Sit More Lightly

I’m back in China for three weeks, traveling with a group of university students from Minnesota. They arrived yesterday, and now we are safely ensconced in what I would describe as a 2.5-star hotel; not quite nice enough to be a 3-star, yet not quite dumpy enough to be a 2 star. It calls itself a Days Inn, and uses the familiar logo, but I’m thinking that might just be a bit of brand piracy.

If you’ll excuse the imagery, last night when I sat on the toilet, it rocked a bit, which immediately brought back memories of the Great Rocking Toilet Incident of Changchun (circa mid-1990’s).

I was living in a university “Foreign Experts Guesthouse,” something that only exists in China. The cement holding my toilet to the floor was wearing out, causing it to, shall we say, rock back and forth when in use. I called the management office and asked them to send a plumber to fix it.

Ten minutes later there was a knock on my door and I opened it to find not one plumber, but a housekeeper and 4 plumbers, all puffing away on cigarettes. I’m guessing that 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 couldn’t tell if they were really plumbers or some poor saps who were hauled in off the street.

They all filed into my tiny bathroom and huddled over the toilet smoking and talking loudly. Eventually they summoned the housekeeper to join the huddle, and after a few minutes and much sucking of teeth, they all stepped out into my entryway. The poor housekeeper was deputized to give me their assessment of the situation, as the ‘plumbers’ huddled around proudly puffing on their cigarettes

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

Once I 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.

He eventually showed up, smoking of course, and cemented my toilet to the floor while the others watched (and smoked). By the time they were done, there was a blue haze of smoke in my apartment and cement all over the bathroom; but hey, the toilet didn’t rock anymore.

If you’re getting ready to move to China, it is my belief that taking a course in basic plumbing might be considered a good use of your time.


There is a post-script to this story. A few years later, at a skit-night during an organizational conference in Thailand, I and a friend acted out this drama in the style of a Beijing opera, screeching and twirling plungers and all! Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic record of the performance.

Perhaps some of you reading this post were in attendance that night, and have a photo, or perhaps a video of the performance. If so, leave a comment or drop me an email.

In the meantime, I’m back in Beijing, sitting lightly!

Related Post: The Plumber and Me

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