Sunday, February 27, 2011

Serenity now, insanity later: another visit from the chinese repairman

I've had another visit from the Chinese repairman.  Now that we live in the more-developed north standards for repairmen have gone up a bit.  In the south they'd arrive without tools and restate the problem.

"See right here, that pipe's leaking?  That's the problem."
"Yes I know, that why I called you."

They would occasionally attempt to use things lying around the house, like coat hangers or kitchen utensils to conduct their repairs.  I once took a butter knife out of a repairman's hand and replaced it with the screwdriver from my pocket knife.  They'd depart for an hour or six to get tools, and never clean up after themselves.  I've told this story ad nauseum, but it's only because it was one of my top five worst moments in China.  A repairman had just finished unclogging my bathroom sink, in which process he had scattered soggy black schmutz all over the bathroom floor.  He looked around himself and said, "Wow, this is gross.  You should clean that up," and left.  It truly was a blessing he came when my students were there, because I'm pretty sure their presence was the only thing that kept me from loosing my cool.  A year before I would have demanded he clean it up, but by then I knew enough to know that in that exchange I'd come off looking like the jerk.

Today I called him because our kitchen and bathroom floors were covered with water.  The bathroom was no surprise, that pipe has been leaking for awhile.  When it first started dripping we'd been planning to move out soon, so we didn't want to buy the new pipe fixture just the new tenant.  The drainpipe for the kitchen sink just fell off last week, but Peter and I keep forgetting and using it anyway, hence the kitchen puddle.

Our current repairman comes with tools on the first trip.  He doesn't bother with restating the problem to us.  He also doesn't bother with spare parts, except for a handful of cheap washers and a few dozen reels of plumber's tape.  (If you don't know, plumber's tape is the duct tape of plumbing.  A few layers of it can seal a pipe connection.  It is not intended to be used in such quantities as to, oh, say, change the gauge of a pipe.  I have come to detest plumber's tape.)  This trip Peter did persuade him to go buy the part we needed.  That was a first, as he's always before asked us to do it ourselves, or at least go with him.

When I say "us" I really mean "we."  For some reason whenever the repairman comes I am always here alone and Peter is translating via cell phone.  I think it's because Peter's a very laid back person.  Left to his own devices he wouldn't call a repairman unless the apartment was actually underwater.  He did rush home to meet the repairman last time, though, when the hose to the washing machine exploded and drenched me with water.  I think Peter came home that time because he was afraid the repairman's life was in jeopardy.

Now the repairman is gone.  In the bathroom is a small heap of discarded plumber's tape, and a fresh wad, about a quarter of an inch thick, is wrapped around our brand-new pipe fixture.  Actually, upon inspection I have found nearly every plumbing connection in the house is heavily wrapped in plumber's tape.  Except the kitchen sink drainpipe, of course.  That's still held on with a piece of rusty wire.  I decided not to make a fuss, though.  As with the washing machine hose, I'll just wait until it fails completely and then ask, "Now how is this really supposed to be done?"  Serenity now.

To speak fairly, or at least attempt to do so, I should mention that culture influences expectations of repairmen, as it does everything else.  No one in China (besides foreigners) expects repairmen to clean up after themselves.  Repairmen generally don't like to go buy parts for you because they don't want to be accused of ripping you off (and such accusations do happen).  In the US the owner of a rental property is required to maintain the property in livable condition, but there is no such law here.  Unless you can talk your landlord into it (and you can't) you'd better pay for repairs out of your own pocket.  Chinese people know that going in.  It's part of the deal.  A building like ours, that keeps a repairman on staff and only charges for parts, is considered a luxury.  Most Chinese tie a rag around a leaky pipe, put a bucket under it, and call it good.  However, when you do have to pay for one, Chinese repairmen are very reasonably priced, often come the same day they are called, and their repairs are usually effective, if not standard.

I'll let you know how the sink wire holds up.

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