After a week in the Asylum, it was time to find a room of my own. This is not as simple as it sounds, because looking at cheap rooms in this fair and horrifyingly expensive city is an invitation into the depths of the weird. Like my short-lived volunteer job going door to door for the first Obama campaign, a room hunt in a city like this one offers a cross section of the complexities of daily (expat) life in all its strange, crowded glory.
Time for a change.
During all the hours I’d spent over the previous several weeks on Southeast Asian buses and planes, I concocted a fantasy scenario in which I’d find a nice single room in an artsy area, possibly in a charming, wooden-floored old house that hadn’t fallen completely to shit, maybe with quirky roommates who did their dishes, owned a fluffy pet and wanted to drink wine with me. As you can see, I had a lot of hours to think about this.
My imagined scenario didn’t include a shared room, because although I’m not enough of a grownup to want my own apartment, one has to leave their college days behind at some point. One glance at the listings on Gumtree (think Aussie Craigslist), though, and I reconsidered. When in Sydney, after all, do as the
Australians broke foreigners do.
So my French roommate Sarah and I teamed up, scouring Gumtree and calling up anybody with something halfway decent on offer. Pretty soon we had arrived at the first of a series of X’s we’d marked on one of the free hostel maps, waiting for the owner of the first place to let us in.
We were greeted by a lady called Chrissie. She was accompanied by her dog, Stavro, a little brown and white thing who snored continuously with each breath despite having a normally-shaped muzzle. Chrissie explained to us that Stavro didn’t like to be on the floor while people were having a conversation, so every time we began to talk she’d pick him up so he could “be on our level.”
The room was fine, but it didn’t seem all that social given that the house had no indoor common area to speak of. She gave us a double sided sheet of fine-print rules to follow – most of which emphasized the idea that drunkenness was strictly forbidden – should either of us accept the offer.
The second room was on one of the upper stories of a spotless Darling Harbour high rise. It was reasonably priced! The view was to die for! There had to be a catch…and indeed there was, in the form of about 10 people living in a small 2-bedroom apartment. There was a girls’ room and a boys’ room, each containing five beds. The front door opened into a mountain of shoes. Six of the housemates were crammed onto the tiny couch in the living room watching TV. None of them looked up when Sarah and I came in, and in fact, the guy in charge of showing us the whole place didn’t even greet us – just opened the door and walked away without a word.
By the time we arrived to the third room, the sky was grey and it was pouring rain. The building was grey too, and so was everything inside…the walls, the carpet, the counters. Everything. Our host explained that the housemates didn’t see each other all that often, as they were full-time students with full-time jobs.
The living room of the fourth place was curtained off into a series of cells housing Indian and Nepali workers who kept odd hours.
The fifth place sat atop a convenience store. Spacious but very cold, its living room seemed to be a graveyard for discarded ’90s office furniture.
Above all, I was bothered by the fact that there didn’t seem to be a sense of community in any of the places I visited, and I wondered if I’d gotten too picky. Surely anyplace that wasn’t disgustingly dirty would be OK, right?
I couldn’t decide, but even after one day I was tired of looking. So the next day, when Sarah went out to see more places, I told her I was going to pass…and of course she loved the first place she visited, a cozy room on the ground floor of a big sharehouse. Just when I was kicking myself for not going along, I learned that a room opened up in the sharehouse just next door. So I pounced on that offer, signing on for the next month to live with eight other housemates from France, Holland, Italy, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the U.S.
It’s a little bit like college…but it’s a great place to start. Before too long I’ll be looking for another place again, but until then, I’m calling Chippendale home!