Huia Residence, Auckland
321 bedroom, 24 bathroom, ? flatmates.
Choosing between the University of Auckland’s four student halls was easy. I left it too late, and by the time I got around to enrolling this hostel was the only one that had any space left. There was, I discovered, a reason for this. In fact, I don’t know that Huia ever actually reached full capacity that year. Or any year in its entire existence. Each room features four sides of joyless painted cinder block walls, furniture made of fake wood, a flat, single-sized bed with motel-style bedding, an ethernet port you have to buy your own cable for if you want internet, and a mini-fridge. Living is organised into floors and I was on the fifth floor. We had our own washing machine and dryer, both cost two dollars per cycle. A communal bathroom allowed you the rare experience of taking a shower while a guy next to you squeezes out a big, farty shit.
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The windows in the room are engineered to only open a few inches and there is no alcohol allowed on site. A really crappy kitchen services the thirty people who live on floor five. It has a bench with five flat elements built into it and a single upright freezer. I kept a bulk pack of precooked sausages in the freezer, which I cooked two at a time in a can of sweet & sour sauce and supplemented with some greens from someone’s bag of frozen vegetables. I had a kettle in my room and I drank a lot of miso soup. I tried really hard to assimilate into the natural grouping of fifth floor first years, but it just didn’t feel right. One of the girls on floor five took a group of us to a secret event that she promised would have free food and entertainment, but it turned out to be a recruiting seminar for her urban church. (They did have food though). Church girl lived in the room next to me, and when she got a boyfriend later that year, they would get together a few times a week and prove that cinder blocks aren’t actually as soundproof as you might think. The only friend I make is a girl who works in the boutique fashion store next to my favourite cafe. We pash at a bar one night.
In the area: universities, K Road, other places that aren’t this hostel, a bakery that sells big biscuits iced with smiley faces that I take to the girl in the boutique fashion store every week so we can hang out.
Eden Terrace, Auckland
Four bedroom, one bathroom, four flatmates (+one person who was only “visiting” a flatmate, but actually appeared to be living there full time and just not paying rent).
Second floor of a two-storey former funeral home. Bottom floor contains (in order of importance): kebab shop, bulk t-shirt shop, Italian restaurant. Basement contains hundreds of unclaimed boxes of human remains and probably the respective ghosts. Small courtyard out back, ideal for smoker, or aspiring smoker recently liberated from student hostel’s ‘smoke-free’ environment. Courtyard doubles as a staff room for the mainly Brazilian kitchen staff of the Italian restaurant, so the whole block is occasionally filled with passionate Portuguese shouting. Not sure what the shouting was about. Could be good, could be bad. Hard to say. Bedroom window has a view of the restaurant kitchen roof, the creepy junk shop next door run by suspected nonce, and the carpark of the local Dalmatian society.
Notable landmarks include: permanently parked car of flatmate’s “visiting” friend who has now lost her licence; reddish stain on restaurant kitchen roof that is all that remains of an urgent late night vomit out of bedroom window after unwise mixing of alcohol and marijuana of former flatmate (me, nervous about hanging out with girl I liked. Update: girl not as turned on by vomit as I hoped); occasional glimpses of other flatmate’s possibly deranged former boyfriend (tip: remember, if you can see him, he can probably see you. Try to avoid eye contact while flatmate concerned is in your bed naked and he is screaming her name up at your room. While I’m at it, also remember that if your flatmate decides to sleep in your bed with you for the entire first week of your residence, you are not obliged to sleep with them. Doing so in hopes that it will get them to leave you alone is not a shortcut to self-respect).
In the area: bus stops, public bathrooms, bench where flatmate’s definitely deranged former boyfriend informed me how he recently “sent [a man who was involved with my flatmate in a sexual way] to the A&E [because of his involvement with my flatmate],” and how if he was to find out that I was involved with her in a similar way, I might also find myself in A&E, possibly with one or both of my legs broken.
Arch Hill, Auckland
Four bedroom, one bathroom, four flatmates (Barry, the landlord, only knows about three).
Small, cosy bungalow in a family-friendly neighbourhood, on the permanently shady side of a hill overlooking Auckland’s famous North-Western motorway. If you close your eyes and take some deep breaths, the inescapable, never-resting roar of traffic kind of sounds like gentle waves rolling onto a sandy beach. Carpet is charmingly threadbare along well-trodden routes through the house. Real, original mould on bathroom ceiling, most windowsills, and also the cake my flatmate baked a while ago that I stole a piece of when he went away for the weekend (I thought it was some kind of fancy icing). (To be fair, I did not get as sick as I thought I would). In a weird turn of events, I started dating the ex-girlfriend of the boy who had the room before me. Made a lot of jokes about moving into his flat and his girlfriend coming with it, until I discovered he actually left the flat because he was caught sniffing his flatmates’ undies and they kicked him out. New girlfriend dodged a bullet. Also he cheated on her, so fuck him. During a visit from Barry, when I am home alone, I discover his name is actually John.
