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Today was a special day: the day I managed to acquire sheets. My Fulbright stipend hasn’t started yet, and the guy who handles these things have been on vacation for the last two weeks, so I’ve been reluctant to spend money on anything other than food, rent, and the various administrative fees involved in getting my residence permit. Since moving in, I’ve been sleeping on top of an old bedskirt draped over the mattress, one that keeps sliding off and also doesn’t feel very comfortable. I don’t think this is why I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, but it has made the insomnia even less pleasant than usual. But today Bing and I went to buy an indoor air purifier from a grad student who is leaving the country this week, and he threw in some old bedding for free. So now there’s a case on my pillow, a fitted sheet on my mattress, and actual sheets on my bed. I finally feel like I live here!

I should probably explain where “here” is. Right now I am living in a two-bedroom apartment in Minzu University staff and faculty housing. Minzu University is China’s special University for the different ethnic groups in China. Chinese policies about ethnic groups are way too complicated for a blog post about my apartment, so for now I’ll just note that more than half of the students at MinDa are from non-Han ethnic groups, which is unusual for China. This has a definite effect on my neighborhood. There are a lot of different kinds of people around– foreign students from Europe, North America, Korea, and Africa, and Chinese minority students from Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Southwest China. I get stared at way less than anywhere else I’ve been in China, because everyone is used to foreigners here.

Another nice thing about living in a diverse neighborhood is the food diversity. There are lots of different kinds of halal restaurants around– pulled noodles, Xinjiang restaurants, and cafeterias that serve halal versions of more standard Chinese food– plus lots of Korean and Mongolian restaurants, a Dai restaurant, and a bunch of pizza places for the westerners. There’s also a plethora of Chinese food choices in the area, from Shanghai soupy dumplings to Sichuan noodles and hotpot, to Beijing roast duck. And more than six bubble tea stalls within a block of my compound gate. There’s also a supermarket, some bakeries, and several other universities nearby. It’s a very lively area.

Inside the residential community, things are much quieter. (If anyone reading this blog hasn’t read Sushu’s China Comics, you should go read this page to better understand the residential community concept.) Because this place is ostensibly for staff and faculty of MinDa, most of our neighbors are families with young children and grandparents. The noisy students we pass by on our way to dinner all live on campus and don’t come inside here. The only noise comes from the small children outside Bing’s window, playing on the outdoor exercise equipment there.

I liked this residential community almost at first sight. It feels very much like its own tiny city. There are tall buildings that are clearly newer construction, and look like they’re quite nice inside. There are middle-class buildings like mine– 3-6 stories, no elevator, but nice enough. And there are one and two-story rows with tin roofs held down by bricks, often covered in vines growing gourds or veggies that the owners will sell for extra income. A few of these places have been turned into the run-down, un air-conditioned convenience stores I talked about before. There’s also a larger (but still pretty run-down) convenience store inside the gates, as well as a halal cafeteria, a Mongolian restaurant, and a tiny noodle place.

At the same time, the area has a very isolated feel. It’s a little overgrown in places, with vines and bushes and tall grass covering up columns and cobblestone pathways. It’s clear that this was designed to be shiny and impressive, and the overgrown bits give it this feeling of abandoned ruins or a very gentle post-apocalypse, like something out of Laputa or Last Exile. The shorter buildings with their tin roofs and the pumpkin vines growing over the window bars contribute.

This mixture of lively and quiet, what Sushu called the “Yang and Yin of city life” makes an afternoon bubble tea run feel like an adventure. I know this will fade a little as I get more used to living here, but for now I am enjoying it.

Cross-posted from Archives and Stuff.

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