Our home-finding trip to China was a bit like a Lifetime movie, but I'll get to that later. We were allowed one week in China to find a home/apartment, look at schools for LBean and become familiar with Suzhou. We left Chicago on a Thursday, after a seven hour delay due to weather and equipment issues, flew 14 hours and arrived in Shanghai on Friday evening. You know you're half-way through your flight when the plane is over Alaska. Because of the shape of the Earth, it's faster to fly up near the Arctic circle and back down again.
Saturday morning we hit the ground running with our realtor and a spouse of another engineer in Suzhou. We looked at apartments all day long and even managed to drop in on a new friend that I had corresponded with via email (another wife of an engineer at the same company), but had never met. When she said "drop in any time", I did!
Sunday was spent with other ex-pats attending fellowship, eating on Bar street (the name is obvious), walking through old town and taking the bus home. Monday was more looking at apartments and homes. Tuesday we started looking at schools and Tuesday night we tried a local Mexican place with a few of the ex-pat engineers. And then it happened...Wednesday morning I got sick, really, really sick. In China you can't drink the water, which means no fruits or veggies washed in the local water, no ice in the drinks and brushing your teeth with bottled water. It's hard telling where I went wrong, but it was wrong!
We met with our realtor and her boss for lunch (of course at a spicy Chinese place) and I tried to delicately refuse most of lunch. After lunch we toured a potential school for LBean and I know I was more than a little green in the face. I managed to make it through the school tour and then I had to be taken back to the hotel. Jamie went on to another apartment, got an inexpensive China cell phone and picked out the van style he wanted.
Wednesday night we stayed in and I was starting to feel much better. He showed me video he had taken of the apartment from the afternoon and we made some decisions on which apartments we wanted to re-visit on Thursday. We were ready to start negotiating and find a place to live! Before we had traveled to China, we weren't sure if we would want to live in the gated community with single-family homes with yards or in an apartment closer to the shopping and downtown area. The decision was basically made for us; there were no single-family homes available and the town house was not an option for us because the four-story open stairwell made us very nervous! So, apartment living it is!
Of course everything is done a little differently in China, so we had a lot to learn about choosing an apartment. One of the apartments we liked was in a community with several other families from the same company, but the landlord couldn't be reached by cell phone and some resistance on moving out existing furniture ruled out that option. So, then it was on to the next top choice, which ironically was the first apartment we toured and the last apartment we toured. Again, there was some difficulty reaching a landlord (she lived in another country), so we moved our focus to the apartment in complex called Horizon that Jamie had toured on Wednesday afternoon.
And that is where the bad Lifetime movie begins. It goes like this...Jamie tours apartment on Wednesday afternoon, I go back with him on Thursday morning, we agree that with a few modifications the apartment could work for us, and we ask our realtor to start negotiating for us (things such as glassing in the open balcony on the 27th floor, full-size refrigerator-everything in China is negotiable!). It is set that we will sign papers Friday morning before we fly out.
Friday morning rolls around (please remember that we have been here for a full week now) and at 10 a.m. our realtor and her boss meet us at the hotel...uh-oh. It appears that the negotiations are not finished and the landlord needs to be reassured that we are indeed moving to Suzhou. So, we all walk over to Horizon and go back up to the apartment where our realtor's boss and the Chinese landlady begin some serious talks. Actually some of the points that she brought up were very valid and had to do with the company's policy on housing contracts, but it was nothing that we could change.
The clock is ticking and we are scheduled to leave our hotel at noon to get to the Shanghai airport in time for our flight. We start walking around the apartment, double-checking wants/needs for the negotiations and well, I did it, I started crying. Not a lot, but just a few tears. I'm trying to explain to our realtors that the movers are coming in 10 days (10 days!) and I need to know where I am living so I can pack appropriately. I might have uttered the words, "I need to know where my children are going to live."
We all shuffle back into the living room and I try to compose myself. I really liked the apartment, but I also knew of two other apartments that I would be very happy in and I just wanted to know if it was time to walk away and start talking to another landlord. The negotiations continued and it was very obvious, even without understanding a word of Chinese, that our realtor's boss is very good. They work out a deal with the landlady and at 11:55...I repeat 11:55 a.m. (five minutes before we are supposed to leave, 7 days after we arrived) we sign the letter of intent. We rush back to hotel, zip up our luggage and race to the airport.
After we settled ourselves in the car, Jamie looked at me and said, "I'm so glad we know where we're going to live." I looked at him and said, "I'll believe it when we actually set foot in the apartment." Then I explained to him my feelings about it being a Lifetime movie. I was still nervous about it falling through because the letter or intent is not the final contract. It is simply a piece of paper saying that you have negotiated out all of our wishes/wants, it still had to go to corporate and sign a final contract. The whole thing was ulcer-inducing!
As I write this, we are one week from taking possession of the apartment. It appears that everything will go through fine and we'll be in a great apartment. But, until we set foot in the apartment, I'm not posting any pictures of the interior. I don't want to jinx it!
Now, roll credits, this Lifetime movie is over.
Horizon apartment complex
Our building is Block 68, the far right building
Floor 27 (on the left side of the building)