Thursday, July 28, 2011

For Norway

On Monday at 12pm, all Nordic countries held a minute's silence for the victims of the bombing and shooting in Norway. On this blog, I'm taking a silent week.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How to find an apartment in Shanghai

Our first flat in Shanghai -quite nice one. Just located in the completely wrong part of the city -and as a result we had to spend 2 hour commuting every day. Oh, little did we know back then!

I just checked my blog email and saw two new emails from two different people about to move to Shanghai, asking me the same things:

-How do I find an apartment in Shanghai?
-How much should I pay for it?

Now, those are big questions, but since they came at the same time, and I’ve promised to answer blog enquiries during my holiday, I thought this could be worth a blog post.

Since I just completed a 2,5 month frustrating flat hunt, I believe that we can all agree that I am far from an expert on how to find accommodation fast. However, during my search for the perfect crib, I came across several different ways of searching for a place:

Finding a flat

There are several Eng and Chi websites offering housing advertisement in Shanghai these days:
Craigslist has a lot of listings, however, often lacks photos.

Then there is a housing section on smartshanghai, which is great as the housing ads offer both photos and map of where the apartment is located (+ links to several real estate companies), however, I have to say that the flats you see in the photos of the ads, and the flats that you go and see are often not the same. Also, I think a lot of the agencies posting on smartshanghai (not all of them though!) are keen to help wealthy laowais with expat packages. Having said that, however, there are still some really good ones and if you’re looking for shared accommodation, I believe this is a great place to look.

Another good site/forum that can help any Shanghai newbie with getting his/her question answered is Shanghai Expat.

Get an account, browse the topics, and fire away! I was a frequent user of this forum when I first moved to Shanghai, posting questions about everything from where to buy soy milk to how to find a basketball team.

If you master the Chinese language, you might want to take the advice of CNNGo and look for a flat on some of the local pages. Here’s the article that lists some of the big ones.

Another option (and my personal favourite choice) is to simply walk around in the area where you wish to live, and visit real estate agencies located in that area. Tell them your budget as well as your demands (one bedroom, two bedrooms, old house, new building… etc) and they can normally take you to see some places straight away. One thing I learned from my latest flat hunt was to stick to one or max 2 agencies, otherwise it might get too confusing, not to mention messy.

Don’t forget to bargain with the landlord. Ask for new furniture if you need, a lower rent, or whatever requirement you might have. Negotiating things like rent and furniture is a normal part of renting in China. Never just settle for what the landlord just tells you (unless you think the deal is already good enough).

Now, moving on to the second question:

How much should I pay?

This question is impossible for me to answer! It depends where you want to live (central areas, like Huangpu and Xuhui and Jing’an are normally more expensive than Pudong, Minhang, and Hongqiao), how big of a flat you want, what kind of furniture and decoration you need, an many other things. You simply have to set a limit for yourself and try your luck. You will notice quite soon if your budget is enough or not.

And finally…

Where should I live?

Having lived in 3 different areas in Shanghai: a six month stunt in Pudong, 2,5 years in Xuhui, and now 1 month in Huangpu (or old Luwan) –I can only tell you one thing: live close to your office/school, or, close to your mean of public transport. It makes life much easier and convenient because trust me, you don’t want to spend hours on commuting every day.

I hope this helps! Happy flat hunting.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer blog topics -suggestions, anyone?

Finally, my holiday is here! Today I’m off to Finland. I’ll be spending 3 weeks there, and then I’ll head over to Sweden for my final week. A whole month off –feels unbelievable! This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for all the overtime hours I’ve done this spring (and really, I’ve worked a lot), so I guess working loads also has its advantages, hehe.

For those that have followed this blog carefully, today is also the day when by no-sugar bet with my significant other ends. Do you think I made it? No candy, cakes or sugar for some 2,5 months in order to win a shopping spree?

Well, of course I did. And not eating sugar has made me feel great, so who knows, maybe it’s something I will keep up. It wasn’t that hard to tell you the truth. Give it 2 weeks to get rid of the sugar craving and then you’re fine. Highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with keeping their hands off chocolate bars.

Since I will be on a holiday there won’t be much action going on in my life. The summer days in Scandinavia tend to be bright and beautiful, but kind of boring in terms of action and events. So I’m not sure what to blog about. Do you guys have any suggestions/wishes? Anything you want to know about life in Finland/Sweden? Photo essays? Anything China related you wish me to write about? Could be anything -about studying in China, some restaurant recommendations, anything... Any questions you want answered? Fire away, because I’d like to keep this blog going even while I am away, but I need your input in order to make it interesting.

