Before people in China owned cars, before they traveled abroad for pleasure, and before they could shop wherever they wished, they lived in apartments like this one.
I stayed in this apartment 20 Chinese New Years ago when I visited my friends in Nanjing. The room in this photo is part hall, part dining room, and part living room.
The door in the foreground leads to the tiny bathroom with a squatter toilet and shower head above it. The Chens showered once that week, so I did, too.
Every morning I joined the Chens at the table with the red-bordered tablecloth. We slurped hot bowl of congee with salted pickled Sichuan vegetables. The apartment was so cold, I could feel the steaming rice heating my throat on its way down.
Mr. Chen taught English at a university in Nanjing and his wife worked as a hospital administrator. They were both college educated.
Their daughter, Ting-Ting, studied in a local elementary school and played the guzheng, a Chinese table harp that took up half her bedroom. I slept in that bedroom, some of which shown in this photo at the end of the hall. (Ting-Ting slept with her parents during my week long visit).
Staying with the Chens was my first taste of living with a family of modest means in mainland China.
But it wasn’t my last.