My in-laws’ old house

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Four years ago, my in-laws bought an apartment in their hometown Siping in Northeast China’s Jilin province. Two years ago, they should have been able to move into their new apartment. But the apartment had not been finished at that time. It’s still not finished now, two years later.

When my husband and I walk by the building site, I can see that the last rows of buildings are already finished, while the first two aren’t. My husband tells me that there’s an elderly woman living there – not in the new apartment complex, but in an old house located right where the new apartments are supposed to be built. She refuses to move out. She says that the compensation fee she would receive is too low to afford a new home.

In the meantime, my in-laws have rented an old house for 100 CNY a month. The place is surrounded by fields and the water comes from a well, making it taste much better than the tap water in those newer apartments.

Still, the house doesn’t have the modern facilities for running water and will be torn down soon to make place for more shiny new buildings. The old house also lacks a toilet, so for the time being, my in-laws have to do with a bucket or the outdoors.

Except for these inconveniences, I really like this old house. It’s stuffed with old things and its grey walls are decorated with the Chinese character for good fortune (福, fú), calenders that feature Chinese saints, an old mirror that seems to stem from the Mao-era and more.

My father-in-law takes care of the owner’s little dog and breeds pidgeons, latter of which he sometimes sells on the market.

When my husband and I walk by the construction site a few days later, there suddenly seems to be some movement. It seems like the constructions works can finally continue.

I ask my husband what has happened with the old lady. He says that her son got into a fight with two people and needed to pay a compensation fee. That’s when the old lady decided to move out. I’m not sure what exactly happened though. I can only guess.

Have you ever stayed at your in-laws? What was it like? I’d love to read about your experiences.

On a side note: There’s a Chinese TV-series called Dwelling Narrowness (蜗居, wōjū) that deals with the topic of corrupt government officials, extramarital affairs, money problems of normal people, relocations, unaffordable apartments and the like. The TV show was actually banned from Chinese TV after a few episodes had been broadcast, but has resumed airing later. If you want to watch one TV series that describes life in China, I think that this is the one you should watch and although the first few episodes seem a bit long without much happening, it will get really interesting once you get to the later episodes. 

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5 thoughts on “My in-laws’ old house

  1. I can understand old lady, prices get crazy all over China, too bad your in-law’s are affected by that too. my husband’s grandma was more lucky – they used to live quite close to bund in Shanghai before it was a bund and they got really nice apartment – big, new, having park blocked by buildings, close to everything, but she had connections ‘up there’. I never stayed with my father-in-law, he practically lives in the company, I saw him 2 times in my whole life, but I stayed with my mother in law and it was horrible. We stayed at their flat in Hong Kong, she took great care of me, but she loves to teach me how to take care of her little, almost 27 yo, boy now so both of us (me and her) got annoyed because we both think ‘we know better’ 🙂 I love her but that’s the thing we can never get thru 🙂


    • To Chinese parents, their kids will always stay kids :D. Although my in-laws treated me really well, but there was one time when we had to tell them that we’re grown-ups and that we do handle things alright when we live on our own, because my MIL did everything for us (this was unbearable after a while not only for me who’s not used to being spoiled like a little child but for my husband too).


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