But first I have a 1 hour taxi drive, a 9 hour flight, and a 3 hour bus ride to look forward to… see you on the other side!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The starch girls

As I’m getting ready for a holiday in Europe, I obviously try to get the very most out of China before I leave, including:

• Pampering such as massages, manicure, pedicure
• Speaking as much Chinese as possible with my Chinese friends
• Indulging in a lot of spicy food

However, the whole pampering thing has become a down prio, as I’ve realised that I enjoy my other two priorities much more.

Some days ago, my best girlfriend and I went to one of our favourite Sichuan joints.

-Looks full, she said, as we stepped in and were greeted by a noisy, smoky but happy environment.

-Yup, I confirmed, trying to locate a free table.

-你们好!(Nimen hao!) Came the manager, who I’ve seen many times before, and, who must have recognized us, as he smiled a little bit too wide.

-No tables today? I asked.

-Always a table for you girls!

Yes, he definitely recognized us.

And, magically, he showed us to a free table.

Five seconds later a female waitress appeared with a menu.

While we started flicking through it, she stood by our side all the time, until she finally said, with some obvious impatience in her tone of voice:

-The mushroom dish that you are looking for is here.

She grabbed the menu and flicked the pages until… ta, da, out favourite mushroom dish appeared.

-One of these, she said to herself and wrote on her notepad.

-Eh… yes. We agreed.

-What else? Tofu?

-Eh, yes.

-Do you want your spicy noodles today or rice?

-Eh… spicy noodles. Yes. And rice.

-You want BOTH rice AND spicy noodles. That’s way too much.

-Eh, but we want both.

-Ah, you two. You always order the same and you always order too much!

We just stared at her, chins dropping to the floor.

-But we won’t waste it… I started, we will…

-You will get the leftovers in a doggy bag and take it as take away, oh yes, I know. Like you always do!


-Still, I think you girls eat too much starch.

-Eh, er… well.

-Yeah don’t worry, you’ll get your noodles still.

-Eh… great! Thanks! Don't forget the rice!

Right. Time for us to change restaurant maybe? Or, maybe we should change up our order a bit? Then again, it’s so good?! And why change something that is good?

But damn. I thought all laowais looked the same to Chinese people? That’s what my friends often tell me. But apparently Chinese people too, learn to remember you by your habits. We are obviously the two doggy bag starch girls at this joint.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Work hard, play hard

A friend of mine works at a big, international company –the dream work place for many, both westerners and Chinese. Some weeks ago he recruited a new staff, a young Chinese girl who was selected to be his PR assistant. Some 70 people applied for the job, and he interviewed 10 for the position, and this girl was the one who impressed him the most, who seemed the most driven and who insisted that working for this company would be like a dream coming through for her.

They agreed on a quite attractive salary package, and she started her job.

On day one, she wanted to know everything about over time compensation.

On day two, she asked if she could get a new computer and a new cell phone.

One week into her job, when she was sent on a business trip, the first thing she did when she came back to the office, was to fill a travel claim form so that she would get her day pay allowance.

My friend saw her doing all of this and did not make any remarks. In fact, he told me about it, but said that he thought it was good, that this girl looked after herself so carefully, and that she made sure she got what she deserved.

Then, however, she handed in her sheet of overtime work.

1 hour, 5 min, 2 hour, 7 minutes… 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes.

The girl had written down every single extra minute she had spent by her desk since her first day.

Now, at this point my friend started to feel slightly concerned.

-Sure, it’s good that the girl is making sure that she is compensated for her overtime, he told me. But it’s not like I’ve even asked her to work over time! And what about those days when she comes in late? Or when she takes an extra 15 minutes of lunch? Or, should I even be concerned by the fact that she’s spending a lot of time chit chatting to her colleagues and not working that efficiently in front of her computer all day?

Tricky one, I agreed, especially since the girl was so new –no only at this office, but on the market. This was her first job since graduating. Normally when you are new at your job you might work extra hard and try not to be too demanding/complicated, in order to make a good impression (at least that is my personal strategy. You don’t start making demands until the company sees your value).

I decided to ask a Chinese friend of mine:

-Well, all Chinese people are like that. She said. We all write down if we work 5 minutes extra.

-But what if… what if you took a long lunch? Or if you came in a bit late for work? Or if you spent the first 10 minutes of your day eating breakfast in the kitchen
(a very popular habit of my Chinese co-workers. They all think I am crazy when I say I get up at 6am just so that I can enjoy my coffee and brekkie in peace at home. “Why do that when you can have it at work?!”).

My friend giggled and shrugged her shoulders, kind of saying: “well….”

-But what if… what if this job is very attractive and you’ve promised that you’re going to work extra hard?

-Well, not without getting compensation.

