Having lived in China for half a decade, we’ve called quite a few places home over the years. We’ve had a school-provided apartment, a rented room, slept on friend’s couches, and even rented a few places of our own. Here are descriptions of each place we’ve lived with all relevant details to give you an idea of what it’s like living in Chinese apartments.
#1 – School Provided Apartment
When I (Sasha) first came to China in 2008 on my own, I was part of a program called Culture Gateway. Since I had never been to China, knew very little about it, and spoke exactly zero Chinese, I wanted to be a part of a group and not do everything on my own. The program provided us with apartments, jobs, Chinese lessons, and all that good stuff. There were just a few slight problems, namely that our apartment sucked and was in the middle of nowhere. Even Beijing taxi drivers laughed at us when they heard where we lived. I was in a 5-bedroom apartment with four other guys. I had my own room, but the program did a laughable job of furnishing the place. It seemed like the only other people that lived there were Chinese retirees – not exactly who we were looking to mingle with. We were far away from the subway station, restaurants, or decent markets, adding to the misery of our living experience. After failed attempts at rectifying the situation, the program lost most of its teachers as most of us quit, moved out, and found our own jobs.
#2 – Bachelor Pad in the Wu
Next up, I found a place with two other defectors from CG in the student district of Beijing – Wudaokou. Better known as “the Wu,” this was more up our alley as recently graduated, single young expats. We had a 3-bedroom place and each of us paid around 1,700 RMB/month (about $275). It was furnished, but the “sofas” in the living room were more like hard benches. The location was great, though – steps away from a big market, plenty of restaurants nearby, bus and subway stations around the corner, and a few great bars a stone’s throw away.
- Location: Wudaokou, Beijing
- Space: 1 room in a 3-BR apartment
- Cost: 1,700 RMB/month
#3 – Rented Room in a Shared Apt.
When we got to Beijing together in the winter of 2010, we thought we’d be living with a few friends for a while as we searched for our own place. Plans changed, however, and we ended up needing to find a spot sooner than we had imagined. Without enough money to sign our own contract, we were left looking for rooms for rent. After checking out a few places, we ended up living in the large upstairs room of a 2-floor apartment in a great central part of Beijing. With a few desks, a nice sitting area, and even our own bathroom, it was a great living arrangement. That was until we found out one roommate was cheating us and the other guy and we were basically paying his rent. In an attempt to disappear without being held accountable, “Shithead” (what we call him now) moved our stuff out while we were in Inner Mongolia and also moved himself out. We were left homeless in Beijing, but thanks to good friends we had a place to stay temporarily while we figured it out.
- Location: Dongsishitiao, Beijing
- Space: Studio sized room upstairs in a 2-floor apartment , w/ bathroom
- Cost: 3,200 RMB/month
#4 – New Digs in Beijing
After spending a summer living in tents on Phish tour, a few months sharing a disgusting college house, and the awful experience of our first place in Beijing, we decided it was time for us to finally be adults and get our own apartment. In a span of a few weeks, Rachel looked at over 30 apartments with lousy Chinese agents – not a single one was appealing. About ready to give up, we finally inquired at the management office at our friends’ place. There were both 2 and 3-BR places available, but the 2-BR wasn’t great and they were almost the same price. When we found out that our friend Craig was also looking for a room, we decided to spring for the 3-BR.
Located in a nice neighborhood – complete with a huge park and a castle – this apartment was great. We had a spacious living room with comfy couches, a little balcony, actual bathtubs, plenty of storage space, and even a massive fish tank! We ended up staying there for three whole years and have very fond memories of our time there. As a matter of fact, leaving that apartment was one of the hardest things about leaving Beijing.
- Location: Sanyuanqiao, Beijing
- Space: Master bedroom (en suite) plus office in a shared 3-BR apartment
- Cost: 4,000 RMB/month ($640) for first 2 years, 5,000/month ($800) for the 3rd
#5 – Finally, Our Own Place!
After years of sharing an apartment with friends and strangers and 14 whole months out on the road, we decided to get our very own apartment in our new home of Kunming. This search was far and away the easiest one we ever did – we simply found an ad on GoKunming from a guy who wanted to move out around the time we were getting there. When we got to Kunming, we headed from the train station straight to our new place, moved right in, and met the landlady a few days later to arrange a new contract. We’ve got a big 2-BR place all to ourselves that’s in a great location, and we’re spending half of what we did in Beijing. The only complaints here are the noisy dogs outside and the lousy plumbing in this old building, but we’re quite happy here.
- Location: Wuhua District, Kunming
- Space: A 2-BR apartment all to ourselves
- Cost: 2,500 RMB/month (around $400)