Flat vibe took a sudden nosedive with the departure of current flatmates to Melbourne, and the introduction of a whole new flatmate cohort from a snooty local art school. New cohort keen on Wednesday 3am karaoke parties in living room. One new “arty” flatmate ate my entire pack of thirty freezer dumplings in one sitting while I was at school. Thirty. And these are not small dumplings or anything, these are normal sized dumplings. That was my dinner for three days. New flatmates take over in every way and are terrible. I find out dumpling-eater is the one who undie-sniffer cheated on my new girlfriend with. God knows why. Or how. I am overcome by a newfound dread when I turn onto my street on my way home from work. At university one day I read a breaking news story about an unspecified house on my street that was sliding down the hill towards the motorway, due to heavy rain. I close my eyes and pray it’s the flat, with the snooty art students going down with it. Take my dumplings with you, I don’t care. I’m heartbroken though to find the flat still there on my return. I consider starting work on digging out the foundations as soon as night falls.
In the area: over a hundred new / used car lots, a Video Ezy that is inexplicably still in business, and a fish and chip shop that—I shit you not—will sell you a passable packet of fish and chips for $3 and is open until 2am.
Six bedroom, two bathroom, six beautiful, flawless flatmates.
Good lord, what did I do to deserve this place? Dreamy, huge, friendly, cheap. In Ponsonby for Christ’s sake. Ponsonby. The flat sported its own YMCA indoor soccer team (‘Get Rowdy’), as well as a local pub quiz team (‘Miley Cyclops’). There is also a flat cat, called Bean, and a flatmate who has the same birthday as me. We spent our combined birthday at the local laser tag joint, and everyone has an amazing time. The flat has a ‘classic’, self-deprecating nickname—The Fuck Pad. It overlooks a small park and the ratty couches on the verandah boast a first-rate view of the passing bowl-latte-type mums on their morning ath-leisurely strolls. The neighbourhood boozery is a brisk one minute walk away and across the road from that is the Busy Oven Bakery, famous for its steak, cheese, and bacon pies. An occasional sound from behind the fridge, like someone crunching on corn chips in a comical way, turns out to be an enormous rat who sneaks underneath the back door and sets up camp there when it rains. Once in the kitchen I saw it make the dash from fridge to backyard, practically brushing my heels as it ran past. It stopped though, as soon as it had squeezed itself under the back door, leaving twenty centimetres of thick, brown rat tail poking inside. I briefly thought about chopping it off with a big knife, but decided against the idea of cleaning rat blood off the lino. Also what would I have done with a rat tail? Even this was not enough to shake my love of this flat.
The threat of political unrest rears its ugly head with the implementation of a flat “chore wheel,” but luckily it quickly goes the way of all flat chore wheels and is forgotten within two weeks. My long-held plans about returning to Wellington to do a writing degree become open to questioning. Is this place just too good to leave?
Old flatmates depart. New ones arrive. Among them are more students from snooty local art school and a guy dabbling in small scale LSD dealing. Remarkable thinness of walls becomes apparent, occasionally problematic. No new flatmates share my birthday. Flat becomes more like reality, less like a dream. Decision to move back to Wellington becomes easier.
In the area: a swap-a-book community library that is now probably thriving (without me taking the best books and placing, in return, only titles like Tim Allen’s 1994 autobiography Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), a lot of wealthy white people, and the best damn bowl lattes money can buy.
Five bedroom, two bathroom, four flatmates (all related).
Big, central city house with great sun, fireplace, pizza oven, gas stove, fridge and pantry that are never less than overflowing, bath, awesome shower pressure, free internet, free everything. Even free beer and wine most of the time. Two of my flatmates have literally dedicated their lives to my continued survival and comfort and are quick to shower me with praise and gifts, etc., and also to say mean things about people who are nasty to me (they even look kind of like me which is cool). They drive me to the airport and make me dinner pretty much every night. They observe with great enthusiasm all the major gift-giving occasions including, but not limited to, birthdays, graduations, Easter, Christmas. They make me do the dishes and vacuum but it’s a small price to pay. Not much more I can say. It’s perfect, I really feel like I have finally found my dream home. I will never leave. Never. Why would I?
Jackson Heights, NYC
Three bedroom, one bathroom, three flatmates (preferred term is apparently “roommates”).
Mum and Dad kicked me out and I had to go to America. I only arrived yesterday and today I slept until 2.30pm. As I’ve not yet had twenty-four hours in this city (much less conscious hours), I can’t do much but offer a list of first impressions. They are as follows: life here without air conditioning appears to simply not be possible; it is both a wonder and an undeniable fact that over eight million people live in this city; the subway has a comforting, warm-grime smell that I already feel I will miss when I leave; every restaurant around will deliver food to your house (and on that note, possibly every ethnicity in the world is represented by at least one national restaurant, in my area: Himalayan, Peruvian); a good piece of advice is Don’t Go In The Empty Subway Car (There’s A Reason It’s Empty) (for some reason, my first thought was because there’s a poo in there, but I guess there are other reasons); you can call pizza a “slice” or a whole a “pie,” but you must never, ever, call it pizza; in retrospect, I think the armed customs official at the border didn’t ask me “do you know anyone in New York” because he was screening me for terrorism, but because he was trying to warn me “if you don’t know anyone here, you will get lost and then maybe you will die;” man, Wellington is so white; it’s hard to know whether my general air of awkwardness is due to moving into a new flat, or just having no idea how this country works; I feel like I’m about to get mugged and / or pickpocketed at any moment (I need to relax about this); Netflix here is awesome; if I don’t make myself go outside soon, there is a strong possibility I won’t leave the building for a month; when I got off the plane in LA I was smiling like a goofy idiot, thinking “fuck yeah! America! At last!” Whereas thoughts now are more “well… shit.”