In Search of Home

Can you pinpoint the exact moment you left “home”? For some people, perhaps it was when they moved out of their parent’s houses and into their college dorms. For others, maybe the feeling didn’t hit until after graduation as they left behind their friends and took a leap of faith with a job in a new city. Either way, in the search for independence and opportunity, everyone eventually leaves behind a place they regard as home. And in this quest, they’re faced with the task of creating a brand new “home” for themselves.

More often than not, people are drawn to metropolises where opportunities are abundant. This migration in turns causes a constant demand for housing in major cities, where for most, renting is the norm due to the prohibitively expensive costs of buying property. But in China, as rent costs continue rising, it’s not uncommon for tenants to repeatedly move year after year. Curious about the effects of this constant displacement, we take a look at the lives of three Chinese youths living in Shanghai to explore how it affects their lifestyles, get their thoughts on living in a place that both belongs and doesn’t belong to them, and discuss what the idea of “home” truly means.


我们是从什么时候离开家的呢?大概是第一次兴奋地搬至学校宿舍,或者拿到大学通知书拖着不多的行李奔赴别的城市甚至国家吧。而对更多人来说,一切可能发生在毕业后,在陌生的城市拿到第一份工资,满怀信心决定打拼下去的那一刻。无论如何,在寻求独立和机遇的过程中,每个人最终都留在了他们认为是“家”的地方。

大城市机会充足,但人们租房的需求也会相应增加。随着租金成本的上升,租客年复一年地多次搬家的情况并不少见。如果下一年你仍旧不得不拖着行李箱,听着另一个中介喋喋不休的介绍,你会想要一个什么样的租住空间呢?

出于对这种不断辗转的生活的好奇,我们去到几个居住在外的不同的年轻人家里探险,有的人喜欢习惯带来的安全感,有的人看看空荡的四周希望自己可以说走就走,但出于上海的房价或者一些别的原因,他们都居住在这个不属于他们却又完全属于他们的空间里。我们和他们聊了聊租房对生活方式产生的影响,并随之探讨了下“家”的真正含义是什么。


Ian / Shanghai, China

“I don’t eat lao gan ma chili sauce because it’s too spicy.”

 

Born in 1994, Ian recently moved back to China after his studies abroad in Japan. Despite being Shanghainese and having parents that live in the city, he’s rented for most of his life since their house is inconveniently located on the outskirts of the city. Having rented for so long, he’s still unsure what “home” is supposed to feel like, but he’s content with what he has now. Today, like many, he shares an apartment with a few close friends as roommates.

Ian is someone who’s difficult to define, but his house is somewhat telling of his personality. Despite the spacial limitations, a large potted plant occupies the corner of his bedroom. From a never-been-used stretching machine to strangely shaped light bulbs, items without any immediately identifiable practicality populate his room. “I like things that are too pretty to be used, like a piece of kitchenware that’s so beautiful you just can’t bear using it. This is far more interesting to me than something that’s designed to be beautiful but without any functionality in mind.”

While Ian might seem borderline obsessive with decorating the apartment, he tells us he isn’t a materialistic person. Everything in his place appears to be flawlessly organized, yet a jar of opened lao gan ma chili sauce left out on the dining room table seems to break this illusion of perfection (even though it turned out to be his roommates). While he’s adamant about living independently, he isn’t overly concerned about personal space. “I don’t really care,” he tells us, shrugging. “It’s something I stopped caring about when I’m fine with roommates. It doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t be living in an apartment with people I don’t like in the first place.”


“我不吃老干妈的原因是它太辣。”

 

94年的 Ian 今年刚刚从日本留学回来,他算是一个纯正上海本地人了,但因为家离市区较远所以他很早就开始了租房生涯,从小经历寄宿生活的Ian对家的概念没有那么在意。跟很多上海租房青年一样,他跟自己的好朋友合租在这里。

房间不大,但一走进他的卧室立刻看到一棵巨大的植物,然后你会发现一些功能模糊的东西占据着这个空间:一个也许从来没被使用过的拉伸器,或者各种不同形状的灯。Ian 说:好看到没有用处的东西非常好玩,比如一个锅子,因为太好看了导致你不想使用它,这比一开始就创造一个没有用的东西要更好玩。

Ian 也是个没法被轻松定义的人,他超迷恋物质,喜欢用他们装饰自己的空间,但如果真的不买也不会觉得怎么样;他的生活似乎很虚拟,可是餐桌上也放着瓶盖打开的老干妈(最后证明是室友的物品);需要自己住,但他对私人空间也有不同的看法,“(我)不太在乎这件事,觉得在选室友之前就决定了这件事。因为你不可能跟一个你不能认可的人住在一起。


Kim / Daegu, South Korea

“My friends climb in through the window.”

 

Kim moved from Korea to Shanghai four years ago for college, and after graduating with a major in business management, he began working as a part-time model.

When we met up with him at his apartment, he was groggy-eyed, having obviously just woken up but still greeted us enthusiastically alongside Boto, his dog. After a quick tour of his quaint space, he plops down crosslegged in the middle of the living room, telling us, “I feel like I don’t really need furniture or a bed. Since I was a kid, I’ve gotten used to sleeping on the floor.”

