Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My China Dream Home

Our apartment building
Juliana goes through these spells of nostalgia. Thoughts of the carefree life of the long ago four year old can bring her to tears. She especially misses our old apartment, where we lived when she was 1-3 years old. One day after telling her once again that no, we couldn't go back to visit because someone we don't know lived there now, I decided to show her some pictures of the old apartment.

The first picture she saw was this one, and what do you think she said?
"Oh, I miss our old bathroom! It was such a pretty bathroom!"

I had to laugh, wondering what exactly she missed. Was it the mold? The broken tiles? The rusty water pipes lining all the walls? The leaky pipes and broken toilet? Or perhaps the perfume of sewer gasses that was particularly pungent in warm weather.

As teachers, the school provides furnished housing, but as language students we had to find our own. Pickings were rather slim, and all we had to go by were pictures from another city. We chose the smaller, older, cheaper apartment partly for the price ($120/month) and partly because it was furnished. The only furniture we owned was a crib, and the thought of furnishing a whole apartment sounded daunting and expensive.
Living/dining room.  Does this count as "open concept"?
You could say our apartment had some special features.  One of the windows broke and since the landlord didn't want to repair it, we fixed it ourselves - with thick plastic, tape, and chopsticks. [We realized in the US this would be considered super trashy, but in China our American friends congratulated us on our resourceful fix].  The laundry porch was filled halfway to the ceiling with random things the landlord left behind.  If you sat in one particular spot on the couch, you could smell cigarette smoke from an unknown source. The kitchen was so small that the fridge was in the living room, as was the folding table and chairs which served as the dining area. 
I bought some green fabric to cover up the big gas tank and rickety counter frame.
And the kitchen itself was the most special part of all. The "counter" was actually layers of boards propped up on a rickety frame/old broom handle. The one burner stove was in its own little metal alcove built onto the window. You had to bend out the window and down into the alcove to cook. In winter, the burner sat on a bed of moldy ice; in summer, rain dripped down through the crevices. Every winter, the kitchen windows froze over from the inside. 
When we arrived the stove alcove was covered in newspaper.  That seems like a good idea, right?
And then there was the roach infestation. I still shiver thinking about opening the cabinet to see dozens of roaches scurry away. And every spring we would lose water for a couple of months. The water would be on for an hour at meal times and sometimes for a couple of hours at night. We planned laundry, baths, and toilet flushing accordingly.
Juliana's room was definitely the prettiest.  Perhaps that's why she has such fond memories. :)
It would be hard to go back to that apartment, with its particle board furniture. And yet, I really liked that home. It was there that Juliana took her first steps and finally (finally) slept through the night. It was there our Chinese language abilities progressed from pathetic to passable. I spent many all too memorable hours throwing up and awaiting the arrival of Adalyn.
Ice patterns inside
It was in that apartment I learned that there is always beauty even in the ugliness. Admittedly, I never found a purpose for the roaches, nasty little abominable creatures. But the thin windows and inadequate heating allowed for intricate ice patterns on the windows and cozy evenings doing homework next to the radiator. The small space meant that Juliana could keep me in sight no matter where I was. The climb to the sixth floor meant light and breeze and unobstructed mountain views.

I once planned to be an architect, and then -when I learned how much math that would entail- an interior decorator. I still get hooked on HGTV in America. I particularly enjoy the shows like Fixer Upper or Property Brothers, where they take a really ugly old house and transform it into something new. I think there is something in us that craves beauty and restoration.

I always dreamed of having a house like that - beautiful, spacious, and mold free. A place where everything matched. Instead most of my homes have been more similar to the “before” version than the after. Even the apartment we have now, a very nice roach free three bedroom apartment - a huge step up from the last one - is hardly an American dream home.

Perhaps one day I will have a pretty home with more than one bathroom, hot water in the sinks, and no downstairs neighbors to worry about. Ooh, and a dishwasher.  I think a dishwasher would be veeery pretty. But until then, I will keep enjoying our home for what it is – home. Perhaps one day I will restore and redecorate and transform, but for today I will overlook the ugly and focus on the beautiful all around.

1 comment:

Anna Wegner said...

I love your perspective on this. It is our family and memories that make our "dream home." :)