BEIJING - It was quite a crush, and certainly dismal, living in a 7 sq m basement room not much bigger than a bomb shelter in a regular Singapore HDB flat.
But it was cheap at 350 yuan (S$73) per month and just about what Xi'an native Sun Qian could afford as a fresh graduate from university in 2010, working in the capital Beijing.
"My pay then was not very high and I did not want to ask my parents for money. Conditions were not good and it was simple, but rent was cheap," she told The Straits Times.
The Chinese tutor, now 26, has since moved into bigger digs - a 15 sq m room that she shares with a friend, including the queen-size bed in it.
They each pay a monthly rent of 1,250 yuan, about a fifth of Ms Sun's average monthly income of 6,000 yuan.
The room is one of four in a 60 sq m flat near the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, which altogether houses seven tenants.
All share a common kitchen and bathroom.
These tiny, partitioned spaces, sometimes dark and dank for being in the basement, are what make living in a first-tier city like Beijing, with its skyrocketing property prices, affordable to migrant workers and fresh graduates.
In 2010, a retired engineer even launched eight "capsule apartments" of 2 sq m each for rent, targeting the need of new graduates for affordable housing.
But the poor conditions and the ever-shrinking rooms have meant increasing discontent as well as concerns over safety.
In July, the Beijing authorities announced new regulations concerning minimum living space:
Each room cannot house more than two tenants, while the average per capita living space should be at least 5 sq m.
They were aimed at ensuring tenants' safety and improving their living conditions, although occupants of these cramped quarters said high housing prices remain the crux of the issue.
Mr Xu Dong, 25, who works as an administrative assistant in a law firm, lives outside Beijing's fifth ring road, more than an hour away from the city centre by subway, in a 10 sq m basement unit for 450 yuan a month.
The Shandong native said the astronomical home prices mean renting is the only option for him now.
"I want to get married but, without a house, it's hard to get settled. My girlfriend and I are worried about increasing rents and whether we can even continue living in Beijing," he told The Straits Times.
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