Well, wow. Go Chinese people, I have to say. Then again, is it just me, or is it a little bit weird that a fresh graduate come with this kind of mindset? I’ve always been taught to stand up for myself/think outside the box/work independently, but when I started my very first job, back in 2005, I was not a cocky staff member. I worked very hard, came in early every morning and stayed late (without asking for overtime compensation), brought work with me home –everything in order to make a good impression. I didn’t do it for money –I did it so that my bosses would see how hard working I was. Maybe it was stupid of me –of course my bosses saw that I was willing to work a bit extra for free, but I still don’t regret it. It was like teaching myself a lesson –learning the hard way about working life and about standing up for yourself.

Now I wonder how this girl, with her lack of pervious work experience, already seems to know all of this.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Connected again

Sorry for the lack of updates –but now I’m finally back on track! Yesterday we celebrated 1 week (!) in our new flat, and we did that by having China Mobile guys over, installing the Internet. So now I can blog and read my emails again together with my morning coffee. Heaven!

I am so happy about our move of house. For the last week or so I’ve slept better than I’ve had for the last 6 months. It’s amazing. It’s like getting my old life back: I feel energetic, I feel happy, I feel healthy and I feel like myself. It’s like winning the lottery and the price is my own health.

Another great thing about finally have moved is that we no longer need to spend the wknds looking at apartments. Maybe it’s us being picky (and yes, I know it is), but since the beginning of May I believe we have spent every single wknd flat hunting. So darn boring, frustrating an uninspiring. Now we ended up in an area that we first would have never accepted, but I feel happy here. I can walk to my office (although it’s a bit hot to do so at the moment) and walk home after the gym. For someone that has been dependent on the metro for the last 1,5 year, that’s a nice and welcomed change.

Moving out of our old flat went surprisingly well, however, not without some compulsory weird comments. Shanghainese landlords are known for being tough cookies and trying their outmost to keep your deposit, regardless of how rosy and good you’re relationship has been. Our landlord, however, took a different approach. We told him that we had loved living in the flat and the only reason we wanted to move was the nightclub noise from the street below, resulting in me not getting any sleep. He nodded thoughtfully, walked into the flat, looked around, smiled, then looked at me and said:

-Gosh Jonna, getting no sleep must have been hard for you, but it also must have made you eat less because you have really lost some weight.

Then he smiled and handed over the deposit (every single little kuai!), and thanked us for being such great tenant.

We were so stoked about getting our money back that we didn’t even care to comment on the unnecessary weight remark. Besides, for once someone didn’t call me fat, so it actually didn’t hurt that badly.

Our new landlord seems cool and quite easy going so far. He’s already been over once to look at our heater, that seems to be leaking gas:

-It’s the heavy wind that has been blowing for the last few days, he finally told us.

-The… wind? But… it’s leaking gas?! When we shower!

-Yeah, and it’s because of the wind!


Yeah, not sure if I’m buying that story, especially since it hasn’t been a storm out there or so to say. But in a few days we are going on a holiday so we thought we’d leave it there and deal with it when we come back again.

All in all –life is good. I can sleep. I like our new place. A holiday is around the corner. And hopefully, some exciting things are going to happen in the near future.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Time to pack up and leave

Finally, we have found a new crib! That only took us… some 2,5 months or something?! Our current lease expirers in just a few days, so we really left it for the last minute. During our flat hunt, I think we have seen more than 100 flats in at least 4 different district. In the end, we considered everything, and still, it was so hard to find something decent.

I’ve never before found it hard to find a flat in Shanghai –but this time it was a true struggle. My old real estate agent told me that it’s because house prices are rocketing and as a result, more people are renting. Not only does this lead to less available places, but also, rents going up. For instance, on our way to see one place in the French Consession, we met some old friends of mine, and while we discussed our flat hunt we realised that we were about to go and have a look at THEIR old place! They had left it some 2 months ago, leasing it for 5500 rmb. Now it was on the market for 8000. Crazy.

During our search we ended up using a bunch of different real estate agents. My old agent (who helped me find the place where we are staying now) got sick of us quite quickly as I refused to settle for some overpriced bulls** meanwhile he kept telling me that there wasn’t anything else out there. Now I am glad that I didn’t give in. The place that we are moving to is not exactly what we wanted, but pretty close. It’s located in Huangpu (or old Luwan, as the two districts have now merged), so for us it will be a completely new area to try, which I think is fun. We’ve been living in Xuhui/the French Concession for quite a while now (basically since we moved to China, minus a 6 month stunt in Pudong and 2 years in Suzhou) and I’m a bit tired of the whole “old lane house” style.

Now we just have to do the actual move too, and then life will be good (gosh, I hate moving?! Where does all this stuff come from?!). Last night when I couldn’t sleep because of all the noise outside our window, I couldn’t help but smiling. I seriously cannot wait to not having to sleep with double earplugs. One more night –and then we are out of here. Hallelujah!