I went to Shanghai for the first time 7 years ago, just on a friendly visit. If someone had told me at that time that I would rent an apartment in China for myself, I would probably have thought they were crazy. But life changes, and sometimes things happen to us that we’d never expect.
I have been renting an apartment in a small town in the Wudang Mountains for more than a year, and I have become acquainted with the Chinese way of life. And I must say that it is very much different from the one I was used to. Especially in the countryside.
A café at one of the Chinese Food Festivals
- Chinese people rarely invite guests to their home. It is too troublesome because a dining table consists of many dishes. If friends want to get together, they go to a restaurant. It is rather cheap, even bearing in mind the Chinese tradition that the inviter pays for everyone. In Wudang, an excellent lunch for 5 people will cost around $50. Friends usually invite each other in turns.
- Many homes don’t have a shower and toilet. Apart from multi-unit apartment buildings, there are a lot of one-story houses in our town, which look like concrete boxes. The interiors are very simple, but 2 things are obligatory: the characters written on the door wishing good luck and the portrait of Mao Zedong in the biggest room. The toilets in such houses are usually located outside, with no shower. The cleaning lady from our kung-fu school lives in such a house and takes a shower at work.
A public toilet — there is no bowl, though there is a TV set.
- But even if there is a bathroom, you will not find a toilet bowl there. Even in modern multi-unit apartment buildings, they don’t have “traditional” flush toilets. Instead, they have floor pans. The Chinese think it is better for good digestion.
- The water from the shower runs right onto the floor. They have bathtubs only in very expensive hotels and some rich people in big cities might be able to afford it. As for the rest, they use only a shower (which they take in the evening, not in the morning), and it is placed right above the floor. In my bathroom, the water runs from the floor to the toilet. The same thing applies to the washing machine. Isn’t it convenient? You wash yourself and wash the floor at the same time.
This is how bathrooms in regular Chinese apartments look.
- The kitchens are usually very small. Not even small, but tiny. There is enough space only for a sink, a couple of drawers, and a stove. The stove always works on gas because they cook food in a wok, a special Chinese frying pan, which demands high heat. At the same time, there is no central gas supply. They keep cylinders with bottled gas in the kitchen.
- It is rather expensive to rent a lodging in China. The rental fee for an apartment in our town is from $150 to $200 per month. The most expensive is around $300, but the diversity of prices is huge. Small rooms in Shanghai will cost from $600 per month, and decent apartments’ rental fees will be higher than $2,500-$3,000 per month.
They don’t have flush toilets at home, but they do in the restaurants. This is the famous “toilet” restaurant in Shanghai.
- New houses are finished without window frames. When new owners buy an apartment, they have to set glass windows by themselves. That is why you often see the empty holes of the windows of your neighbors’ balconies with linen drying on them. The view is rather depressing, I must say.
- Regardless of the floor, windows and balconies are barred. The Chinese say that they set bars not because of the thieves but to prevent children falling out of windows. Additionally, almost every residential complex has their own security and gates, which are kept shut during the nights.
- There is no central heating system here, which is why they have electrical heaters in the bathrooms. One more essential element of the Chinese bathroom is an electrical heating lamp on the ceiling. Who knows what for…
- In south and central China, they don’t have heating in their houses at all. My friends think that the winter temperatures of 32°F to 50°F are actually warm, and they simply cannot imagine what it is like when it’s 32°F outside and 40°F inside. The Chinese don’t really care about it. They just stay in their outer clothes inside their homes. And the concrete box dwellers even set open fires with firewood in their houses.
A wedding in a typical Chinese home with a simplistic interior
I would like to speak to those who may comment with “I’ve never seen anything like this in China” or something similar. China is not just a huge country. It is a country where people from 2 neighboring villages can’t understand each other because they speak different dialects. It is a country where the food you like in one town cannot be found in another. I just share my personal experience, but I don’t claim it is universal.
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