Between a rock and a hard place

14:36, May 06, 2010      

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Retired engineer Huang Rixin invested some 40,000 yuan in designing and building eight 'capsule apartments'.

A tiny cubicle is what the young graduate occupants of eight 'apartments' on the fringes of the city call home. Wang Junjing reports

It's 6 am and Meng Xiaolai's eyes open to sunlight streaming in through the wire mesh "window".

"I feel disoriented and it's not until I hear the sound of my neighbor changing that I finally get up."

Meng, a self-described poet from Gansu province, lives in one of the so-called "capsule apartments" that have captivated the media recently. Through his blog, that he writes under the pseudonym Black Camel, Meng has tried to draw attention to life in these capsules.

"I, representing the literary circle, protest the ultra-high housing prices," Meng writes. "I will not leave (the capsule) until housing prices drop," he adds.

However, it is thanks to a retired engineer, Huang Rixin, that Meng is attracting all this attention.

Huang, 78, says he was struck by the study of the so-called Ant Tribe - clustered settlement of college grads in Tangjialing village on the outskirts of the capital. A trip to Tangjialing further strengthened the old man's decision to do something for these students. "After all, they are the future of our country," Huang says.

He had heard about Japanese capsule hotels - each a plastic or fiberglass module, measuring 2 meters by 1 meter and 1.25 meters high, where the occupant sleeps, watches a mini television, or surfs the Internet through a wireless connection - and decided to adapt this.

"I used to be a senior engineer designing hydraulic power stations. Designing the capsules was like killing a fly with a spear," he says.

Huang invested 40,000 yuan ($5,860) to build eight cubicles, 2.4 meters long, nearly 1.6 meters high, and 0.72 meter or 0.92 meter wide. He installed them in three 7.5-square-meter rooms he rented on the top floor of a three-story building in Liulangzhuang, a small village in Haidian district.

"Liulangzhuang is only two stops from Zhongguancun, where many graduates work. Rentals here are low as the area is located in the rural-urban fringe zone," Huang says.
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