Flat Hunting in Chengdu

At the top of Joe and I’s priority list when we arrived in Chengdu was to find somewhere to live.  My friend and colleague from the dark days at a previous employer and her boyfriend very kindly put us up for our first few nights and then proceeded to play an invaluable role in helping us find somewhere of our own!  Everything moves incredibly fast here in Chengdu and we knew that the chances were that we would be able to move in to an apartment almost as soon as we found one…the tricky part was finding somewhere suitable.

First up was finding an estate agent.  Luckily they are pretty easy to come by in Chengdu and we quickly identified a slightly nervous but very enthusiastic young man to show us round.  By which I mean, our aforementioned friends arranged all this for us whilst Joe and I stood around mute and eagerly smiling in the background, cringing slightly at the fact we had literally no idea what anyone was saying. Judging by the crowd that gathered around us in the agency I think two foreigners looking for an apartment generated some excitement.  It is safe to say that our agent’s enthusiasm definitely faded over the course of the day as we traipsed from viewing to viewing, getting increasingly more despondent.

There are some quirks about viewing apartments in China – namely the fact that previous tenants don’t have to clean before they move out.  Or indeed move out any belongings that they can’t be bothered to pack, which led to some interesting discoveries in some flats.  I’m keeping this blog PG due to my family members being my main (if not only) readers so will leave it to your imagination as to what we discovered in one particular bedside cabinet!  Traipsing around consecutive filthy flats it was hard to see past the grime even as I desperately ran through the IKEA home furnishings catalogue in my head to try and persuade myself that a new throw on the stained sofa would change everything!  Things got interesting when the estate agent declared they were going to take us to see a flat that they themselves thought was filthy…having seen endless stains, mould and cigarette butts in the toilet it was intriguing to see what made a flat cross the line to become ‘estate agent filthy’.  Turns out the crucial component is a carpet – an unusual asset in apartments here and for very good reason; it was basically a sticky petrie dish of disease.

The other issue was space.  The apartments we were viewing were all in modern complexes which, whilst very aesthetically pleasing from the outside, are tiny on the inside.  For two tall, lanky foreigners this isn’t ideal.  I also took a particular issue to several flats due to the bathroom facilities – one mezzanine studio with no privacy had a shower curtain in place of a door and another two lacked any external walls and instead had a plain glass window that opened into the bedroom.  For someone who could barely cope with the ensuite bathroom in my London flat if someone was in my room, these flats weren’t really my bag.

After viewing seven such flats and exhausting all modern one beds on the estate agent’s books, they proposed one last complex for us to view.  In contrast to the others, this one was an old-style seventies (probably) complex where lifts are replaced by concrete staircases and the open spaces substituted with narrowed alleys and open air rubbish dumps.  From the outside they look quite rundown with damp stains and crumbling plaster.  However, whatever beauty it may lack on the outside is more than made up for by the amount of space offered in the apartments themselves.  We were ushered in to view a sprawling (relatively speaking), two bedroom apartment with a full size kitchen and large lounge and dining area.  What’s more, it was spotlessly clean with freshly painted white walls and gleaming, white glossed furniture – it even had a brand new loo, complete with bathroom door!  In short, it was absolutely what we were after!  It would have been easy to be exasperated with the estate agents for not showing us this flat sooner but I could understand their reluctance.  Here, shiny new things are seen as desirable and just like in London, most people would prefer to live in an attractive new build over what is essentially the equivalent of a rundown council estate.  I myself would probably have found it hard to put my snobbery to one side if taken here first, before seeing how little our money would get us elsewhere.  However sick of flat viewing I may have been, in hindsight it really was perfect that this flat was unveiled so late on – so we could really appreciate how much of a gem it was!  Within 10 minutes we’d agreed to move in with the proviso that a washing machine was installed and that our rent was reduced – all expertly negotiated by our exceptionally patient friends and readily agreed to by the agent and landlord.  We even got a brand new gas hob installed the next day when we moved in and discovered it didn’t work. London landlords could definitely do with taking a leaf out of Chengdu’s book!

Moving in was accompanied by the crucial trip to IKEA, a visit from a locksmith to change our locks (old tenants don’t have to return keys here) and the internet man drilling holes in our wall to have our Wifi up and running within hours of requesting it.  The efficiency is mind blowing!  As is the price – the six months rent I have paid up front is less than one month’s rent in London.  If I had any doubts about leaving that city, this experience has quashed them.

Our neighbourhood and complex are wonderful.  Our neighbours are primarily OAPs and during the day small groups gather on armchairs and seats placed outside to play cards and mahjong.  Toy poodles in ridiculous outfits run around everywhere and chickens scratch around outside buildings before inevitably becoming someone’s dinner.  Just across the road we can get huge portions of fiery dàndanmiàn (担担面), my new addiction, for a pound and I’ve also developed an unhealthy addiction to the local bakeries cronuts.  It’s safe to say living here is not going to be good for my waistline!  The need for us to get bikes and start cycling it all off is now pressing!

I’ve put some fairly terrible photos of our apartment below – an interior design photographer I am not!

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Our block

Our block

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