Wo Ju – Snail Space 蜗居, Episode 1
1998, Jiangzhou City
A longtang [Shanghai "traditional" alleyway pdf explanation here ]. They enter an alleyway with underwear and clothes hanging out to dry. The man looks at the woman and says, somewhat disgustedly, “This is our home?” The women replies. “Yup. Our new home”.
Woman is named “Haiping” （海萍）.
Man: “One day, maybe we will have a house of our own. And maybe it is even a villa by the sea. When you open the window, you can see the waves. We will lie on the beach sunning ourselves. Our child next to us building sand castles. Then, we will remember this day, when we were young, there was a time when I cleaned the shower and you cleaned the toilet. Will you feel that the road was very happy?”
Haiping: "I have a question. If we have a child that is building sand castles, that means in only a few years, we will achieve this” (Yes). “I see: you dream it, and I do it..."
(end of scene is people in shared kitchen preparing food while sounds of couple are hear from above)
Man: Now, townhouses cost around 490,000, and you only make 1,000 yuan a month.
Woman: In the future, my wages will increase much more than housing.
Haiping asks about Haizao 海藻, her sister. Haiping’s mother says that she wants Haizao to go to university in their province, to stay beside her, since her other child (Haiping) has gone away. Haiping replies that the universities there are better than those in her old town [hence, we learn that Haiping is an out of towner (waidiren) in Jiangzhou].
Haizao wants to go to university in the city where Haiping is resident (Jiangzhou). The parents agree, but there is little time to study before the test [gao-kao]. Her scores on test will determine where she attends.
6 months later
Mother takes Haizao out of house saying “take care of your train ticket and money. Listen to your sister. Call home often. You hear?”
Back in Jiangzhou.
Lots of lights and foreign stores. Haizao is excited, “it’s so bright, much more light than back at home”. [A white (Jinjiang) taxi rolls by, and a “Dazhong” taxi is in foreground—absolutely Shanghai since these are exclusively Shanghai taxi companies]
Haizao is staying with Haiping and man [Su Chun, (苏淳)]. She makes fun of Haiping for saying "our family" "your family" even though Haiping is not married, and she pulls out a package of condoms, and laughs. Man says that if Haizao doesn't tell her mother, when they have a big house, they will reserve a room for her.
As they go to sleep, Haiping says: "Don’t worry Haizao. In a short time, in a city this big, your big sister certainly will have an apartment of her own, a family of her own. What others have, I will have too."
4 years later
Haiping’s hair has been cut short.
Haizao: "If we go back home we will have a big house and mom will make food everyday"
Haiping: "I don't want to be the frog at the bottom of the well. We all have to struggle (奋斗). It is important. Do you know how a frog dies? (how?) Boiled to death by warm water. Boiled to death by very comfortable warm water."
After graduating university, Haizao comes to live with Haiping again while she looks for a job. Su Chun agrees (Haiping and Su Chun are married now) and there is some conflict because Haizao is not very enthusiastic about looking for a job, and Haiping's husband wants to have sex with her but she refuses him since Haizao is sleeping in the same small room.
After an incident where other residents confront Haiping about her sister not paying a share for collective water and gas, Haiping becomes angry when eating dinner with Haizao and her husband. She says, sighing heavily, "I don't believe that, in a city this big, so many people can make it but we can't. So many people can live on but we can't. Not only do I want to live on, but I want to live well. I cannot believe that my future will only be in this rickety longtang reduced to the same class as those old women-clerks from the first floor, hourly workers from the second floor, and canteen cooks from the second and a half floor. My future will be better than theirs.” Haizao nods enthusiastically, Su Chun looks startled and starts to eat, and Haiping stifles a sob. Su Chun comforts Haiping calling the old women “buttinskyies” (bapo 八婆).
Haizao meets a man, who she calls Lei Feng [who is Lei Feng?], who lends her his umbrella. He says they work together and she should call him Young Bei.
At the end of the episode, Haiping and Su Chun are looking at apartments. They find a place near an airport (obviously, Hongqiao), but Haiping worries that it is too far away from potential jobs. Su Chun asks her if she wants an apartment that belongs to herself or a job that involves moving back and forth. “Apartment! (fangzi 房子)”. She says an apartment and pats her stomach, which has grown large with child.