than either of our places in Denver and Evanston.

Fortunately, there is an elevator to take us up to the 10th floor. It is interesting to note that there are no 4th, 14th, 24th, or other such floors in China because the written character for 4 looks something like the one for death (at least this is what we've been told). The buttons in the elevator just go from 3 to 5. Anyhow, when you get out of the elevator and walk through our front door, you see our main room (entry/living/dining room) - see the first picture below.

There is also a photo looking the other way, which shows our cool spiral staircase (strangely reminiscent of our condo in Denver). The place is basically fully-furnished so we are not missing our shipment too much. You can see the painting that we bought during our time in Vietnam on the wall to the left in the first photo (negotiated purchase price at random art gallery in Hanoi, Vietnam - $200; price quoted by an art gallery in Boston for the same painting - $2500).

Next, you'll see the kitchen, which has a very small outside deck off of it. The kitchen is fully-equipped, which is definitely not normal here. We have an oven/range, dishwasher, microwave, and an almost full-size fridge. Most apartments are missing one or more of the appliances we westerners typically regard as 'essential'. Ovens are not common because Chinese people usually cook with woks. Actually, most kitchens we saw when apartment hunting were where the wash machine was, usually in the place for the dishwasher. Dryers are not common because most Chinese people hang their clothes to dry. Actually, hanging clothes seems to be some kind of an iconic symbol of life in China and is rumored to be the reason that the Chinese government banned the movie Mission Impossible 3 from airing in China (they didn't like its portrayal of Shanghai with clothes hanging everywhere).

Anyhow, this little deck is where our washer and dryer sit - what a luxury after a year in Evanston without in-unit laundry facilities! The outdoor washer/dryer concept might be less exciting when winter comes. You can also see our office-type water cooler. It is not a good idea to drink the water here. At the office, at the restaurant, and at home, bottled water is the norm. Depending on the day and location, water from the public system here is questionable at best and sometimes has an odd coloration and even an odor. So far, we have not had issues with the tap water at our apartment.

Next, you can see a lovely shot of our one bathroom. It is nice enough and has hot water (which took us two or three days to figure out how to use). However, the best parts are that it has a reliable supply of toilet paper (China is largely a bring-your-own-wipe kind of place) and there is actually a toilet to sit on (no squatting required.... another Chinese norm).

On either side of the bathroom, are the bedrooms. They are pretty plain but have large closets and decent beds - one with a queen and one with a king. In the lower photo, Karen is relaxing under the covers talking to our friends Aaron and Ulrika in New Zealand on Skype (I love technology). The other shot is in the second bedroom and shows Karen's morning make-up area (her precious vanity space), which is also the location of our Vonage phone (the one with the Chicago number). So if we are talking to you on that line, odds are that we are sitting there using the green phone you can see on the desk.

The next area, which is much more exciting to us, is the upstairs. We have a small loft room with a storage closet and a huge roof deck. To Karen's joy, we purchased (after 5+ years of talking about how great it would be) an elliptical machine. In addition, we got some small stairstepper contraption and a jump rope to complete our home gym area. In case you're wondering, wall-to-wall mirrors are on order. Next to the gym we have a decently comfortable, queen-size futon (the red one in the picture). We want to take this opportunity to point out that we have two queen beds, a couch, and a lot of floor space to accomodate guests - think about it.

Next, we'll take you outside to the roof deck, which by the way is where the picture of Shanghai at the top was taken from. We have made outfitting our roof deck with cool amenities a priority. We have trees that are supposed to be able to survive the winter (that is a surprisingly difficult question to draw and get a definitive answer to non-verbally - read: manifestation of the language barrier), some lounge chairs, a table and chairs (came with the apartment), and best of all, a big stainless steel barbecue and a fire pit. The BBQ, aside from being a strange and necessary symbol of manhood to Matt (maybe its the Kellogg nostalgic value), has actually a been pretty nice place to cook good meat the way we like. Life here has been pretty light on meat we actually want to eat - fat, bones, skin, and other foreign parts are omnipresent. The fire pit, certainly a silly impulse buy with minimal function, enticed us with visions of hanging out on our cool roof deck roasting marshmellows with friends. We still have to figure out how and where to buy wood; wood imported from Canada costs about $2 per log - ouch!

Anyhow, from up here, we have a nice view of the complex and some of the city. The picture with the clearly visible houses in the foreground gives you an impression of what our community looks like. There is a building towards the upper left of the picture that has a red rectangle around it. This is Karen's school and you can basically see what a nice 'commute' she has (a 5 minute walk). The other picture shows you a small amount of the enormous Shanghai skyline. The needle enclosed in another red rectangle (click it to see) is the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower (AKA TV Tower) downtown. This is a few blocks away from Matt's office. You can also see the clubhouse and outdoor pool for our community in the picture (in the larger red rectangle in the right foreground).

Sorry this is a little long and very detailed. Hopefully those who were curious now have a pretty clear understanding of where we live and what we see. We'll post more soon on daily life and what we see away from home. Thanks for reading, have a great Labor Day weekend (you Americans, that is... we don't get that here), and we'll talk to you soon.


Jantine said...

It's not to long! It's great to finally see where you're living!
I love your BBQ!!!! Jaap and I have to come, so that Matt can make some nice burgers "Evanston style"!

Keep us up to date about your experiences!!!


Jaap said...

Hi Karen & Matt,

That looks really really cool! Especially the top floor is awesome!!! I can't wait to have a BBQ night there!


Justine said...

ok, i am again seriously thinking about coming to visit in the next few months... have any preference/open dates i should think about???