August 1st, 2018

Charah coffee

I have a room in London!

I have found a room in London! And it wasn't the room that I'd gone to the flat to see. I was initially interested in the en-suite room, but I gave up my private bathroom for a really big and bright double room with...well, with a private garden. To be honest, I don't care about the garden that much, but it's a nice perk, I suppose; it's nice to have some space to air-dry my clothes (though this requires fastidious checking of the weather forecast, this being England we're talking about) and out?

But the room. The ROOM. So infrequently in my short house-hunting career have I stepped into a potential room and immediately thought, Yes. It is spacious; so spacious that there is space for a double bed, a sofa, a long dining table with five chairs, a pretty big wardrobe, and a chest of drawers, and still have plenty of space left over. The floor is not carpeted which is a joy because I don't like carpets which I find inherently dirty. The room above my new one (the en-suite one) is carpeted, which hopefully means that I won't hear the person walking around too much. It was also important that I could picture myself writing my PhD in the room, something that I was unable to visualise in the other rooms that I have viewed so far.

I wanted to sleep on it, but being the kiasu Singaporean that I am, I was worried that it would be taken by tomorrow, and so I texted the agent to say that I will take it and paid the deposit. I think having this room is worth the loss of a private bathroom. To be honest, I don't know what it's going to be like sharing a bathroom with four others (one of them is a guy, I believe); I did a shared bathroom situation over the summer in 2016 and it was fine, but there were only two others in the house. So we will see. I hope I don't regret this. If I do, I can always move again in 7 months' time, I guess.

The rent is pretty reasonable for the size of the room; 200 pounds a week, all inclusive. And while I'm not super stoked that the nearest Tube stations are on the gross Bakerloo line (Ivan: 'Even the colour of the line is the colour of shit'), namely Kilburn Park and Queen Park, it is not the end of the world. I can live with it. I can also definitely live with being 10 minutes away from Paddington Recreation Ground: there is a gym, a running track, and TENNIS COURTS. I played there a couple of times when I was living in Edgware Road; the courts are really well-maintained. Only downside is that they are outdoors so it's going to be irritating in the winter, but life isn't perfect and we can't have it all, can we?

I'd planned five viewing for today. I wanted to squeeze as many in as possible because it's expensive and time-consuming to go to London to do viewings. The first one I liked very much on paper: close to Edgware Road (in fact, about 7 minutes from my old Edgware Road flat), close to Regent's Canal, and an en-suite. But I got there and saw that it was a room in a council flat. Being the snob that I am, I was quite turned off. Still, I remained open-minded...but wasn't really sold on the room. The bathroom is decently sized and en-suite, but the room itself was quite small. It was maybe half the size of the one that I booked, which I saw next.

I went to Canada Water after viewing the one that I booked. My first impression of Canada Water was favourable: looked nicely modern, liked the water catchment, and I was impressed when the landlord showed me the little canal thing at the back of the house. It looked really peaceful and relaxing.

But the room...SO SMALL. And the landlord required a 12-month contract with a 400 quid break penalty. I also wasn't super keen on the entertainment complex across the road. Sure, it's nice that there's an Odeon cinema, but the restaurants are so shitty. Who wants to dine at Frank and Benny's or whatever it is? Of course, the thought of a 24-hour Tesco 4 minutes away was tempting, but the room was just too small, AND it's more expensive than the one that I booked. So no to that one.

Next, I went to Hoxton/Old Street to view a room that looked nice in the photo. But the minute I entered its neighbourhood, I knew that there was no way I would live there, no matter how lovely the room. This place was a proper council housing estate. A council estate in East London. A council estate in Hackney, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in London. It's like asking me to live in Geylang (again) minus the food and the shops and, I presume, the prostitutes. There was a distinct grimness about the place; the low flats, the drab brown and dark grey, the common corridor/balcony...these flats are a more run-down, shabbier version of the HDB flats in Singapore in terms of the feeling that arose in me just by looking at the common corridor.

Admittedly, I am writing this with a certain sense of discomfort. I recognise fully that I am able to make these comments because of my position of privilege, and I feel rather uncomfortable crystallising my thoughts while I was in the area in the form of these thoughts. It was just a bit depressing. I felt unsafe, but this was a function of my prejudice. What is a fact, however, is this: there was a smell that hung in the air: rancid, dour, bad. The flat itself was quite shabby too, though two of the rooms are quite spacious and nice. The flat was on the fourth floor, and feeling the breeze against my face was lovely, but the smell was not, and neither was the view.

So when I say that I like East London, clearly all that I mean is that I like the gentrified parts of East London. Its poverty and lack of privilege were not something that I was willing to live with. This makes me wonder...instinctively, I feel as if I should be ashamed of myself. But I don't know why I should be so ashamed. This knee-jerk reaction is driven, of course, by a sense that there is something obviously unjust about the vast inequalities in the world, and so I feel ashamed not just to be part of the more privileged, but because I am unable and unwilling to live below my privilege. But why do I feel like a less good (I wouldn't say bad) person as a result? I don't look down on people less privileged than me, in the sense that I don't think that I'm superior, or that they are beneath me. Do I feel sympathy toward them? Yes, I do. Is this patronising? It probably is. Is this why I feel ashamed? Or maybe I feel ashamed because I do feel a sense of superiority by virtue of my privilege, which gives me the option of not living in a council estate, and the luxury of being criticial and snobbish about it. Would I think that 950/month for a room of that size is too much if the flat were located in a more upscale area, still in Zone 1 London? Probably not. What did I feel as I walked towards the flat, into the vicinity of the council estate and through it to get to the flat? Mild disgust, revulsion--and were these feelings not the product of a superciliousness that I must feel in order for disgust and revulsion to follow? Also: who am I to pass judgements about the life of someone who lives in a council flat? I know nothing about them. I don't know any personally. I draw conclusions about the lives of these others based on shallow facts, as if I'm so much better just because I don't live in one of these flats. Who's to say that they're not happier than I am? Who's to say anything about how others live if we don't know anything tangible and real about their lives?

Anyway. I was so tired by this time that I cancelled the last viewing. I didn't realise how far away it is; I would've had to take a National Rail from London Bridge station and walk 5 minutes to the flat. I also discovered, when looking up directions, that it was also a council flat.

So I cancelled that. Got on the train back to Cambridge. Kept thinking about the big room. Tried to negotiate a lower rent, but half-heartedly, because I was sold; and booked it when I came back to my room.

I really don't want to search anymore; the process is time-consuming, tiring, stressful and expensive. I also really liked the room. I really liked it. The move-in date is 31 August which gives me enough time to wrap things up in Cambridge, so it's all good.

What I will definitely miss, though, is the porters' lodge and delivering my online shopping to the plodge and not worrying about missing a delivery. I fantasised about living in a swanky apartment with a concierge but alas, life is not perfect.