Before Seb and I arrived in China, our school advised us that we could live in a shared apartment with other foreign teachers and Chinese staff. Initially we were informed it was free, and later found out it would be around £100 a month all in. Now, ever the scrimpers and savers we decided that we would make the ‘dorm’ (as it’s nicknamed by everyone here) our home for the next year so that we could save as much money as physically possible to fund the next leg of our travels.

We imagined a happy community, with people always cooking and laughing, drinking and having fun when not at work. A second stint at University life, if you will.

What we were faced with, as we arrived exhausted from our 18 hour journey from Chiang Mai, was a deathly silent, dingy corridor and a filthy room. I really mean filthy. Turns out the last teacher was somewhat of a pig mysophile and had never cleaned the place, and for some reason the school hadn’t thought to clean it either before we arrived. If you have a weak stomach I’d skip the next picture- it’s the bottom of our shower on our arrival.

The rest of the place was just as bad...
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The rest of the place was just as bad…

We were pretty set at that moment that we were going to leave. We hatched a plan to stick things out for three months, and then leave with a bit of money in our pocket and head to South America and work in hostels (we hadn’t really thought it through if I’m honest).

The two days that we should have spent resting before starting work were turned into two days of intense cleaning and sorting, trying to make the space as liveable as possible whilst spending as little money as possible. We thought we’d made it as homely as we could for the short time we’d live there- but then we started meeting our work colleagues, exploring the City and doing the job and realised we really liked it in Ningbo after all.

We had hoped this would be enough
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We had hoped this would be enough

We were adamant that we would stick it out in the dorm, under the impression that it would cost far too much to rent our own place, but things started happening within days that really wore us down…


…We couldn’t use the kitchen – there were rats, and there was nothing for us to cook with either…


…We had no mattress- did you know in China many people just have a piece of cork for a mattress? Its not good!…


…We were woken by hammering at 6am every morning by workmen upstairs…


…We were invaded by creepy crawlies including a giant hornet, spiders and little ant-like creatures…


Then, one evening last week, we sat down to eat our shop-bought rice and our bed gave out. Just snapped beneath us. We were kindly helped by our colleagues to remove the entire bed from our room, but all the Foreign Affairs department at the school could say was

“oh yes, we knew it was bad quality. It needs to be fixed”

which as you can imagine was very helpful.

We decided at that moment that we couldn’t put up with the dorm any longer, and we needed to find our own place even if it meant we wouldn’t save as much money as we’d hoped to.

Another of our colleagues had just left, so we made arrangements to visit her old apartment two days later, as well as a newly renovated building right next to our school. We had decided on a budget of £200 a month as we were still set on saving over comfort, and after not being happy with what we saw in that price range we decided to relax a bit and just see what was available without worrying about the price tag.

When we saw the duplex apartment with huge windows, amazing 24th storey view over the City, 2 bedrooms, fully furnished, balcony overlooking the living room and brand new, £390 a month seemed a small price to pay, especially when we paid double for a 1 bedroom place in the UK. We fell in love with it immediately and secured it there and then. We moved in three days later.


It’s very extravagant by Chinese standards, but we don’t regret it at all. We’ve been here just three days and I already know we are going to be so happy. It’s so serene and quiet, and the modern, minimalist decor keeps us feeling relaxed and peaceful. We’re enjoying our morning routine, sitting on the sofa in our pyjamas with a cup of tea, looking out at that wonderful view. It’s even more spectacular at night- the lights from the City around us illuminate the apartment and it really feels special. We have a lovely kitchen that we’re enjoying cooking our own meals in and a wonderful mattress!

A real kitchen! I never thought I'd miss cooking.
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A real kitchen! I never thought I’d miss cooking.

Also not a creepy crawly or rat in sight.

The second bedroom is going to come in very handy- we’re already planning with family and friends when they’ll be coming to stay and we’re looking forward to sharing Ningbo with them.

And a final plus? We’ll still be saving plenty of money!

Would you have made the same decision we did?

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