Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I moved here, but now where do I put all of my stuff?

So now that my "real life" here is supposed to start, the first task at hand (at least on my personal agenda) is finding an apartment.  Needless to say, not knowing anything too in depth about Hong Kong, its neighborhoods, or the local apartment hunting process, I was extremely intimidated by this major life project.  Not to mention the fact that Hong Kong is renowned for its absurdly expensive real estate, even by New York City standards which is really saying something.  However challenging this hunt seemed, in a way I was grateful for a project to address considering I returned from my trip facing the stark reality that I have exactly zero friends here.

In terms of getting started, my theory for these types of projects is that you do a little bit of easy groundwork way way in advance.  This serves several purposes: 
  1. It eases the anxiety of needing to accomplish something but not being able to check it off your list for weeks or months to come.
  2. You typically forget that you've already done some work on it, which results in a pleasant surprise when you actually go to check it off the list because you've already given yourself a general context for the problem and resolution is mostly a matter of simple execution.  
  3. It allows you to give off the sly impression that you're completely relaxed about the whole thing and totally not one of those crazy people that makes lists just to check things off of them or anything like that.  Yeah... definitely not one of them, I swear.
Following this sneakily type-A strategy (or maybe it's blatantly type-A but whatever), I set up time during my interim week here to go along with a real estate broker to see a few places and get a sense of what was out there before we needed to actually find a place.  By "broker" I mean a person with a couple keys who is apparently paid to walk next to you while talking on the phone the whole time. Some initial discoveries from this exploratory trip:
  • When looking at 1 or 2 BR apartments, "bedroom" is a loose term sometimes used to describe a medium sized closet.
  • The words "kitchen" and "bathroom" are also loose terms typically used to describe a small closet with pipes somewhere within it.
  • Most apartments are actually pre-furnished with really tacky pieces that do not follow any type of coherent theme but are somehow supposed to be a selling point for the space.  This results in an intense negotiation where you are actually willing to pay more for an apartment WITHOUT any of that ugly shit in it.
  • These places all have an odor vaguely reminiscent of my childhood violin teacher's house - a unique blend of mothballs, microwavable meals, and old books.
  • All the apartments are empty.  In NYC most apartments a broker would take you to were fully inhabited and you were forced to negotiate with the previous tenants in order to find a day around the end of the month that would allow you to hire movers at reasonable rates.  In HK, my guess is that people buy the real estate as investments and are less concerned about renting them out and more concerned about just sitting on them as they appreciate (theoretically) in value.  
  • Some landlords/ladies are offended when you try to take pictures.  Seems counterintuitive to me, no?  What do they think you're going to do, spoil the surprise for anyone else that might be interested?
  • Most new buildings have gyms and pools but apparently you are not allowed to see them before you rent an apartment, even though they seem from a distance to be quite nice.  There is also a distinct possibility that this was an excuse from the real-estate broker who didn't want to get off the phone to ask for access.
Anyway, my first day back - Monday - I saw 6 apartments and the 6th was… absolutely perfect.  Great location in a neighborhood I can only describe as the HK equivalent of the West Village, safely within our budget, just big enough that we can be in the same room but not on top of each other, a few extra square inches in the bathroom (that I am desperately dreading to share with a boy), decent light so it doesn't feel like you're living in a dungeon, a kickass dining table that doesn't match anything else in the apartment but is still awesome, and enough built in closets that our shit won't be everywhere cluttering up the precious square feet we are able to squeeze out of the rest of the space.

My boyfriend went to see it later that night, we did a bit of negotiating this morning and BOOM we have ourselves our very own humble abode.  We also have an ugly couch and a desk that doesn't match - both of which would have cost a pretty penny to NOT leave in the apartment - but you can't always get what you want.  I know that I shouldn't get used to major tasks being this easy, but I do feel quite lucky to check this one off the list pretty damn quickly (on Day 2, thank you very much).  Move-in is in exactly 10 days, which will be the 4th time I have moved in 5 months.  That doesn't make it any easier, but at least I have already thrown away most of my superfluous belongings. 

So now, lucky for me, I can spend the next ten days focusing on other items on my list, er, I mean… things.  Like how to hide a couch in the middle of a room.  Or how to procure a phone number and source of funds for all the coffees, lunches, and drinks I'm setting up in order to convert my number of friends into a positive integer.  Then again, maybe the math analogies are hurting my game.