China Elevator Stories

“Has He Bought You An Apartment Yet?”

Three Chinese women in their 50s and 60s chat with a woman my age.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


After having traveled around Jilin province and having met my in-laws for the first time in July 2013, my husband and I take a train back to Shenzhen. The train journey takes 36 hours. My husband shares his 6-bed section (there are no doors, so I wouldn’t call it a compartment) with three ladies in their 50s and 60s who are all from Siping in Northeast China as well and a woman my age who is from Hubei, which is located in China’s South. I join them and listen to what they say.

They compare China’s South with China’s North. The young woman says: “My boyfriend is from Harbin in Northeast China. We often fight. People from the north and from the south are really very different.”
One of the ladies replies: “You’re right. Southern men, well, if you scold them, they won’t say too much. They’ll just let you go on about it, but Northern men are different.”

After a while, one of the ladies asks the young woman: “How old are you?”
“I’m 26.”
“You really should get married.”
Another one chips in: “Has he bought you an apartment yet?”
“No, he hasn’t.”
“He hasn’t? He should buy an apartment. If he doesn’t buy one, sooner or later you’ll have to buy one. What if you have kids one day, where should you live if you don’t have an apartment?”
“We don’t even know where we’re going to settle down, so buying an apartment is out of the question.”

My husband chips in: “Young people don’t care about buying an apartment as much as older generations once did.”
The older lady replies: “But where are you going to live if you don’t have an apartment?”
My husband answers her: “We rent a flat, doesn’t that count too? We don’t even know in which country we’ll be living a few years from now, so buying a flat would be a huge constraint.”

The lady says: “Young people really do think differently. This must be a generational gap. You know, for us – an apartment, settling down, these are the things that were really important when we were your age.”
My husband replies: “I’m not saying that these things are wrong. But young people don’t care about these things that much. If you want to accomplish something, if you have a dream, wouldn’t buying a house put you in a figurative prison?”
The lady finishes the conversation, saying: “Nowadays, things really are different from when we were younger.”

Is it common to buy an apartment in your country?

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