In February, when the borders re-opened and most international students were finally able to return to Australia, I envisioned many great things about my life in a new country. What I didn’t imagine, when I relocated from Nairobi to Melbourne, was that I would be living in a hotel.
I have always wanted to live close to the city. But like most students, I assumed I would never be able to afford it.
That is, until I learnt from a friend who works in the property industry that many people have moved out of the CBD during the pandemic. At the height of the rental vacancy rate, one bedroom apartments in the city centre were going for as cheap as $300 per week – a price that was unheard of pre-pandemic.
So when I received an email from a real estate agent about an accommodation offer, I was surprised, but not too much. She said a hotel in the city was offering temporary long-term stays at discounted prices, and they preferred students for the deal. Would I be interested?
It was an arrangement similar to monthly rentals. Rent would be $330 per week, inclusive of water, heat, electricity and unlimited wifi. The rate also came with access to all hotel amenities: swimming pool, sauna, spa, gym, courtyard, restaurant and laundry facilities.
Pre-pandemic, the hotel would have charged $220 per night.
I said yes. Not only because of the discounted price and amenities, but also because I needed a place to stay – fast. The only catch, the hotel reception said, was that for long stays, I had to bring my own bedding and do my own housekeeping. This wasn’t a problem for me.
Living in Melbourne’s CBD is usually reserved for the well-off. Even students who house-share in the city, essentially only renting rooms, would generally come from wealthy backgrounds
Having my bedding helped make the hotel room feel like home. Doona covers and pillowcases from Kmart helped create a personalised sense of home. So did other small, but meaningful things like having a stock of spice chai and sage-scented candles, lavender reed diffusers, and the black and brown sisal rug I placed in the doorway, to help demarcate the shoe/door/entryway, from the rest of the living room. Otherwise, the floors would have just been one, long, carpeted shade of grey.
But even though I tried my best to make the room feel like a personal sanctuary, there was always the occasional reminder that this was a hotel. The daily morning and afternoon knock on neighbouring doors, persistently announcing housekeeping, was a reminder that as nice as I’ve made this place, it also wasn’t home.
It was good enough, however, for the three months that the deal ran. I loved staying at the hotel and enjoying all it had to offer. I relished having options of things to do in the building where I lived.
I’d go to the gym at 5.30am, head back to my room, make and have breakfast, get some writing projects done, get dressed, and then at about 7.30am, walk two minutes to catch the tram to the university. In the evenings, back from intense school work, I’d put my bag down, listen to some music, maybe have some tea, and then head for the heated pool to do some laps. Often, while doing backstrokes, I’d think in amazement, “What a life this is. What a life!”
House-sharing is what most people opt for while they juggle university lectures and assignments and part-time jobs. A way of living that’s well known for its challenges
One afternoon, I had coffee at the hotel’s restaurant with a data analyst student from a different university, who was astonished at my temporary hotel life. How good is this? She marvelled. Is this how the other half lives?
Her point was spot-on. Living in Melbourne’s CBD is usually reserved for the well-off. Even students who house-share in the city, essentially only renting rooms, would generally come from wealthy backgrounds. They would sometimes fork out almost $400–$450 a week, not including bills, for a room only. (And sometimes, a tiny room.) All other living spaces are shared with housemates.
That’s the reality of student life in Melbourne. House-sharing is what most people opt for while they juggle university lectures and assignments and part-time jobs. A way of living that’s well known for its challenges.
One of my classmates is currently house-sharing out in the suburbs, so he pays a much cheaper rate of about $110 per week, for his room. When I asked him how he likes it, he said, “I don’t. I’m looking for another place. My landlord does hard drugs. He’s always got something going on with the cops or the courts. He’s always on their radar. I don’t want my proximity to him to give me any issues with my visa. I need to move out.”
It’s in hearing such stories that I got to appreciate the value of solitude the hotel gave me. The privilege of solo living.
This autumn, during my last week at the hotel, carrying a basket of clean laundry to my room, I met a gentleman waiting for the elevator. He was drying his slightly greying hair, coming from the pool. As we rode up, me to the ninth floor and he to the 20th, he told me he’d been living at the hotel for four years. I asked him if he swam regularly. He laughed and said, “Oh no, certainly not. I did when I first moved here, the excitement of a pool in the building made me swim every day for three consecutive weeks, but eventually, the novelty of it wore off. It became just another pool. Just another thing.”
That would sum up life in a hotel accurately. Though exotic and exciting and with opportunities to meet interesting people, in the end, it can become just another building. Just another place.