American Homes 2

After nearly three months hard work in cleaning our house full of clutter, the three-story townhouse has become more livable. Of course, I emptied out space to make room for my new clutter.

Hoarding happens in China, too. But generally the problem isn’t that serious in most households simply because on average each Chinese occupies less space than an American. When you live in a relatively small house—in the case of China, most are apartments—you’ll develop a stronger sense of cleaning up. That’s my experience as a lifelong urban dweller.

Recently, I visited several American homes during my travel with my husband to his relatives and friends in northeastern America. Staying with families and friends on a trip saves considerable money. But staying with friends and relatives isn’t commonly practiced in mainland China. Again, either the apartments are too small to accommodate guests overnight, or the guests mostly prefer avoiding the hassles of living in others’ houses. Instead, hotels and inns would be the first choices.

Besides the big sizes compared with Chinese homes, American homes usually have stairs and more than one exit. I was amazed how one can reach the same place in the house through many other ways. The house is certainly a great place for kids to play hide-and-seek. Some families would use the back doors more often than the front doors, whereas some others get into the house from the garage after their cars are parked. Isn’t it fascinating?

While cleaning our house I also learned about the housing in the neighborhood. To mortgage a house in the States is routine. It may take as long as a half of a lifetime for an American family to pay off the house mortgage. People live in a house while paying for it regularly. In China, a mortgage is available but a majority of Chinese who can afford a new home usually pay in full. They have to save money for decades to buy a house. Borrowing money from a bank for housing involves complicated procedures. For conservative Chinese, paying interests regularly on the top of the mortgage is beyond their financial ability. So purchasing a new place to live isn’t as easy for a Chinese as for an American. However, it’s a dream for everyone.

Americans have a definite sense of their owner’s property rights. They plant trees, build fences and draw lines around their houses. I often notice between two neighboring houses one side of the lawn is greener than the other (one home owner must have a green thumb while the other does not) or a wall of pine trees line in the middle of two houses. One of our hosts who had a house facing the Gulf of Maine told me that his property extends to a hundred feet to the ocean. Gosh, doesn’t Mother Nature belong to the public?

Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America