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July 13, 2020

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Studying away from home can do wonders for concentration

Gao Mengjun operates a 300-square-meter study room, calling it the sweetest business she ever started.

Collective study spaces like hers, modeled on those popular in South Korea and Japan and popularized by Korean dramas, have been burgeoning in Shanghai and other parts of China in recent years.

Gao said she got the idea for the business from her own actual needs when she was studying Japanese in 2018.

“It was hard for me to study at home because I was constantly distracted by my phone and snack food, while cafes were noisy and libraries were always short of seats,” she said.

Gao’s study room is a notch above others. It’s located in a business building in the Pudong New Area.

Next to the front desk is a public living room, with sofas where customers can rest, eat or drink tea or coffee free from the open pantry.

Behind a heavy door is a world of silence. The study area, with over 80 seats, is divided into several separate areas. Customers can choose to study by a window, in a lit-up area with no windows or in a darkened room with only desk lamps. There is also a room with mattresses for people to take a nap.

“I made sure to use eco-friendly furniture and materials in the décor,” said Gao. “And desk lighting is not too strong for the eyes. This is important because I intended to make this place as comfortable as I would have wanted for study.”

Unlike many other study rooms, Gao’s is not open 24 hours a day. It’s closed from midnight to 6am. Gao said the hours are based on a market survey that shows very few people study after 1am.

After all, getting some rest is good for effective study, she said.

The front desk is open from 9am to 9pm. Desk lights are turned off automatically when customers have used up their reserved time, and the front entrance can be controlled by a customer’s mobile phone. The computer system also handles reservations and a mobile phone app.

A seat and desk in the study room costs about 20 yuan (US$2.80) a day for study-room members on prepaid plans.

Gao said almost all customers are good about observing the No. 1 rule of the facility: silence.

Apart from stationery items like pens and paper, the study room provides quiet mice and keyboards, as well as keyboard covers for computer users to reduce the noise.

Customers are asked to turn their mobile phones to mute mode and not to eat, use plastic bags, wear strong perfume or engage in dating when studying in the room.

For the convenience and comfort of the customers, Gao also provides data cables, ladies’ sanitary pads, blankets, earplugs and hand warmers for free.

For some, the study room is a home away from home. In May, a woman surnamed Zhu studied 278 hours at the facility, about nine hours a day on average.

Most of Gao's clientele are office workers from the nearby Lujiazui financial district.

“Some people come after getting off work at 9pm or 10pm,” she said. “I’m very much touched by their desire to better their lives.”

There are also people like 23-year-old Xu, a graduate student Shanghai Daily met.

Xu, who lives in Shanghai, said he couldn’t return to his university in another city due to the novel coronavirus outbreak and is now preparing for a civil service exam.

“I can’t control myself at home, but here, when I feel distracted, I just need to take a look around at all these hardworking people to focus again,” he said.

Gao said her team will contact members who haven’t appeared for some time and give them some encouragement if they are suffering frustration.

“Sometimes the customers need someone to talk to, and we’re here for them,” she said.


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