I live in a large apartment complex in a middle-class neighborhood, approximately halfway between the institute and the downtown so it's neither expensive or time-consuming to get to work or go out. A bus that goes to lots of interesting places downtown runs right by the entrance to the apartment complex. There are lots of little restaurants and a sort of farmer's market mall right next door where I can get fresh produce, fresh meat, take-away foods and also firecrackers, should I get the urge to set off a loud cacophony of whistles and bangs. This is done regularly in my neighbouhood when someone opens a store or gets married.
However, my landlord (the designated villain of this blog) is a skinflint who provided me with one doll-sized second-hand kitchen cabinet, one ancient gas burner, one old fridge, and the most butt-numbing, back-wrenching sofa I've ever encountered. It is pretty much impossible to sit on and right now it's just being used as another horizontal surface -- that is, a place to empty out my purse and briefcase on. I don't think this is just a cultural difference, like the mattress. The Chinese like a firm mattress. I had to add a little foam mattress on top of the brand new mattress they gave me, to be able to sleep on it. But the sofa is evil.
The apartment is a cold-water apartment on the third floor of a seven-storey apartment building that has no elevators. When I say it that way, it sounds like I am complaining but for the most part I am content to live as the people around me live. Plus, I've seen a lot of old movies and lots of romantic couples lived in cold water walk-ups. The average Chinese person does not get an elevator to whisk him upstairs and he doesn't have a clothes dryer for his clothes. City apartment-dwellers use their balconies, whether open or enclosed, to hang their clothes to dry. The washing machine is a cute little semi-manual thing, with one tub for washing and another tub for spinning.
When I need another big bottle of water for drinking and cooking, I phone the water delivery company and a young man bolts up the stairs with a bottle of water on his shoulder. Only 9 yuan. Other things like groceries I bring up myself, so I only buy as much as I can carry myself.
For hot water, I heat water on the stove, or in the electric kettle I just bought, or the water heater mounted on the wall in the bathroom. The shower head is gravity fed, which means there is no invigorating blast of water. I probably use less water than I would at home, so I can think of it as being environmentally virtuous. There is no separate shower stall -- the bathroom is lined with ceramic tiles and there's a drain on the floor.
I told the person in charge of getting me settled at the institute where I work that the toilet was not seated. It is a western style toilet, not a squat toilet, but it's just sitting on the floor, it's not secured to the floor with a wax o-ring and bolts. And furthermore, it didn't have a seat. No lid, no seat. The landlord himself, in business attire, came to deal with the problem.
He mixed up a pail of grout and slapped it around the bottom of the toilet. This of course did not work and since the grout got wet whenever I shower, I had dirty little bits of grout everywhere for weeks until I bought a putty knife and scraped away the last bits of it.
The landlord (dvotb) refused to provide a toilet seat since I had not made this request clearly enough. He also refused to replace the extremely second hand, acquired from a junkyard, stained bathroom sink which wiggles whenever you even lightly rest your hand on it. And there is no mirror in the bathroom. And I'm not allowed to stick anything to the walls.
And I think with a little more furniture, and some stuff stuck to the walls, it will be very nice.
*You don't come all the way to China and expect things to be exactly like home.