It sounds horrible I know, but actually the yellow walls and white trim of my small flat make this a very cheery slum.
That’s not fair. It’s a ground floor single next to 2 main arteries of traffic, so there is constant noise and pollution and traffic but it is immensely convenient live here–bar none the most convenient place I’ve ever lived. Commutes to work and the airport and train stations are fast, and the bus and taxi are right outside my door. And then rent is really affordable for Beijing–which has more than tripled in 6 years. I pay about 750 USD for this monthly. Everything works, the bugs are minimal and vermin are non-existent. Neighbors are old and quiet–I’m the noisy guy who speaks those damn foreign languages, talks loudly on the phone, and s-i-i-i-i-n-g-s–but the otherwise noisy greater environment allows me to not have to live with hyper-sensitive awareness of all the noise I make. The neighborhood has a (real) French bakery, post office, grocery shop, dry cleaner, famous brand pub, an imported liquor shop, and several restaurants. I don’t drink now but everything else is good to have nearby. Just up the road from the central business district, I am next to the embassy district and near central park, my work office, and the most useful foreign eating and shopping district in Beijing. The insanely popular rental-bike service has further shortened my commute to the neighboring neighborhoods.
But, yes, it’s rather a modest space in which I exist. About 40 m2 I think, and believe it or not it’s separated into 3 rooms: one br w/desk, a kitchen, and a dining area with fridge. It was newly renovated when I moved in last year but then its decay and wear has become quickly apparent as it seeks to return to its natural state. I have an electric washing machine and air conditioner and water heater. Gas range. I use my phone APPs to pay for rent and all utilities, eliminating the hours-long Saturday morning waits at local public service offices. There refrigerator doesn’t keep things very cold but it’s good enough for someone without a lot of leftovers, the floor is buckling and there’s water damage from the building and a security system that does not work–this is one of the giant old soviet-styled concrete residential buildings but it too is newly painted yellow so even massively ugly concrete blocks of flats can look happy. There is a group of people who collect recyclable trash just outside my door so there’s always garbage piled up as part of someone’s process–don’t step in the water, and there is a main recycling center on the next block. I have not seen any other foreigner here–so I get lots of stares–especially with the 19th century mustache I wear. And on most days, I can hear one of the subway lines. I don’t feel it–that happens to some–I just hear it–about every 15 minutes or so. It’s a brief, warm, humming sound and actually I don’t even notice it much anymore but it never has been an offensive noise to me.
Although I appropriately declined the opportunities for “house-warming” parties when I moved here last year–there’s no place to put anyone and nowhere for them to sit, it is precisely because this flat is a temporary housing that is easy to maintain that I choose to live here. I keep about one suitcase of clothing and personal things here–as simple as the space itself, which has a desk and bed and chair and a wardrobe cabinet to hang my 3 shirts and 4 trousers. No other furniture. There are no plants and there is no art on the wall; no shelves or books or photographs. For privacy and to minimize the joyful noise of the children playing in the adjacent courtyard, I covered and insulated my 3 windows so now I don’t have to be bothered to know what time of day it looks like. If the rain is heavy, I’ll hear it.
I have a HEPA air filter that runs 24/7 when I am at my desk here. And remember that I travel every week, so much of my life is in these really posh hotels. I take advantage of the services and features offered there and so I never really feel pinched living in my current apartment. Like I’ve mentioned, I really love the convenience and the central location and I don’t miss the disturbing absence of all noise.
This place suits me fine because I’m not interested in staying here. I like the temporary feeling I have living here. I feel like I could pick up and go decisively anywhere at a moment’s notice. I like that right now.