I’m nearing the end of my current 3 month stay in Fuzhou (I’ll be back in fall for more fieldwork), and as usual I’ve fallen behind in my blogging. But one thing I did want do blog about was my living situation. Since the Red Sun Hairstyling Academy has a dearth of students in the winter months, they rent out their dormitory (where I stayed last year) to a third party. So instead, Li Wen Zhong and Sister Xie put me up in their salon’s dormitory, where their employees live.
Generally speaking, free housing is a fringe benefit expected by hairstylists. Housing prices have grown astronomically in recent years in Fuzhou, and eliminating the cost of rent is a crucial way to increase their real wages. The accommodations are never fancy, as the aim is mutual cost cutting (both for employer and employee). Usually they consist of bare apartment without 装修 (interior finishings), and with employees crowded together in rooms sleeping on bunk beds. The housing is optional, but usually the only employees who forego it are those involved in long-term sexual relationships (both married and unmarried). Since stylists typically work 10-11 hours a day, with much of that consisting of dead time, the salon functions as their primary social and living space. The dorm on the other hand is where they sleep, shower, and do laundry.
Li Wen Zhong’s salon (and his dorm) is a special case. It’s a “simple business model” as he describes it. He employs only 4 stylists, and no assistants or clerical staff. One of his stylists recently got married, and the other has a girlfriend, so they both rent their other housing. Two of his stylists are single, and thus are the only ones who take advantage of the free housing benefit. Because of this, Li’s dormitory is especially roomy by industry standards. It is not uncommon to have 6 or 7 stylists sharing a room together in a dormitory.
Li’s “dormitory” is a typical 1990’s apartment in central Fuzhou, just across the street and around the corner from his salon. There are three bedrooms, a living room, a balcony, and a bathroom. When I arrived in Fuzhou, one of the bedrooms housed the two stylists, one was rented out, and the other was storage. Li converted the storage room into my temporary bedroom. “You can have your own room until Spring Festival. After Spring Festival, I’m not sure. You can definitely stay, but you may get a roommate,” he told me.
So this is where I have been living for the past 2 months. Let’s take a tour…