A decade of achievement
The past decade has seen many changes in Chen Huaiyu's life. Some were anticipated by the 61-year-old: His two daughters got married, and last year he retired from his job as a buyer for a local metal-processing factory.
There was also another major change, one he had longed for "almost my entire life", but Chen still felt "quite surprised" when it finally came in 2009. He moved out of his shabby, congested and inconvenient bungalow in the old city of Datong to a new apartment just 2 km from his old home.
Chen had mixed feeling towards the first two events. He was happy to see his daughters tie the knot, but a little saddened to see them "leave the family". He finds his post-retirement life relaxed, yet unfulfilled.
He had lived in the bungalow for 58 years off and on, since his birth in 1951. At first, there was only his parents and him, but then the number of inhabitants rose to seven as four younger siblings were born.
However, the 23-sq-m room remained unchanged. It was small, but multifunctional. It served as two bedrooms, with a curtain hanging in the middle of the room to divide the space when the family slept; it was also the living room, the dining room and a study area. A single room acting as the reception area for guests, the main living space for the family and the children did their homework there too.
For decades, it was also the kitchen until the family built a 2-sq-m cooking area next door.
The only thing the room didn't have was a toilet. The family had to use the public bathroom 50 meters from the house and would "wait for as long as 15 minutes during the peak hour in the morning".
"I shared a bed with my two younger brothers and two younger sisters until I was 18, when I started working in a diesel-engine factory and lived in the (company) dorm," Chen recalled. "It was a kind of a relief for the family at the time because the house was really too crowded."
Nine years later, Chen moved back to the bungalow when he married Li Xiulan. They built an annex in the yard as a wedding room. "The only furniture was a steel bed made by my husband, a table, two chairs, and a wardrobe. It was already too packed," said Li. Their first daughter was born in 1980, followed by the second girl just two years later.
Chen's family was allocated a separate bungalow in the same neighborhood by the work unit, which transferred the "big room" to the couple and their two daughters.
In 2008, a large-scale housing project was launched and Chen left the old family home, paying just 20,000 yuan ($3,200) for a new 49-sq-m apartment.
"The market price for the apartment would be about 200,000 yuan, which I can't afford at all," he said. Now cooking and bathing are much easier and Chen even bought a large fish tank, which he placed in the living room. A large photo of the old couple dressed in the clothes they wore at their wedding, taken last year, hangs on the living room wall. "When we were young, we didn't have a nice room or a wedding photo. Now we have both. I'm glad it's not too late," said Li.