The Plumber and Me

It's a truth I keep experiencing in China: just because the man who is sent to fix your toilet arrives carrying a plunger doesn't necessarily mean that he is a plumber.  Most likely he is just the poor maintainance guy who happens to be on duty the Sunday morning that the pesky foreigner's toilet decides to go on strike. It happened again today.

Three hours and two 'plumbers' later, the thing finally comes unstuck, but not before 'Plumber #1' sent me to the market to buy some wire more toilet bowl cleaner (neither worked and he gave up and left) and 'Plumber #2' scolded me for throwing foreign objects into the toilet.  Of course to a Chinese 'plumber' toilet paper falls into the category of "'foreign objects that should never, under any circumstances be thrown into a toilet." I loudly declared my innocence of throwing a foreign object in (well, one by MY definition anyway), but he would have none of it.  He was not going to be deterred from giving the foreigner a good scolding, something I'm sure he found far more interesting than watching yet another curling competition on CCTV.

One of my greatest encounters with a plumber occurred years ago when I lived at a university "Foreign Experts Guesthouse" (only in China does such a thing exist) in Changchun.  The cement holding my toilet to the floor was slowing wearing away, causing my toilet to, shall we say, rock back and forth.  I called the management office and asked them to send a plumber.

Ten minutes later there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find the housekeeper with 4 plumbers, all puffing away on cigarettes. I'm guessing they needed to calm their nerves before having to deal with a foreigner. Even though one was carrying a wrench and another was carrying a plunger, I actually don't know if they were plumbers or just some guys they hauled in off the street. 

They all filed into my tiny bathroom and huddled over the toilet, smoking and talking loudly.  Eventually, they  brought the housekeeper into the huddle. A few minutes later they all joined me in the entryway. The housekeeper was deputized to give me their assessment, as the 'plumbers' huddled around smoking proudly.

"They say," she said, "that you need to sit more lightly."

Once I'd recovered from the physical exertion of NOT falling on the floor laughing, I politely responded:  "No.  They need to fix the toilet."

Deflated, they sent for the man with the cement. 

For someone getting ready to move to China, taking a course in basic plumbing might be considered a good use of your time.

The Rearview Mirror

Three months ago today I had knee surgery in Hong Kong.  A couple of friends from the US happened to be in town that day and accompanied me to the hospital.  Both of them have had more than their fair share of surgical procedures so they had lots of advice and encouragement for me.

There's one bit of advice they gave that I've taken to heart every single day these past three months.  "Keep your eyes on the rear-view mirror," they said. "You have to focus on the things you couldn't do yesterday or last week, and NOT on the things that you still can't do. That's the only way to see your progress and stay motivated to keep moving forward."

Today I took a longer look at that rear-view mirror, and these are some of the key things that I see — events and experiences and milestones that are all (fortunately) behind me now: 

  • The pain of the first few days after surgery.
  • The crazy trip from Hong Kong to Beijing only 60 hours after surgery. Taxi, wheelchair, plane, wheelchair, taxi.
  • Pain meds that slowed my brain processing down to that of an old 386 computer. 
  • Having to give myself injections to prevent clotting.
  • Crutches, crutches, always and everywhere crutches.
  • The excitement of my first steps with just one crutch, and soon after, no crutches around my apartment.
  • Relying on friends for everything.
  • Treks across town in the back of taxis for my physical therapy sessions.
  • Being pushed through Beijing, Tokyo, and Minneapolis airports in a wheelchair.
  • Walking on the snow and ice in Minnesota with crutches.
  • Physical therapy sessions that left me in tears as he pushed my knee to bend to 90, 100, 110, 120, 130, and finally to 140 degrees. (Thanks Scott!)
  • The excitement of making the pedal do a full revolution on the exercise bike!
  • Driving for the first time. (I could do this when I could slam on the brakes).
  • Leaving the crutches behind at my mom's place when I returned to China. 

Full recovery is a marathon, and I still have part of the journey ahead of me.  But tonight I'm grateful as I take some time to look in the rear-view mirror.

Thanks, JJ, for the advice!

