After months of searching we've finally found a place that I hope will become our home for the next few years. Finding somewhere that ticks all the boxes hasn't been easy. Within our price range we could have somewhere either modern or quiet, it seemed.
There are three main websites:
And luckily for me Google Chrome translates the pages into English automatically. This does make for some comedy while reading sometimes, but it's very easy to understand the essentials. I cannot, however, arrange to view apartments by myself and my very good friends Jane and Yee Ling have helped me enormously with this.
While I'm not a big fan of house hunting, it's been interesting seeing the variety available and the differences with houses in the UK. For a start, I'm saying 'houses' but of course they're actually apartments. The distinction isn't such a strong one here. I'm pretty sure Chinese generally uses the same word for both.
Of course in Taipei the vast majority of housing available is apartments. You do see what I would call proper houses and they're highly sought-after it seems. Maybe this is because your chance of being annoyed by your neighbours reduces the further away they are. But then I think that unless you're living in the mountains, the further from the street with its traffic and accompanying noise and pollution the better, so for me apartment living at considerable height is preferable.
Another consideration is that a sub-tropical country harbours a lot of creepy-crawlies to be scared of. I have a theory that the higher I am the more difficult it is for them to get me. We're currently on the tenth floor and have had only two close encounters with cockroaches, both of which appeared to have been brought in in cardboard boxes. Mosquitos, of course, will get you however high you live.
One thing that Taipei has in common with most other Asian cities is the contrast between the exterior and the interior of apartment blocks. It's just about impossible to tell what an apartment will be like by looking at its exterior. It's like Doctor Who's TARDIS in the realm of aesthetics. The dirtiest, most decrepit exterior can conceal palatial splendour within. The only thing you can really guess from the outside of a building is its age.
While there doesn't appear to be a clear distinction between houses and apartments, there are different words for apartment blocks with and without elevators. Living somewhere hot and wet, the ability to get to your front door without having to climb five flights of stairs ranks high in importance, of course. Also, there are several items you might like for your home that simply won't fit up a narrow staircase.
I did look at several gongyus, or no elevator buildings, but in the end we settled on somewhere that we could reach without too much of a struggle. Here it is (I don't know for how much longer before the agent takes the ad down): http://rent.591.com.tw/rent-detail-1372901.html.
We like the open aspects to both sides of the building, which will probably make for less humidity and mould in the winter, and its relatively modern interior. It's very close to an MRT line but on the outer edge of the city where the air is cleaner and there are many places to go walking and cycling. We've swapped proximity to restaurants for a supermarket on the ground floor and a sports centre with swimming pool just down the road (that's free to residents of the district).
After already being cooked on occasion in our current apartment I'm pleased to report there are four air conditioners in the new one. Now all we have to worry about is the electricity bill for the summer. There are also three balconies so I'll never be short of somewhere to dry the washing, and I may even finally be able to grow something.
The only potential downside that I'm aware of so far is that we're near a main road, though it's only the living room that faces the road and that's through an enclosed balcony area. We've stood in the apartment and listened and been unable to hear the traffic, possibly due to good windows. What it will sound like in the early hours of the morning as we're lying in bed, I don't know. One thing I do know is that we're about to find out. It can't be worse than a recycling depot - can it?