Monthly Archives: July 2016

A place to call our own.

Over the last few weeks, we have trekked all over this city to look at potential housing, endured the rollercoaster of emotions associated with finding and deciding on apartments, and begun to shop for and clean up our new place. It has been such a long process, and we’re so ready for a rest that we welcomed this news of a super-typhoon hitting Taiwan with open arms.

Why? Because typhoons are to Taiwan what hurricanes and nor’easters are to the East Coast. Sure, they can wreak some havoc, down power lines and cause damage to roads, but casualties are usually minimal. The solution is usually to go home early, pick up extra food and water and batteries at the supermarket, and hunker down for a day. Perfect for two people who really just need to get a bit more sleep than we have been! I don’t mean to take the weather too lightly. Typhoons can be destructive, and living on the 11th floor of an apartment building certainly means that we are not vulnerable to flooding in the same way that other people are. Rural areas have been warned of flash floods and mudslides that can be deadly. But given what we’ve been told to do by locals, dealing with a hazardous weather condition sounds like a breeze (pun intended) compared to what we’ve been through most recently.

We had the most grueling apartment search either of us has ever endured. I would not wish this on anyone. When we were done, I counted up all the appointments on my Google Calendar, and found that we had seen twenty-four apartments in Taipei over the span of almost two weeks. We saw places that were too small, too big (though Steve would dispute that), too high up of a walk, too dark, too pricey (frequently), too far away from public transit, too whatever. We met landlords who were usually quite honest and frank, brokers who were usually eager to please but obsessed with getting their fee, and even a few people who lied to our faces. We debated and argued and pled endlessly with each other over countless meals and drinks about what was better or worse about one apartment versus another, how high of a rent we could really afford, how much furniture we would need to buy, and whether it was important or not for us to be close to a supermarket and a MRT stop that would get me to work within half an hour. We made multiple spreadsheets in Google Sheets and on Steve’s notebook, and created decision matrices that awarded points on the basis of location, space, and building amenities, and then scrapped the whole thing. Twice. It was a shopping and comparison nightmare, compounded by the language barrier, communication issues between brokers and landlords, attempts to bargain, and the fact that Taipei is simply a fast-moving housing market where apartments are rented within hours, not days. Several times, we got our hopes up, after seeing a wonderful place, but were turned down for one reason or another.  I found myself thinking about the housing  policy module I took this spring, and how public housing design and the Housing First movement to end homelessness have been informed by people’s feelings about home – it is intensely personal, a part of your identity, and sometimes defies reason. We found ourselves driven crazy by this drawn-out search process, with our emotions were on a constant roller coaster. I was never sure about how I felt about a place, and felt like I was incapable of making a solid decision that was not emotionally charged and apt to change.

So even when we finally signed this place, and the landlords walked out, leaving us with the key and the lease, I found myself the victim of unaccountable, rising panic that we had made some sort of terrible mistake. I had felt it twice already during the search, when we were on the verge of committing to a place. Since we moved in three days ago, that panic has subsided, tempered by the mundane issues of having to scrub a place out, and the joy of buying new clean things that we can use and enjoy, like IKEA pillows and comforters, a computer chair, a water kettle, and closet organizers. I just feel so much more normal now, which is a solid relief. And the place has turned out to be somewhat of a dear (at least to me), so it’s not so bad.

We ended up finding ourselves a small apartment, that can either be defined as a one-bedroom or a studio. The living room has a small kitchen, full-size fridge, and a two-person brown couch. The two other spaces are a bedroom, separated by a sliding door, and a study area, which can also be separated from the living room by a set of sliding doors. It has a distinctly Japanese aesthetic – the bedroom and study area have a common floorboard that is lifted up from the living room. We have a magnificent view of the buildings behind us, a hodgepodge of smaller, traditional Taiwanese houses and buildings and back alleys, shored up by larger, newer apartment buildings, and beyond that, the shadowy beginnings of Yangmingshan, the mountain to the north of Taipei. Our building is residential, but also home to a number of companies and oddly enough, churches and religious organizations. There’s a neon cross on the outside of our building, and on Sunday morning, when we first visited, there were several foreigners of different countries and ethnicities walking around, speaking a lot of accented English. We are just north of Zhongshan station, in an area that we are learning is full of stores, restaurants, and shops that cater to a profusion of Japanese tourists. We are working on cleaning the apartment (still not done after three days), buying the little furniture that is necessary to furnish it, and learning how to work it (this washing machine is going to take some time). But in my opinion, this apartment does what we need it to do. It’s a quiet place for us to stay and bring Stella eventually, it is well-located within the city, with a lot of bustle and interesting things just a few minutes away, and it provides a space for Steve to work, and for us to host friends if they eventually come to visit us. It will take us a bit more time to get it shipshape and picture-worthy, as both of us are horrified by whoever used to live here and their cleaning habits. But most of all, I fall asleep these days being profoundly thankful that our lives are returning to normal, Steve and I are beginning our work processes, and that we have a permanent roof over our heads as the storm is about to break.

Next time, more about my new job and other fun things in Taipei!