observations upon moving into a new flat

March 1, 2014

1. buying sheets for a queen-sized bed is a process full of angst, particularly if you have previously only had experience with single bed linens.

2. when taking a look at the agreement your landlord presents to you for approval, editing it on impulse for coherency and flow will waste more time than you can spare. On the other hand, your landlord seems to be a fan of you now.

3. the first flatmate you meet emerges from the inner workings of a car the day you turn up to view the place, all engine grease and mild blue eyes. His friendly, easygoing calm is innately reassuring, and one of the reasons you feel little to no unease when you decide that you can live with these people. Today, two days later, when you pull in with your suitcases and attendant bags he’s still there beneath the hood. It turns out he has little idea what he’s doing, and still finds driving on the left-hand side of the road disconcerting.

4. Later, when you head out to buy sheets for a queen-sized bed and various groceries, the car’s exposed engine appears to have accrued a tinkering Malaysian man with a desk lamp.

5. the second flatmate you meet is the landlord himself, Mainland Chinese and a little vague in manner, but apparently eager to please with the half-embarrassed smiling and nodding that guards the borders of language barriers. No- the second flatmate you meet is the landlord’s son, a ten-year-old, or a twelve-year-old, or a fourteen-year-old; it’s hard to tell. He has the healthy disregard of the young for anybody five or more years older than himself. When you see him today, he’s dueling two friends with plastic lightsabers and loud enthusiasm.

6. the fourth flatmate you meet, or perhaps the fifth- you glimpsed her only briefly that first time, after all- is the landlord’s lady; the second time you see her, she’s hoovering at the upstairs carpet. She looks young. She avoids eye contact and greets you with the polite monosyllables of someone uncomfortable with English, or strangers. Later on when the landlord leaves off chopping chicken pieces and goes to talk to her, curled up on the couch beside her son, she shrieks with laughter and points out in Mandarin that he’s still holding his cleaver.

7. the fifth flatmate you find in the kitchen steeping mint leaves in hot water; she’s blonde, finely-boned and a law graduate on a working holiday visa with her partner, the car-explorer. Both carry accents you can’t quite place, largely because it appears you know little about Eastern European languages. You chat in the way that travellers and migrants do, and discover you’re both Christians, and both looking for churches. She offers you the free use of both the mint and basil plants, tells you where to keep your food, adds that the landlord’s family isn’t particularly good at cleaning, and when you’re scrubbing furiously at stains on your allocated shelves, comes by to drop off her cleaning products and the internet password.

8. scrubbing shelves with diluted JIF is generally considered a bad idea when you’re wearing a black dress.

9. the sixth flatmate is Malaysian Chinese, young and squarely built, and originally you assume that he’s either deeply introverted or shy, because he answers- when he first answers- sporadically, and in mumbled monosyllables. It turns out that he’s neither; he offers to drop you off at Sylvia Park for the groceries, and picks you back up again when you stagger out of the supermarket laden with things too heavy to bus home with, and on the journeys there and back you chat about how long he’s been in the country, why he and his wife moved here, what he studied originally, and the irresponsibility of the landlord. In Cantonese. It turns out you talk too fast in English.

10. you prayed, badly, for the shop assistant you met in Bed, Bath & Beyond, after chatting about polycotton versus microfibre sheets, study, sociology, life goals and the faith she grew up with, and the importance of questioning it and figuring out why you believe what you believe. you’re still not sure what came over you, other than impulse and the vague feeling that it’d be a good idea, but if you’re going to make a habit of this, it’s probably an even better idea to learn how to pray out loud gracefully.

11. codeswitching between Cantonese and English is deeply satisfying in a linguistic way.

12. your non-landlord flatmates are lovely, lovely people. you’re pretty sure this even applies to the two you haven’t met. you’re also curious as to whether this amount of people in this house is actually legal.

13. internet use here is going to be limited, and internet speed is sluggish; it appears that your landlord has a problem with people watching online movies, and youtube videos for entertainment sit in a grey area. you’re not entirely sure how you feel about this, particularly given what you’ve heard about the landlord’s casual neglect of his duties from the other flatmates.

14. you’re going to need to wipe down everything. you now have JIF, scourers and rubber gloves. have at ye.

15. you’re an extrovert. pleasant interactions with people really do appear to increase your ability and desire to be enthusiastically friendly. at the very least, you appear to have been running on an extroverted people-interest high today.

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