I wanted to be able to give y'all some insight into how Chinese offices differ from those in the west. The insight is they don't. The only unique thing i've seen so far is the lunchtime siesta - the lights go out over lunch, and a lot of people who don't head out for the break just nap in their chairs. Then they wake up and it's business as usual.
So instead i will talk about the other big thing in my life right now and that is apartment hunting. I haven't actually been seriously hunting, per se, but what i can say is that my whole experience of urban jaunts has changed since i landed with a work visa in my passport. Instead of wandering about aimlessly looking for adventure, i am wandering about pondering if a particular neighborhood has all the basic necessities.
One very good piece of advice i got about finding an apartment here was simply to go into a real estate agent and tell them what i am looking for. I mean, no shit, right? But up until now i had this weird feeling like most real estate agents wouldn't be interested in helping foreigners find an apartment, especially not a rental. But even my colleagues who can barely speak a word of Chinese said you just go and show pictures and gesticulate and they'll figure it out. That was the push i needed. It turns out when dropped into the situation my Chinese is good enough to explain exactly what i want without needing to show pictures or gesticulate, and i can even understand what they are saying back to me too. I guess i did learn something these past 6 months after all.
Last weekend i switched hotels to one further away from work - about 45 minutes at a decent march. The area has a wet market and a handful of passable restaurants, although like the previous place they are geared more toward the Cantonese palate. To the west, heading downtown, is a skinny park with a lake in the middle. To the east is bump of a mountain with some bamboo growing on it. Up north there is a larger mountain where i found a little outdoor gym.
Did i mention Chinese like to build outdoor gyms on the tops of mountains? In the modern areas downtown, the city installs workout machinery next to kids' playgrounds to encourage old people to stay fit and healthy. I think this is some kind of Mao-era holdover or something, the idea that people should work out in public. But perhaps it's an older cultural thing, because even in Hong Kong up in the mountains you will find these little clearings where it seems people have just independently lugged stuff up the hill for public use: hand weights, exercise bikes, step machines, hula hoops, heavy bags etc.
Anywho, the mountain up north had a great little gym where i spent some time on the heavy bag. I took it easy because no gloves, but it was good to feel strong again. I kinda miss boxing. I also missed climbing those stairs. It was on that mountain when i resolved that wherever my new apartment would be, it would definitely have to be near a mountain so i can do at least one climb through the week, even if it's just a short half hour thing in the morning.
Sunday i continued roaming, over the bamboo mountain and then further to a park that is below the dam of the Shenzhen Reservoir. That park is the first park in Shenzhen i've seen that allows people to come in on bikes, which is kind of neat. It connects up to a greenway that apparently goes all the way around the reservoir and perhaps further north too.
I walked a few km along the reservoir then went offroad and clambered up the mountainface alongside. There were some small trails there that i figured must lead somewhere. The view at the top was great - reservoir on one side and a view across the rest of Wutong National Park on the other. When i climbed back down - through a rare-in-China un-bushwhacked trail - i got trapped behind a huge wall of twigs and branches that i guess the rangers had put up to stop people climbing that path. There was a sign saying no entry, which i only saw after squeezing through the undergrowth and falling conspicuously back down onto the main (paved) trail where everyone turned their heads to look at the muddy barbarian who had just unceremoniously dropped out of a tree. Oh, China.
There is a tiny suburb nestled in the mountains that has both an urban village and some new development attached. It's surrounded by hills and is really beautiful. Well, beautiful considering it's in the middle of a city of over 10 million people. I could see myself living there, except the only way to get back downtown - other than the greenway - is the freeway. The subway is rapidly being extended out that way, so no doubt the prices will (rightfully) skyrocket once it opens. Might still be worth looking at a place there now, though the walk would be very long - beautiful, but well over an hour.
I mean, i don't need to be walking distance from work, right? In Berlin i was, but everywhere else i have lived i had to take public transport unless i was really in a mood of wanting to spend a couple hours pounding pavement. But, i guess, living in Berlin changed the way i think about living in the city. I still think living in some ritzy downtown condo a few steps from the office would not be cool. I need some kind of separation between my work life and my home life. But being able to walk an hour or so into the office and back clears your head so much better than jamming yourself into public transport or sitting in traffic blasting out smog for the same amount of time.
I started to make a list. Top priorities... Within a 1 hour walking circle from work. Less than 3000元 (about 380€, which is around what i paid for my place in Berlin). Comes with a bed and preferably also a washing machine (after 6 months of washing my clothes in hotel sinks, i'm ready to not have fucking blisters any more). Mountain nearby. Street vendors nearby. Window that lets in some light. I don't give a shit about air conditioning or a TV or how close it is to a subway or a supermarket or any of that. Just give me a bed, some natural light, a guy selling food on a stick, a walkable commute and some greenery.
Today i went on my first visits. When you visit real estate agents here, they immediately take you through the buildings in their neighborhood. Because there are so many high rises, there are real estate agents on every big block, and i guess for the most part they only deal in apartments on that block. I dropped into a place near my hotel after work, since this area - having 3 smaller parks nearby and Wutong National Park just a few bus stops away - is pretty much ideal for me. I got shown 4 apartments in a building on top of Walmart. Convenient. One was the clear winner. Just a bare, white, tiled studio, but it had a bed and a fridge and a washing machine and a stove and a window facing north-east that if you crane your neck you can see a mountain through the highrises. 10 minutes walk from said mountain. An hour walk from work. Not bad. The guy was desperate for me to sign - at fucking 9:30pm Friday night - but i told him i needed time to think.
What i really also needed was time to go home and figure out what the fuck is going on tomorrow. Even though this hotel is a dive, i had planned to extend my stay here. How much of a dive? Well the last week winter has been kicking our asses here in Shenzhen - it's been getting down to about 5 degrees overnight and not much warmer during the day. My hotel room does not have heating, and the windows are permanently cracked due to a hole smashed in them to jerry-rig the air conditioning pipe. Let's just say there is a bit of a breeze in the room. There is no hot water tap in the bathroom either, although the shower does have hot water. Except when it doesn't. Like on Thursday, when i woke up and could see my breath in the air and then the hot water was out. Fuck my ass. Cold. Fucking cold. So fucking cold.
When i told my manager why i was cranky that day, she freaked and work organized to move me into a fancy hotel downtown. I refused, because i feel guilty for work paying for my living space. Then i got home tonight with my plan to extend my booking here for a few days and found there are no rooms. For fuck's sake. So now i need to move hotels anyways - i might as well have just accepted work's offer and actually had a good night's sleep in a hotel that doesn't have an all-in-one soap/shampoo dispenser stuck on the wall and condoms on the night stand and fucking ice-cold wind blowing in through a mallet-smashed hole in the window. Instead i am moving to a place even cheaper than this one, with no windows at all. At least it should be a bit warmer.
And maybe soon i will have an apartment of my own. Where any problem will be much worse, because i won't be able to just move away from it. But after i move (again) this weekend, i am going all out to find a permanent-ish place. Fun fun fun. Not really fun. Signing a lease will be the true death knell of my freedom. But i'm working now anyways so i guess that's already down the tubes. At least there will be a mountain close by.