|Juliana with Li Jie's daughter (in red). The tiny house-room is behind them.|
Every day we park our bikes with more than a hundred others inside the bike shed just outside our apartment building. Inside the low, narrow building, the bikes are protected from ever present thieves by the lady who watches over the bike shed. Li Jie, the bike lady, lives in a tiny room at the front of the shed. It is about the size of a large walk-in closet, smaller than a king-sized bed. A smaller-than-twin bed takes up one half of the room, which also holds a small table/desk and a computer screen (with wires threaded to the console outside). The room has a door and one small window looking into the shed.
When needed, Li Jie walks across the small road to the public toilet. She washes her face and probably her hair at the small wash basin just outside her house-room. She squats in front of the bike shed to wash clothes in a small plastic bucket. What I'm not actually sure is where she cooks. Usually when people live in the tiny room behind their shop, as is relatively common, they pull out a rice cooker and a burner or lump of coal to make their meal, but I've never seen these things around her room. Perhaps the small apartment-turned-shop next door, which sells odds-and-ends and apparently also a small variety of food, provides it.
Li Jie has a daughter and a husband. At least, I think there's just one daughter. It's hard to keep track because there are about three different elementary aged girls I regularly see coming in and out of the room. The husband stops by to visit sometimes, but he isn't around too often, so they must have some other place they also call home. But the bike lady – she is always at the bike shed. Eight o'clock in the morning, nine o'clock at night, middle of the day, the weekend, the holiday...she is always there, and usually her daughter, and perhaps one or two other young friends, are there too. They play outside the bike shed or crowd around the tiny table working on homework or watching something on the computer.
Our apartment has two bedrooms, an office, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It is 871 square feet. It has never looked so big.