Eyeing his sofa, he quickly changes his mind, “Actually, I’ve grown pretty fond of sleeping on the couch lately.”

As we began to discuss what some of his favorite activities at home are, he reveals himself to be a major movie buff and tells us he’s infatuated with colors and how they can be used (showing us his sketchbook in the process). He says, at times, he’ll completely lose track of a movie’s plot but still find himself engrossed by the cinematography.

He explains that having the peace and quiet to get lost in activities he enjoys is what gives him the feeling of being home. But despite treasuring his time alone, Kim still often hosts small get-togethers at his place. “Even though I’m renting, I try to treat my apartment like my actual home and not just a place I sleep at. I like to smoke and drink here. I also like inviting friends over to smoke and drink together. I always end up making plenty of great memories no matter where I live, so whenever I move away out of an apartment, I feel quite sentimental about it.”


“朋友从窗子爬进来。”

 

Kim 是四年前来到上海念大学的金牛座韩国男生,学的是工商管理,但同时也是一个时装模特。他大概是我们拍到的最真实的租客了,睡眼惺忪地为我们开门,迎接我们的还有完全不怕生的小狗 Boto,在客厅里席地而坐,每个地方看起来都可以随时舒服躺下,我无所谓有没有床,在床上跟地上都可以睡,小时候习惯睡在地上,最近特别喜欢睡沙发上。

聊到喜欢的电影,Kim 表示自己对色彩非常敏感,有时甚至可以不那么注重剧情内容去喜欢一个电影作品,他非常热衷于王家卫的《重庆森林》,也喜欢看法国电影,但唯一不看的是恐怖片。看电影、听音乐、创作……Kim 说,他享受一个人安稳又平静的独处时间,这让他有种家的感觉。但他也喜欢在家里和朋友小聚,我会把租住的空间当成一个家而不止是一个房子,我喜欢在这里抽烟,喝酒,也喜欢请朋友到家里一起喝酒抽烟吃东西,在那个空间会有很多记忆,每次我搬离原本居住的地方,会非常不舍。


Dimola / Hangzhou, China

“Having alcohol at the house is mandatory.”

 

“To be honest, I don’t really care that I don’t own the house,” Dimola says, laughing. “Of course, if I did own it, it’d even better.”

Even though she’s moved six times since being in Shanghai, she doesn’t seem to mind. Her room is filled with an assortment of souvenirs from her travels. Although none of them have any practical use, she still feels like they’re an important part of her life. This strong sense of attachment has been a defining part of her personality since she was young. When she was a child, she read a book with a character named Dimola and loved it so much she decided to adopt it as her English nickname. It’s stuck with her ever since.

Dimola tells us that she prefers the inviting glow of incandescent lights over the sterile feel of white fluorescent lights – she feels that this warm light and her collection of toys and souvenirs go together perfectly, lending her space a welcoming and comforting feel. However, she often feels conflicted when she visits the clean and neatly organized apartments of friends.

With a tinge of jealousy, she would think to herself: How is possible for them to keep their place so tidy?

But often times, this envy is replaced with pity: It must feel quite lonely here.

In the past, Dimola has worked as a choreographer and event planner. She now works full-time as a new media editor but dreams of being a pastry chef. Her ever-changing career choices have taken her from Shanghai to Beijing (albeit only for three months) and back again.

Having lived alone for so long, she admits that the idea of a place being “home” is becoming less and less clear to her. “Sometimes I guess I don’t regard my rented apartment as home per say. I’d say my true ‘home’ is still where my parents live. But, whenever I’m having a bad day, or if the weather is terrible, or if I’m having relationship troubles, whenever I get back to my apartment, it feels like everything will be OK.”


“家里一定要有酒。”

 

其实我不太在意这是不是我的房子,当然是我的房子就更好啦。已经搬过六次家的 Dimola 非常洒脱的看待租房这件事,她的房间里充满大大小小的旅行纪念品,但即使洒脱如她,也会在每次搬家时尽量保留这些看似无用的物品,就像 Dimola 这个来源于她小时候看的一本书里人物的名字一样,用了很久她都没有改。

因为不喜欢白炽灯的冷光,Dimola 屋里只亮着那盏暖黄色的台灯,温暖地包裹着整个屋子的繁杂,这也导致她去到那些家里空无一物的朋友家时,都会一边羡慕一边感叹这个人未免也太冷酷了吧。

在上海的几年之间她也试过去北京发展,但只在那里待了三个月就回来了。长期一个人在外生活,似乎对家的概念越来越模糊,有时候也会想我可能没有把租的房子真正当成一个家,因为真正的家还是在父母那里。但很多时候,比如天气特别冷,或者工作非常不顺或者失恋,只要一回到这里就会觉得其实也没什么大不了的。

Contributor: Shou Xing
Photographer: Ye Zi


供稿人: Shou Xing
摄影师: Ye Zi