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Sunday, March 20, 2022

My life stories - Part 16 (Finding a living space)

My life Stories – Part 16 (Finding a living space)
Stories from my past memories – childhood, family, friends, growing up, poverty, integrity, dreams come true, finding peace and happiness, Buddhism, Yoga, and now…

(Updated in end of April)

From the beginning, we knew that it will be challenging for moving to another country starting a new life. We just do our best to do whatever we need to do, and let things fall into places as they are, at their own pace. While waiting for things to happen as they are after we did our best, there are certain difficulties that people need to go through due to the imperfect system created by human beings that are mostly unnecessary.

The longer we are here, the more glad and grateful we are for being here at the moment, despite of the inevitable difficulties. We love the region, the calmness, the people, the food, the architectures, the historical aspects, the well-developed infrastructure, the rubbish management, the nature, the seasonal climate, the democracy, the freedom of being and the freedom of expression.

I enjoy hearing people speaking in French even though I don't really know what people are talking about. Even though I don't mind that I am not interacting with anyone or if I am not being understood by others, I am still learning a little bit of French here and there, without forcing myself that I have to be able to speak fluent French within how many days/months/years. I have no difficulty for being at somewhere that I don't speak their language. Being kind and understanding towards others' imperfection, and respecting all the differences among the diversities, without interference towards others for being who and what they are, as well as having awareness and self-control not to cause unnecessary damages and inconveniences to others, is nothing to do with being able to be understanding and interacting with others in a specific language, or not. People who speak the same language might not necessary be kind and understanding towards each other.

Since we arrived in France, we have been 'living' in the hotel. No doubt that it's a very good and comfortable spacious room, a lot bigger than many apartments in France, but it's not an ideal permanent space for living. Even before we left Malaysia, my husband's manager already told him that it's very difficult to get an apartment for long term rental in France for those who are actually living and working here, especially in this area where property prices and rents are a lot more expensive than some other regions in France due to the high demand and low supply mainly because of the tourism industry as well as many French people who work near the border in Switzerland prefer to live in France as cost of living in Switzerland is a lot more expensive than in France, but then this also causes the rental apartments near the border in France went up higher as these people can afford higher rents than those who are actually living and working in France. Already there were few people telling us that we should work in Switzerland, as people who speak multiple languages are in high demand in Switzerland, and the pay is almost triple than in France doing the same work. Many apartments here are either catering for those who work in Switzerland or being converted into higher profit holiday rentals to yield higher profit. It's a place for people owning one or a few private holiday homes that sit empty most of the time.

It's quite a challenge for us to find a long term place to rent here based on what we can afford and the eligibility. It's not that difficult if people have a higher capacity and budget where they can rent any apartment that they like. It's also not so much of a problem if people have lower income, provided if they have been living in France for more than two years, because by then they are eligible to be getting special social housing rentals under the government's policy that looks after the welfare of the people more than some other countries' corrupted government that are not about looking after the people at all. My husband has some ongoing dental problems and had to pay a visit to the dentist some time ago, and this is covered by the social security health insurance. While living in Malaysia we had spent thousands of ringgit for several dental visits.

It's just rather difficult for people who have just arrived in France, starting a new job and have a rather low salary, to be looking for a living place to rent, as getting a long term rental in France is restricted by some obligated conditions, such as the need of showing past three months payslip in France, as well as one can only be eligible to rent a place where the rental is not more than one third of the salary. And hence, people can only be staying in a hotel or renting an AIRBNB for the first few months, which of cause is a lot more expensive than what people would like it to be.

We are grateful and thankful that the hotel management is being very thoughtful for addressing this 'difficulty' that all of their new employees who come from everywhere in the world have to go through, where they arrange free accommodation in the hotel for up to three months, allowing the new employees to take the required time to find their own space of living so that they don't need to worry too much on that issue while diverting their energy and attention onto their new job at a new environment.

Although long term rentals in France is still considered cheaper than in many other European countries, but due to the high demand and low supply, especially in certain areas that economically relying on tourism a lot, where many apartments are being operated as AIRBNB for higher profit, and the basic salary is struggling to catch up with the higher cost of living, quite many people who have lower income are having great difficulty finding a 'decent' long term rental at an affordable rate. Even so, it's still affordable for us to live in France than in Ireland, as we won't be able to afford to live in Ireland at all, even if my husband has a job there. The rental is at least doubled for the similar type of property and everything cost more expensive in Ireland, where the basic salary is not inline with the cost of living. Things will be more costly everywhere in the world now due to the ridiculous 'wars' on top of the long term side-effects of the prolonged pandemic.

