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November 11, 2009

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When guys and gals share a flat

WHEN Victoria Li's mother paid a surprise visit to her apartment, delivering a Sunday afternoon treat of hairy crabs, she was greeted at the door by a young man wearing his pajamas.

He was one of her two roommates, but Li, 23, hadn't mentioned him to her old-fashioned mother who thought she was living with two young women.

Li, an assistant in an advertising agency in Shanghai, says her 49-year-old accountant mother tried to stay calm through the brief visit, but later called her daily to demand that she move out or move back home to Minhang District.

Today, Li can breathe a sigh of relief: She has a new apartment and two new female roommates, and she didn't move back home.

As this is Chinese Single's Day (11/11), we thought we'd explore another singles' phenomenon in a conservative society: coed living to save rent (not to live in sin).

Li and quite a few young women (and guys) these days are living with roommates to cut high rental costs and sometimes that roommate is a guy, though young women generally prefer living with other young women.

Sometimes a guy roomie is okay, especially if there are two girls and a guy, especially if the guy is a friend or colleague.

It can also be awkward, especially if young women are accustomed to walking around in their panties and tank tops; they have to change that part of their lifestyle if a guy moves in.

Of course, everyone everywhere knows you have to be careful about choosing your roommate.

"My mom literally called me every day telling me to move out right away and even urging me to live at home while I looked for a new flat," says Li. But home is at least two hours away from her office.

Her mother was worried (among other things) about what other people would say about Li if they knew she was living with a man, even if they were not romantically involved.

And she is not the only parent who is concerned about their daughters living with a roommate of the opposite sex - and more and more do seek roommates (male or female) since two can live more cheaply at one.

Many people, especially older generations, consider a woman to be of bad character if she lives with her boyfriend before marriage, not to mention if she lives with a non-boyfriend male.

"It's not that I prefer living with a woman to living with a man, but it just happendand I've tried hard to adjust," says Zou Jun, a creative designer with two female roommates.

And living coed is not a big deal, not romantic or exciting as some might suppose, most say, though there might be a little sexual tension and uncertainty at first.

After all, a roommate is a roommate, male or female. compatibility is important.

Here are three cases of coed rooming. 'It feels like committing a crime'

Victoria Li, our sales assistant, moved out of her parents' suburban home soon after graduation and first lived with two girlfriends from the same university. They shared a three-bedroom apartment in Xuhui District.

She enjoyed the freedom and private space.

Soon, one of the friends move back home and the other moved out after changing jobs. Earning only 3,000 yuan (US$439) a month, Li found it impossible to pay monthly rent of 2,300 yuan. She was desperate.

She advertised online for roommates and found a man and a woman.

"Of course I hesitated when I saw a guy coming. After all, we grew up in an environment where you hesitate about this kind of thing. But he seemed gentle and nice and I really needed a roommate. The other girl didn't seem to care, so I just let it go," says Li.

Although she felt okay with her decision, she still felt strange with a male roommate. She avoided telling people about her living arrangement.

"I don't know why, but it feels like I'm committing a crime although I haven't done anything bad at all. I just didn't want to tell anyone that I'm living with a guy even though I know it's nothing in today's world," says Li.

With mom she pretended the roommates were females - and then mom found out.

"I was thinking about moving even before my mom found out," says Li. "Somehow, it just didn't feel right, maybe I'm still not that open-minded."

'It was always awkward'

This story has a happy ending. These coed roomies are now a couple and are planning to marry, but while they were living together as roommates it wasn't so great.

Phil Huang and Kelly Chen lived for over a year in a three-bedroom apartment with a female friend of Chen's.

"We got together long after we moved out, it's not because we lived together," says Chen. "I was quite inconvenient when we were roommates."

After four years of dorm life, Chen and her female friend were used to an all-women environment in which they just wore tank tops and panties around the house in summer.

But when Huang was around, they had to cover up. When he went out for weekend classes, they shed some clothes.

One Saturday he came back early only to see the two wearing just tank tops and panties and lying on the living room couch. He blushed, pretended not to see anything and without a word rushed into his room. The girls rushed back to their rooms to put on more clothes.

They remained awkward for almost two weeks.

"There were a lot of funny little things like that and it was always awkward for both of us," says Huang. "That's part of the reason why I moved out later." 'It's harder to live with girls'

Zou Jun's friends always tease him because he has two female roommates. They consider the 24-year-old creative designer super lucky to be living with two girls, and they don't sympathize with his complaints over his flat mates.

"They say that I have to tolerate all these irritations because I'm a man. They always say the annoyances are just trade-offs for enjoying the pleasure of female company," says Zou.

"But it's not true," he insists. "It's harder to live with girls because you can't even fight them."

Zou says one of his roommates is rather messy, quite the opposite of what he had expected of a woman. The roommate, a freelance translator, often stays at home while the other two go to work. She cooks for herself but often leaves the dirty dishes.

Zou mentioned it a few times, she ignored him and called him too picky.

"What can I do? It's just embarrassing to go straight to a girl and tell her, 'Hey, you are too dirty'," says Zou. "You don't want to see them cry or curse."

They're still together.


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