As most of you dear readers are already aware, I am homeless. Not in the “living under a bridge, begging for change, and yelling profanities at dogs and streetlamps” sense, but in the sense that I am still living at the same hostel that I checked into nearly a month ago. Finding a place to live has proven to be my greatest challenge thus far.
As I’ve said before, it was amazing and lucky that I got a job as quickly as I did. In an attempt to be sensible, I put off looking for a home until I had secured gainful employment; ah, but therein lied (lain? oh well, it’s not like I teach English grammar for a living or anything) a conundrum. I started working the day after I got hired, and the time I had to look for an apartment shrank significantly. I was working long days, living this new life, and I guess just kinda assumed that a house would fall from the sky and beg me to dwell within it. The only real time I had to search my first couple of weeks was on the weekends, but I couldn’t be bothered with that. That first weekend after I was hired, we had the World Games, and as I’ve already stated, witnessing the magic of Fistball and Flying Disc live was of far more importance to me than finding a place to live. The following weekend, I had a pretty rough cold, which everyone apparently gets soon after they move here. I guess a heavy combination of breathing in scooter exhaust and spending eight hours a day with children was a bit of a shock to my dainty little immune system.
So anyway, this last weekend, I did go apartment hunting. I decided (and I think wisely so) that during these two weeks of summer break, in which I’m only working about one-third of my normal hours, I would hunt like the dickens and with some luck find a place. I have a roommate, Adam, all picked out, and now we just need to find a house.
Ok, let me stop here and explain something. Between 2002 and 2005, I lived in 4 different places in New Orleans, and I found each one of them myself. I know how to house-hunt, how to how look and look and negotiate and all that crap. But house-hunting in this place – well, it just sucks.
Unlike in the States – or even Taipei – there are hardly any apartments listed online. You can’t just peruse Craigslist or the local classifieds or any other sites with loads of places for rent. As a newbie with limited contacts and limited knowledge, you essentially have two options: contact a housing agent that speaks English and Chinese and hope that they show you a good place. Or, you can go from apartment building to apartment building, seeing if they have any places available in your price range – not the easiest thing to do when you have that bitch of a language barrier slapping you around.
Last week, I contacted a housing agent – Natalee Lee. There are really only two bilingual housing agents that anyone knows about here – Natalee Lee and a guy named Jacky. I’ve heard some good things about Jacky, and he even found Mike and Chelsea’s apartment here, but I’ve also heard a lot of bad things about him (that he’s a scammer, he’ll make you pay too much rent, etc.). So I went with Natalee. Ahh, Natalee – God love her, she’s trying. I think. But she showed me three places last Thursday, all right near the hostel (close to the Love River), and none of them were too nice. Well, no, actually one was too nice and also too expensive. On Saturday she showed Adam and I three more places, and again, none of them were as nice as the price indicated. Also, she’s a housing agent, so she’s putting all this pressure on us to decide and saying “Dees ees a rrreally goot price for dees area.” Well, we don’t want to decide until we find a place we like. We’re both tall (Adam’s 6’3″), so no, Natalee, we would not like the place with the 7-foot ceilings and the beds that end around our knees.
And the other thing is, I’m not so sure those were good prices for those areas. Adam and I both have enough friends with nice places who pay far less than 16000 NT ($500) a month. So we know the places are out there – the questions is, how do we find them? Well, not with Natalee Lee, I don’t think. She’s nice, and she’s trying, but she’s obviously got her own agenda, too. So this week, it’s been onto Option 2 – walking from building to building in your chosen area of town.
Click below to find out how Option 2 has gone so far, why I don’t really mind the hostel so much, and to see real Chinese handwriting!
Now, just so you know, I haven’t been completely stifled by the language barrier. One of my favorite Chinese staff members (every Schoolhouse branch has a Chinese staff, who work in the office and talk to parents and help with the kids and all that), Fenny, wrote down some basic questions in Chinese to present to the security guards at these buildings.
This has helped immensely, because at least now the guards know that I’m there to find an apartment, and not to sell them juice, or religion. Of course the guards are usually amazingly nice, and some have taken me up to see some places. But there’s still the language barrier once we get to that point, and there are a lot of questions to ask. But I feel like I’m at least seeing some places and getting a feel for what’s a good value and what we should be paying for what we want.
Another issue is this: My job is in downtown. A good many English teaching jobs, though, are up north in a newer district called Zuoying, and so the majority of Westerners live up there. But I’ve been resisting looking up in Zuoying, simply because I don’t necessarily want a 20-minute commute every day. Now I’m not so sure. The places up there seem to be both nicer and cheaper. Adam and I would both prefer living downtown, but maybe southern Zuoying? Christ, who knows.
In all honesty, I feel like I’m on the right track. We’ll find a place soon, and it’ll be at least pretty nice, because we’ve been hunting our little asses off.
And to tell you the truth, I don’t mind still living at the hostel. I mean, I can’t wait to have my own kitchen and a living room and a view and not be living out of a suitcase and all that… but the hostel’s not bad. I have a private room, there’s a shower, and air conditioning at night. That’s enough to please me in the short-term.
Plus, there’s a social aspect to this place that’s unparalleled. And not just whom I’ve met that’s staying here. But it’s whom I’ve met that used to stay here that’s been great. There is a group of guys, all with Taiwanese wives or girlfriends, that come and hang out at the hostel most nights. The hostel’s got a nice little patio out front, and they sell beer cheap. So most nights I can expect to sit with at least one or two of them, have a couple of beers and shoot the breeze. It’s a regular Algonquin roundtable. And it’s been awesome. I’ve learned so much from them about living here, teaching here, and just enjoying it here. I’ve actually gotten to be quite good pals with them – especially Simon, a Brit who’s been here 13 years – that it’s made up for living out of the suitcase and not having a/c during the day.
Actually, it’s crossed my mind that I don’t want to live too far away from this area, because I still want to be able to come to our little hostel and hang out some nights. So maybe I shouldn’t look in Zuoying… Christ, who knows.
My head hurts.
Pray for me.
~ by Nick on August 5, 2009.