In case you're new to this blog, you can catch up by reading the following: 

Ten Things I Learned in School This Week

Knee Surgery This Week



Happy Thanksgiving

Comfort Food

Pitching a Tent

Battle Zone Shanghai

In case you're feeling the need to see clips of more exploding Chinese cites, here's a link to some stunning footage of Shanghai being blown up on New Year's Eve.

I guess they blew up 1000 tons of explosives while we Beijingers could only manage 800 tons.  Just wait until Lantern Festival.  We'll blow them away.  Perhaps quite literally.

Today is the 5th day of the lunar year.  I think the ghosts are trying to sneak back in because there have been non-stop explosions since dawn. 

Guo Fen

Guo fen (过分) is one of my favorite Chinese words.  The first character means 'to surpass' or 'exceed.' The second character means 'points (as in a competition or a test).  When the two characters are put together they form a word that means 'excessive / undue / overly.'  It's a good translation for the word 'hype.'

Guo fen has been since skaters won the gold and silver in pairs skating at the Olympics yesterday.  You think NBC or American TV in general are masters of hype?  You ain't seen nothing!!!

Since the medal ceremony about 24 hours ago, the Olympics coverage on CCTV (China Central Television) has gone something like this:

Look at those wonderful Chinese skaters receiving their medals and listening to "March of the Volunteers" (Chinese national anthem).

Now let's watch a documentary on the lives of the skaters.

Now let's have an intereview with the skaters.  "How do you feel right now?"  (reporters who ask such questions, in any language, should  be sent packing).

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performances.

Now let's watch a replay of the medal ceremony.

Now let's talk about how this shows that China is a great country.

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performances.

Now let's watch the skaters eating jiaozi in the CCTV studio. 

Now let's watch a documentary on the lives of the skaters.

Now let's watch a Chinese skier come down the hill.

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performances.

Oh look!  It's a Chinese speed skater.  See her go.

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performances.

Now let's talk about how this shows that China is a great country.

Oh look!  It's a Chinese snowboarder coming down the hill.  Cool.

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performance.

Oh look!  It's a Chinese curler! 

Now let's watch a replay of the winning performance.

                …….and on and on and on it goes.

CCTV sent a team of hundreds to cover the Games, and now they're stuck twiddling their thumbs.

Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that the Chinese skaters won.  I was watching yesterday and cheering them on with the 1.3 billion people around me.  They're great skaters with a great story and Chinese today have a right to be excited and proud. 

But this has become tai guofen (way over the top).

Enough!  Bring on the skiing!!

“Quite OK”

Last week I had an appointment here in Beijing with my knee surgeon. This was my first appointment since 2 weeks after he did the surgery.  Since that time I have shed my crutches and worked hard with at PT to restore full range of motion in my knee.  I was proud of my progress and eager to 'show off' for Dr. Kong.

During the visit he watched me walk, sit, stand up, checked my range of motion, and examined the scars.  Like a kid waiting for approval from a parent, I waited for his assessment.

"Quite OK," he said.

Quite OK? That's all?  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed, but then I realized that there was a bit of a cultural communications clash going on.  Being an American I am used to excessive encouragement, and that's all I had heard from the PT in the States.  But excessive encouragement and praise is not a normal part of discourse in Chinese (or British English, which is noteworthy since my surgeon was educated in the UK).

In the Chinese language there are a number of positive phrases that are common, but which just sound funny in English. 

hai keyi =  this is 'quite ok.'  It means good.

bu cuo = not bad, but is stronger in it's positive connotation in Chinese than it is in English

hen buocuo = very not bad. 

Anyway, it was clear that I had gotten the 'hai keyi," which I am taking to mean 'good.'  

And I'm quite OK with that.

Round About Midnight

In case you're wondering if the "don't shoot off your fireworks here" signs posted all over my housing complex had any effect whatsoever, here's a video clip of the carnage outside my window round about midnight last night. The only thing that matters is that the management office can write a report to the district government saying that they did their part for fire safety during the holidays by posting the signs.  Everyone is happy.

If for some reason the embedded video doesn't work, go here to view it.

The explosions began as soon as it got dark, reached fever pitch at midnight, and finally wound down around 130AM.  I drifted off to sleep with the smell of gun powder floating in the air.

Happy Year of the Tiger!