Moving house in China


(not the actual truck!)

I have moved house 5 times in my 9 years in China, always fairly local moves. Over the weekend I made my most recent move. I left my home in Wangjing and moved into a house in Houshayu (north of the city) with an Aussie family from church.

A little over 4 months ago I felt a pull to move north, closer to the church community I work with. That gave me a lot of prep time and yet I wasn’t able to find  a suitable place – partly, I think, because it’s not a good time to move. My plan now is to stay where I am for a couple of months; at the end of the school year there will be more places available. In the mean time, I can assess whether living here (in a Chinese area north of where I planned to be) can work long term. If it doe  work, I can look for a place here (which will be MUCH cheaper than trying to find something in the expat bubble).

Since I only have a bedroom here, I gave away a lot of household items and boxed the rest for storage in the garage of another family from church. I brought most of my furniture with me to Houshayu, and the rest I gave away. (My upright piano came with me and a friend is keyboard-sitting my electric piano). I chose a trustworthy guy to manage the move with furniture, and a regular moving company to move my boxes into storage.

Surprisingly, there weren’t any hiccups. This was partly because I had made sure to get the 出门条 (chu men tiao) before moving. This step can be easy to miss if you aren’t familiar with China. It’s just a piece of paper from the management office saying you have permission to move things out of the complex. They check with your landlord to make sure you are scheduled to move, so that (in theory) no one can steal things or simply move out without paying what the landlord is due. It’s a little thing but can cause a lot of mafan if it isn’t sorted before the truck tries to drive out the gate! Even getting my chu men tiao was stress-free, as Bec had moved out the week before so the girl in the office already knew the situation and simply wrote out two slips (one for each day I was moving things) on the spot. No fuss at all!

Caleb handled the first half of my moving; he was recommended to me back in 2008 when I moved to Langfang and did a wonderful job. 5 years later he still remembered me! I knew I could trust him to look after my piano and custom-made furniture (and my gardenia plant!) He came 20 minutes before the planned time to check out the parking, lifts, corridors, and what was being moved, so he could properly instruct and supervise the two-man moving team. He checked to see that drawers and doors were secure, too. They were careful with my things and quite quick, both moving out and moving in.

Caleb did such a great job managing things that I just sat on the couch and read a book for much of the time. Later we chatted about different friends we have in common, and I was able to tell him that the daughter of an American couple he knew well in Xinjiang had her first child recently – his friend being a grandpa now seemed to amuse him! He speaks pretty good English but we mostly talked in Mandarin, with random English words (and names) thrown in.

The next evening I hired a moving company to take my storage boxes to the house of a family who had offered to store my things. I had used the company before, and it turned out that the same supervisor was assigned. He brought two guys with him, then stayed with the truck while I supervised the guys inside. My ayi was also there at the time helping clean out the house, and saved the day! As the last box was being taken out she realised I hadn’t packed my cutlery and other kitchen utensils! So I grabbed an unused box and we shoved them all in at the last minute. I traveled with the guys in the truck – I sat in front with the supervisor (and no seat belt!) while the other two guys hung out in the back of the truck with my boxes. They were eating small buns for dinner – they had come straight from another job to my place without time to eat.

As we drove the driver asked me questions about Australia, but in a common Chinese conversational quirk, most were in the form of “Australia is <something> isn’t it?” – where he was basically asking me to confirm his beliefs about Australia. I’m always more motivated to engage in conversation when the person I am talking with is interested in learning new things. It got a little uncomfortable when he started asking about how easy it is to immigrate and wouldn’t the easiest way to be for him to marry an Australian, then telling me I should marry a Chinese, before checking that I actually want to stay living in China. He was joking, but it’s still uncomfortable joking to me.

They did a good job, although not as careful or respectful as Caleb. A big difference was the pressure they put on for extra money, though. This is really common, and I’m sure part of it is the workers wanting to get more than the small amount (I assume) the company gives them from the agreed price. Still, it bothers me, because it’s hard to say no even when it feels unfair.

Anyway, in the end it the moving itself was quite stress-free! (The packing was more stressful, but that’s just me). I was able to unpack my belongings in the Browns’ house fairly quickly and I made sure to bring a few decorative thing with me that would make this room feel like “home” to me (framed photos of my family, my pewter vases, and one of my paintings that didn’t fit in a packing box).

My new room has yellow walls (a warm, almost mustard yellow) and bush green curtains – colours that happily match many of my things. The lack of off-white that dominates most China rooms definitely makes me happy. It’s the first time I’ve lived in a room with walls that aren’t white since… You know, I’m not sure I’ve EVER lived in a room with coloured walls. Perhaps one of the two houses we lived in before I was 11, but I doubt it. Living with Australians also has benefits – like the Aussie chocolate I was offered tonight :D


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