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.