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When I was coming here, my University booked a room form me in the dorm. After browsing some ads on a Chinese housing website, I was actually considering staying there (despite no cooking facilities whatsoever, no way of hosting anyone and the slight dinginess), when one day upon coming back I found a Japanese girl unpacking her stuff. The decision was made on the spot: must. Move. Out. SOON. It wasn’t about her being Japanese or even her being there, full stop. It was about her speaking almost no English and no Chinese. She was also a good Japanese compulsive sleeper, which made me feel bad every time I came back and found her asleep (with the time frame ranging from 11 pm to 3 am), and couldn’t even properly apologise in the morning. In the long run it would just be too hard on both her and me.

The decision made, I started making arrangements. I reminded the ladies at the dorm office that I’d be moving out. ‘Really?’, said they with an air of surprise. And then they told me that in that case it would be best if I moved out by 10th and charged me for the week I spent there like for a hotel.

Bugger.

With a week to go, I spent lots of money on ridiculously overpriced beers which excused my extended presence in the nearby pub with wi-fi (that is when I couldn’t steal someone’s connection in the dorm), frantically sifting away thousands of flat ads. My expectations were not too high, really. Something relatively close to my Uni, with a bed, internet connection, bathroom and preferably some means of cooking something. Also not too dingy. Full of hope, off I went to explore my options.

…Well. The one thing I can tell you is: Chinese people can definitely be satisfied with less. And when a Chinese real estate agent tells you that a place is “pretty basic” – run. To summarise, I spent a few days cycling and being driven (on The E-bike of Death) to see following: flats the size of a biggish double mattress. Flats with shared bathrooms – outside the building. Flats with NO WINDOWS (but – as the owner observed – there’s an air conditioner!). And most of them combining all of these traits.

That’s what you get when you want to live on a budget. Total despair.

More on the subject of bathrooms: assuming that they were there at all, they weren’t what you’d call a de luxe model either. Half a square metre, a squat toilet (ie. a hole in the floor with a space for the feet on both sides) and a shower hanging directly over it! I mean… okay, let’s be honest. It wouldn’t be unpardonable, in a moment of weakness or laziness, to pee in the shower once in a while. It’s only natural, gets flushed straight away anyway. However, this is no reason for installing your shower over the toilet and doing it on a daily basis. I mean, there’s expediency and there’s plain… yuck!

Anyway. Hope faltering, time running out and no light on the horizon, I decided to look for a room in a shared flat and fate intervened. I went to this running thing which is not the Hash House Harriers but still involves beers (after 10 km in plimsolls my feet were not happy so – tarararah! – after over 2 years of more or less regular running I’ve finally bought myself some running shoes today! Hooray, hooray) and by chance sat not far from a girl who heard the sad tale of my woes and told me that she’s just moving into a flat and they’re looking for another flatmate.

And that’s how it got resolved. Fed up with the fruitless search, I went to check out the place, got over the fact that I’m not going to find what I want for the price I want to pay and moved in yesterday. I’m now living with two French engineers-to-be (doing an internship which involves inspecting Chinese factories) and an American Chinese girl whose busy work life makes me feel like a complete failure. The flat itself is actually great. Not only there’s a kitchen, but even an oven in it! That’s not something you see every day here. Good-sized living room, air-conditioning, etc. Everything you might need. Doesn’t matter that the shower was broken two days ago and when the landlord fixed it, the toilet broke down in its turn. The toilet is now fixed, but the tap leaks. The toilet seat is on the loose and you never know when you might end up on the floor. But all these are just minor details. More annoying is my broken bed frame and the pancake-thin, stone-hard mattress. I’d basically be better off sleeping on the floor. But I’ve got my bed linen, my internet and my washing machine. Life’s looking much brighter!

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