The available long term rentals with cheaper rent are those that are not very well maintained apartments in some old buildings that consume higher rate of electricity usage and gas emission, which people try to avoid nowadays.

Even if some people might have some additional savings that allow them to rent a bigger and better place with higher rental, but it's not possible because they are being restricted by the income status on the monthly payslips, even when they propose to pay a full year rent in advance. On another side, they are also not eligible for getting certain rentals that are being reserved for social housing since they are living and working in France for less than two years.

It means that people are 'stuck' in such situation during the first two years living and working in France, as they couldn't find a 'reasonable' place to rent because of the low monthly income status and they are not qualified for applying social housing yet, or they can only be able to rent one of the unmaintained old apartments that required higher expenses on consuming electricity and gas, which is not economical and environmental friendly. Even when we went to the social welfare department in town asking for help in finding affordable rental apartment, they also said to us that they knew about this 'difficulty' that many French people and foreigners are facing, but that's the way it is, and there's nothing that they can do to help. They said that the earliest time that people can rent a social housing apartment is two years after initial application.

We have been trying to look for an apartment where we would prefer it's just a short walking distance from the hotel so that my husband doesn't need to waste too much time and energy on commuting between home and work place. If the apartment is not within feasible walking distance, we would need to spend more money on getting a car as well as bearing the additional expenses of having a car, which we try to avoid. Public transportation is available here conveniently, but the fixed schedule isn't suitable for my husband as he is working in the night shift. We also try to find an apartment that has a separate bedroom, so that my husband can have a good rest after work. However, I try to coordinate with my husband's sleeping hours, so that I won't create too much disturbance for him while we are 'living' in a hotel room at the moment, or if we will be living in a studio apartment without separate bedroom.

In the beginning, we have tried to request to view some of the available apartments that are within our budget, but, many of the agents didn't even bother to get back to us after we sent them the details of our situation as new arrivals in France, as we wouldn't be eligible to rent anything here, even if we have the money because we don't have the past three months payslip in France yet.

And then, one of the agents didn't mind about the availability of the past three months payslip condition, and showed us one of the apartment, which 'sorts of' fit into our budget and certain requirement, however, it's in an old apartment building that is not very well maintained, as well as it doesn't have very good natural light or privacy as all the residents within this building will be passing by the apartment's window as they are coming back and going out, and more importantly, it feels 'depressing' when we were inside the apartment even though the interior renovation and equipment is rather 'new' and 'tidy'. Another thing to be considered is that whether the immediate neighbours are open minded and thoughtful for others who are sharing the same apartment building, or not. From looking at the common area of the building, we could see that it might not be the suitable place to live a simple quiet life.

After that, we found another apartment where the direct owner allowed us to view the apartment, and it was slightly cheaper than the previous one, but again, it feels 'depressing' while being in that space that also doesn't have enough natural light, where we would need to turn on the lights even during the sunny day, as it is shielded from the sunlight due to the proximate surrounding apartment buildings. The owner also mentioned that she is 'worried' that we might not be able to pay the rent, as it is more than one third of my husband's salary, even when we told her that we live a low cost simple way of life. There's another thing to be considered is about the safety features. Many of these walk-up multi level old apartments can only be accessible via a narrow wooden staircase. It will be difficult if there's a fire starting from the lower apartment. There's no way out. And because it is located on a touristy pedestrian street as well as there are restaurants and shops under and around the apartment, it means that there will be people on the street talking and smoking especially during the day time when my husband needs to sleep after work. If so, we can't really open the windows to have fresh air into the apartment.

We also visited four other apartments dealing with direct owners. One of them is a fully furnished one room worn-out apartment on the top floor of a 4 storey walk-up old apartment building that isn't being maintained at all. The apartment's wooden flooring is moving and making lots of noise whenever there's a movement. The rent is on the higher end too. While another one is an unfurnished and unequipped but recently renovated with some modern features one plus one room apartment on the third floor. However, it has a low ceiling and doesn't have good air ventilation. The rent is not cheap too. The other two apartments are also in a depressing state that in need of immediate attention and refreshment. Obviously they all are unsuitable for us. We don't mind paying higher rent if it's a good quality apartment in good health, but these apartments don't worth the high rent.

