Cooking has always been one of my least favourite chores and since we moved to China I have really tried to find the passion for cooking by buying new cook books, strapping recipes from magazines and watching cooking channels - including my friend Jens's genius youtube channel peking papa. But alas. Ask me to host a dinner party and I'll be quite happy but everyday cooking, not so much.
But I have a solution for that. An incredibly privileged solution! Like 99% of expat families in Beijing, we have an Ayi. A maid. She comes a whopping 5 times a week for 4 hours. She tidies up, washes and irons our clothes, cleans and...cooks. I still have to get used to having a maid so I am still as disorganised as when we lived in Belgium. I would like her to cook but I forget to plan ahead, buy the necessary groceries or ask her to pass by the market so she can pick up what she needs. But all that is going to change now thanks to my new purchase! A cookbook of everyday French dishes with all the recipes written in English AND Chinese! Ladies and gentlemen I give you "Cuisine mei wenti!"! Mei wenti means "no problem" in Mandarin. The book is divided into sections with starters, main dishes, side dishes and desserts and includes useful information about the differences between Western cuisine and Chinese cuisine. For example, point 6 is "MSG is not usually used" [in Western cuisine]. Yes this book is the kind of idea I wish I had had! Just like other great ideas that cater for expats and tackle the language barrier here in China. But the woman who DID have the idea is called Olivia Guinebault and I am very happy that my neighbour Anna passed me her contact. However, I am very curious to see if the book lives up to its promise on the front page: "Daily cooking becomes a pleasure". Well if not for me then for the Ayi :-)
Warning: The following post contains first world problems!!
Right now I'm staring at the white sofas our landlord left us. I can’t stand them. He was supposed to take one more away when we moved in a year ago but said he didn’t have space for them. The same goes for the huge round dining table which is now taking up half the space in the storage room. Ah, yes we were welcome to store the furniture but had to pay for storage ourselves. For 4 years. I don't think so! Our landlord in a nutshell. Showing very little (or no) flexibility!
We moved into this apartment a year ago. We chose this compound (Park Apartments) because it's nice and has some good amenities (such as an indoor pool and a good quality gym). It's in a central location and we have awesome neighbours! Just over half of the apartments here are owned by the property developer and the rest by private landlords. It works for most people but since day one in our case, I've felt like we were taken for a ride!!
It started the day we moved in. By contract, the apartment had to be "deep cleaned" in advance and I cannot even start to tell you how filthy it was! We had to hire 6 cleaning ladies for 2 days and 4 stayed on for another 2 days! Read more on my blog post at the time.
The apartment came with a lousy old TV! The only TV where we could watch 3 foreign channels. It kept breaking and after the repair guy was here the third time and it was still not working, the landlord communicated (through the real estate agency) that he would not pay for another repair! By then he must have spent the equivalent of 300 Euros to try and fix it instead of just buying a new one. Well his message did not go down well with me!! I wrote to the agency and threatned to leave the apartment due to breach of contact (which states that all necessary repairs must be carried out and paid for by the lessor). It worked and 2 days later a brand new, huge television was delivered to our door! Victory!
So I tried the same strategy with painting! This unit is in desperate need of painting! I have been beating myself up for not insisting on having it painted before we moved in but we were under pressure as we had to leave our temporary accommodation. A couple of months ago I took some pictures of the apartment and sent to our agency asking to have our apartment painted! Once again, the landlord refused to help! He said that we were welcome to have the apartment painted but that we had to pay for it ourselves. Thank you very much!
Well we (stupidly?) decided to have the apartment repainted and pay for it ourselves. We got a quotation for 22.000 rmb (around 3000 euros) but just as we were about to go ahead with it, we thought ”hey wait a minute! We don’t need to stay here for the next 3 ½ years!! Don't get me wrong: I have seen poverty, visited people in very humble spaces and to some people, this place would seem like a dream home and we're lucky to have this much space but this is a matter of principle and fairness to me! Why have my husband’s employer pay a significant amount of money every month to someone who shows no respect for us and for the property?”. So voilà! We have just announced to the agency that we will move out when the contract expires. So we'll stay until March 2018 as we're not prepared to pay a substantial penalty for leaving early!
Where to go?
We love our compound so I do not exclude that we go for another apartment in this building. But this time owned by the property developer, not by a private landlord! There are other options although apartments that can accomodate a family of 5 not that easy to find here in Beijing. So we might do something we said we’d never do: move outside the city! To where our kids’ school is (around 25 minutes drive from where we live now). The compounds there are composed of villas and are all very pretty but the area is not exactly lively and I have often said (sometmes offending people who live there) that I would fear for my own mental health if I moved there. :-)
Let’s see – many things can happen but one thing is sure: I'm looking forward to leaving the sodding white sofas behind!
We live by the south-western corner of Chaoyang park. Apparently the biggest park in Asia! I'd like to show you around our neighbourhood.
...and the pet market. These kittens have been there for a couple of weeks now. On Saturday we went to see them and told the owner of the shop that they had no food nor water. The same thing happened today! I could just about tell her in Chinese that they needed food and water. She replied but I didn't understand what she said. It makes me so mad to see how animals are often treated here!
Altogether, our neighbourhood offers a bit of everything: from authentic Chinese streets and markets to western shops and restaurants. Come see us! 😉
At first, staying long-term in a Luxury serviced apartment seems like a dream. Friendly staff that greets you, lovely and clean facilities, housekeeping....but then you start to realise that a hotel is not a home!
We were not particularly lucky with our house hunt (see my blog post from 16 January). It's not easy to find apartments with 4 bedrooms in Beijing and what we did find was either very traditional Chinese style, over budget or not approved for security reasons.
But here we are!
On 18 March we moved into our new apartment. The compound (in China we use the word "compound" also for apartment buildings) is located right by the enormous Chaoyang park. A lovely area that has everything! From the park to restaurants, local markets, shopping mall, and supermarkets. The building has a big reception area, a gym and a pool on the ground floor. It consists of 4 towers (each of 25 floors) and although I don't know the percentage, the majority of the tenants are expats.
Private Chinese landlord - not always a success story!
Many of the apartments in our building are owned by the property developers. In general these apartments live up to a good general standard in terms of renovation, cleanliness etc. Unfortunately it is sometimes a different story with private landlords (our case).
The first time I visited the apartment I noticed immediately that there were many things that needed to be fixed. In Beijing even new buildings grow old very fast (often due to the bad quality of materials used - e.g the wooden floors, the kitchen appliances etc.). But this one was particularly worn down and in need of some tlc and deep cleaning!
Most things were repaired before we moved in (as per contract) but the cleanliness was a different story!
This is what it looked like the morning we were supposed to move in:
It took 4 cleaners a whole day to clean the kitchen only and I then hired an extra two for two days and it began to look ok. With most of the boxes unpacked and some hard (ish 😉) work by the cleaners, this place is starting to look like a home.
...and in my next blog post I'll take you around our neighbourhood! See you then