Our apartment is located on the 11th floor of a 17-floor building. There are about 12 apartments per floor, which means about 200 units in our building alone. Our building is one of over 10 identical buildings in the development. Do the math, and that’s over 2,000 apartments like ours in an area of about six square blocks. Figure an average of 2.5 people per apartment, and you’re talking 5,000 people. Are you starting to get a sense of the incredible urban density here?
The entire development is called Hua Qing Jia Yuan (“Hua Qing” Beautiful Gardens), and it is so big that almost all taxi drivers in Beijing will know it by name. While the buildings were built in 2002, they don’t look seven years old. Let’s just say they haven’t aged that well, and I’m still looking for the beautiful gardens.
The history of the development is an interesting one. If you walk around, you’ll see two different types of buildings, one type being nicer than the other. The majority of the buildings were built to be sold on the open market, so they include a few extra amenities. One of the first noticeable ones is the presence of an external security door (and sometimes a guard – although the effectiveness of the guards is somewhat questionable). Regardless, the message is clear: only residents of that particular building can enter.
Three buildings on the development are “special,” and like a lot of things in China (and elsewhere too), it has to do mostly with politics. In exchange for the rights to build the entire complex, the developer needed to provide three buildings of units to be offered at below market rates to the current residents of the land on which they were going to build. It was a way to help assuage public discontent over the proposed changes. Well, it also turns out that the developer didn’t exactly have a reason to make those buildings the same quality as the others. Our building is one of these three cheaper buildings.
But you couldn’t tell it from the rent. While rent in Beijing is known for being higher than most other Chinese cities, this specific area is known for being high in Beijing. Of course, high is relative. Our place has a monthly rent of 3,900 yuan + 50 yuan in foreigners tax that I pay. That translates into about $550 a month – not really that much in the US.
The reason for the higher rent is that the location is really desirable, especially to foreigners. Because Wudaokou subway station is in the middle of at least six major universities, students from all over the world seek to live here. As more and more students study abroad, demand for apartments increases, and so does the rent.
The six universities (that I know of – there may be others) that surround Wudaokou are:
- Beijing University (west)
- Language & Culture University (east)
- University of Geological Sciences (east)
- Tsinghua University (north)
- University of Science and Technology (east)
- Beihang University of Aviation and Astronomy (south)
Quick Fact: I had also applied to teach at University of Science and Technology. I was accepted but declined the offer after I was hired by Tsinghua University.