And then there are other nicer and newer apartments further away from the busy town area that we are interested to check them out, and the rents are within our budget, but my husband's salary isn't eligible for renting any of them, unless we have a guarantor. There are some social housing apartments available for rent but then we needed to wait after two full years of living and paying tax in France to be qualified for it.

After many considerations and discussions between my husband and I, we decided to just try to get whatever is available to us, such as getting a basic unfurnished/unequipped apartment, either with or without separate bedroom, but at least well-maintained and cheerful enough, that is healthy to live in, even if we have to spend more money on buying our own furniture/equipment and buying a car.

Luckily after nearly 2 months of apartment hunting, we finally found a place that we can actually live in. Although it's only a tiny studio apartment that doesn't have a separate bedroom which is one important criteria for my husband, but, it's almost fully furnished and well-equipped with daily life essentials. It's a space full of 'history and character' and it meets most of our requirements for a living space, even if it's just for the first year. We don't need a 'big' space as we don't have many things. While I just need a clean, bright, well-ventilated and quiet space that is big enough for me to do some yoga exercises. Although just by being there for a few minutes might be very different experience from when we are actually living in it.

This tiny apartment is inside a well-maintained historical building. Even though it's only about 20 square meters, about one third of the size of the hotel junior suite room, but it's not depressing or congested at all, as it has a high ceiling and was well renovated under a very thoughtful and practical design with good quality of materials, where we can actually live there comfortably. The two windows are south facing without any blockage from the opposite apartment buildings that are located distance enough, which means that we will be getting the sun light coming into the apartment all year long. It's bright enough even during cloudy days, as it was a cloudy day when we visited the apartment. It has a very thick wall, which means that it will not be too hot in the summer. The best thing is that, the two windows are over-looking at the very secluded private courtyard with a very peaceful garden, which we are able to access anytime even though we don't have a balcony. Although the windows are outdated and needed to be replaced with better insulated windows, and they said that it will be replaced a few months later after we moved in and before the next winter. Surely, it will cause some inconvenience for us during the installation, but it has to be done for long term economical and environmental reason. Another great thing is that the apartment is also less than 350 meters away, about 5 minutes walk, from the hotel.

The only downside is that it has no separate bedroom, but it's okay, as it has everything else that we are looking for to live a simple quiet life. The toilet, the shower, the wash basin and drainage, the cooker top and hob, the work surface, the fridge, the washing machine, the bed frame, the storage system, the lighting, the outside hallway and entrance, the public space, and the little details of a practical living space, are all good. The overall soundproof is good enough as we didn't hear any noise while being in the apartment even when there's renovation going on in some other apartments within the building at that time. However, the walls between the different apartments on the same level are not completely soundproof, but it's still good enough though. There's enough space for me to do some yoga practice. It's also within our budget and my husband's salary is eligible for it. The agent was also welcoming, and apparently, he had been travelling to Langkawi and Penang right before the pandemic.

Even though the apartment building is located beside a busy main road and surrounded by side streets, but this particular apartment is facing the inner courtyard away from the noise of the busy road and streets. We can open the windows for fresh air at anytime. Unlike the other bigger apartments that we have visited before, where we have doubt of 'maybe yes and maybe no', we both spontaneously like and agree with this one, even after a few days to think about it. We immediately said 'Yes' to the agent after seeing it.

Finally, we moved into this apartment on the second week of April after getting the first phase of the legal procedure and paper works done. In France, just like in many other countries, there are many complicated procedures that everyone need to go through for living here. Being a tourist is a lot easier than being a resident in any countries nowadays. It doesn't have to be like that, but unfortunately, it is the reality for existing in this tiny space of the vast universe due to the human minds are functioning under the influence of ignorance and egoism that generate many unnecessary complications, instead of simplifying everything.

It will take some time for us to be settling in as we still need to get certain essential things like bedding, cooking, dining and cleaning utensils, as well as some other 'equipment' for organizing certain things for more efficiency and convenience to be living in our new little 'temporary' home. Anywhere that we live, either in a self-owned property or in a rented space, is just a temporary living space, just as everything that are existing in this space of the universe is temporary.

We are glad to have found this place in the end, or the place has been waiting for us to come.

After a few weeks of living in this tiny apartment, we feel more and more comfortable living in this space after making some adjustment and accommodation among the two of us for living in a 20 square meter space after having living in much bigger space in the past. It's not just that the inside space of the apartment is comfortable enough, but the entire experience of coming home stepping into a well-maintained building with a long time history, is something that we have never experience before, and it's a great experience.

Thank you.

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