Our new mansion!
I have just moved into my third flat in 10 months of living here in Xiamen. My last flat was very good: a two bed apartment on the 21st floor in the middle of the city. Its really easy to get great apartments, all of which have balconies making it possible to let the outdoors in, even in a flat 21 floors up an apartment block.
I am continually amazed at how good a life one can live here compared to the west.
My friend recently moved into a flat on the 30th floor in a block right on the beach. Her flat has two large balconies on either side of the living room, one facing the sea and the other the mountains. She says her flat is kept cool by the cross breeze that blows right through. Her bedroom has a curved window allowing her a panoramic view of both the sea and the mountains. Just stunning! Beachfront apartments, restaurants and entertainment areas are surprisingly rare here, as the beach doesn't seem to hold so much appeal for the locals as it does to Europeans in the Mediterranean. Also, there is the fear of flood damage from the regular typhoons that come in from the East China sea. So it was a good find for her!
When our turn came to move out of our 2 bedroom flat, we were toying with the thought of getting a huge place for a whole bunch of us to live together in, but had no idea what was possible here in Xiamen. A few weeks later 5 of us were living in this mansion of an apartment, nicer than our wildest dreams and in a good location for all of us. As I said, I am continually surprised at how good life can be here.
Our 'penthouse', as we like to call it, is on the top floor of an apartment complex called 'Long Men Tian Xia' (or dragons coming down from heaven). Dragons were believed to walk on clouds, thus bringing much needed rain for the land as the folklore goes, so its a lucky name!
The thing about this flat is that its perfect for a large amount of people because it affords enough space for us each to have our own privacy, and has something for everyone. When I first viewed it, I thought there was no way we could afford such a place, but the happy truth is that the rent is not bad at all for what we are getting, and split 5 ways it could actually be considered cheap! All in all, there are 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 living rooms and numerous balconies!! And being on the top floor, we have access to the roof of the actual building as well.
The door opens to a foyer/ verandah area, with a wall of sliding doors letting all the light, the breeze and a great view in. Very useful space for such things as bikes and shoes which, it goes without saying, are not allowed in the house in China. When you see the state of the pavements, you will understand.
The entrance then opens up to a large living area, with the staircase up to the mezzanine second floor on the right. My housemate Ben enjoys his Xbox and such TV-associated activities and the main living room is kitted out with leather recliners, a large TV and a surround-sound stereo system. Perfect for tournaments!
We all love to cook, and the kitchen is the largest we have seen so far. That is what struck us about this flat: it is almost western in design. Typically, kitchens are given very little importance in apartments and can often compose of a simple sink out on a balcony- cooking done on a portable electric hob or in an electric rice cooker. Elle bought an oven when she got here because she missed roasted/baked food so much, and Ben has a proper grill. This kitchen has allowed us to put in all our various western appliances, with a huge double-door fridge to store the large amounts of food, and still has enough space for 5 of us to be in there at one time.
The dining room table is so elegant it compels us to lay a table and sit down together for every meal we have at home. Even with the simplest of meals, like on our first night when the house was a mess with boxes and dust, and we just threw together some egg fried rice, when we sat down to eat it, it felt like a very special meal! The dining room somehow transforms 5 random strangers into a proper family.
Anya is from Taiwan and she is a singer here in Xiamen. She has a large double room and a wardrobe so large it fits all her outfits and then some, with built in mirrors that swing out to any angle you require! It has a floor-to-ceiling bay window too. She has room enough to practice her keyboard etc out in the lounge as it could easily fit a whole band.
Rotem is from Israel and he teaches swimming here in Xiamen, and does hydrotherapy sessions too. His room has its own balcony and he has kept things simple, having lived a rustic life in the Philippines before coming to Xiamen. He makes his own hammocks so prefers to sleep in one of those in his room instead. He set us all up with a hammock that we can relax in wherever we feel the need, even in the living room!
Ben is American and is also teaching English here. He has his own en-suite room on the top floor, with a, wait-for-it: walk-in wardrobe and a balcony too. Of course, we have a tier system for rent- that's how a boy ended up with the walk-in wardrobe! It backs the upper living room which has a soft white corner couch perfect for drinking tea and giggling about last night's gossip.
Elle is from South Africa and has been in China for a long time, so craves Western comforts more than the rest of us. She has the master bedroom with its own glass-walled bathroom with a bath tub (again, very rare in China- usually just wet rooms). Her balcony opens up to an open-air garden which is very precious for planting our own herbs, bringing the outdoors in, and of, course, barbecues. The garden has a window down to the main living area, so people doing the barbecuing are not isolated from the people doing the eating!
And that leaves me! All I wanted from an apartment was a balcony, so I chose to convert the office into a bedroom. I have large sliding doors leading onto a balcony so huge it is almost the same size as my room. It looks out onto a shopping mall and highway, with a temple nested in the mountains just behind. It is perfect for morning exercises, afternoon naps in my hammock, and evening glasses of wine with friends. And I have a desk in my room for studying chinese, with all the shelf space in the world for my books. Couldn't be happier!
So here we are, a hap-hazard family, feeling un-deserving and unbelieving of living in such a mansion. So we get as many people over as possible to fill up all the space and enjoy it with us. We have regular dinner parties with people cooking their national dishes in our huge kitchen for everyone to try. This place allows everyone to have their own space, but brings us all together as well- a true home away from home.
And we are not the only ones: we hear tales of 4-storey houses by the beach, and hotel-like apartments in skyscrapers with entire walls of glass.
Life is good, as it turns out.