My toilet has given me problems since I moved into my flat. Yes,yes, I do love my place. I have my own private little yard. The interior is somewhat spectacular with marble floors and high end fixtures. Yet, my toilet has given me problems this whole time. At first, I assumed a female friend that stayed all night at one point - platonic, of course – may have caused the problem because it seemed to really kick in after our impromptu slumber party. Of course, I never accused her of throwing anything feminine down the toilet but that is what had been brewing in my head.
Well, the problem has gotten to the point where I must pour a buck of water down the toilet to flush it which is not that big of a deal but still a bit of a hassle. You see, I am going to go to London over winter break at the end of January and I would like to sublet my flat while I am away. Telling my temporary tenant that he or she must pour a bucket of water down the toilet to flush it seems a bit Clampett to me. I would like to fetch a nice price for the flat while I am away. Thus, I would rather have the problem fixed and not worry about it any longer. Problems can be alleviated here for a reasonable price. I assumed alleviating this problem would not set me back much.
Michael called me. His friend's boyfriend wanted help on his resume. Of course, I do not mind helping I told him. We decided I would look at the resume on Saturday afternoon. This made Michael happy. I told Michael about the toilet. He told me he would call a worker. That made me happy. The last time I had my bathroom drains snaked it cost 50 rmb which is about $6.50. This is very reasonable. In other countries, I am sure a plumber would cost $100 at least.
Michael told me the plumber would arrive on Saturday at 1:30. I thanked him. Little did I know at the time that this would have the makings of a screwball toilet comedy.
Saturday morning when I woke up and made coffee, I realized something was strange with my upper lip on the left side. I looked in the mirror and I seemed to have developed a cold sore overnight which is weird. I do not think that I have ever had a cold sore in my life. I thought of the cold sore scene in Spinal Tap. I then wondered how I might have got this cold sore that could very well be Herpes. I have not had contact with anyone except for my pillow. In my sleep, I am sure that I am probably a bit amorous with my pillow. Could my pillow have given me Herpes simplex? This mystified me and somewhat unnerved me. I really do not want to have cold sores for the rest of my life. I have avoided them this long.
After I had my coffee, I decided to go and shop a bit. Screw the cold sore I said. I have this part time job at Web International, a business English school, on Thursday and Friday evenings. All together, I teach there six hours a week. That brings in roughly an extra $500 a month which is helpful. At the moment, I have no comfortable black shoes. My black Miu Miu slippers wore a blister on the upper part of my heel not too long ago so I have decided to retire them.
The other day when I was out, I spotted some pointy toed Comme des Garcons black patent leather and gold spectator slip-ons. When I saw them, I tried them on (41s) and they fit. They seemed as if they would be comfortable and they were reasonably priced. When I saw them, I thought I would look at my bank balance if I had enough money to last me comfortably until payday I would buy them. When I looked at my bank balance, I realized I had plenty of money to last me. I could buy them and not sweat it.
After I finished my breakfast of chocolate muffins, and after my maid finished cleaning my apartment, and after I puttered around the apartment for a little bit; I headed to the shops on Changle that are on the north side of my school. On the way to buy the shoes – or at least - on the way to seriously consider buying the shoes; I became hungry, famished, actually.
On the same block as the shops, there is a wonton place that is fairly tasty. They speak no English but I thought that I could fake my way through and order something if worst came to worse. The place was fairly deserted when I arrived. I did not have to wait in line. However, at the counter, I was not sure how I was going to order what I wanted to order. I have started this little book of phrases which I did not have with me and the book does not have anything about ordering food in it anyway. Yeah, I do have the Berlitz phrase book that Meg gave me that I should carry with me but I did not have it with me either. I travel light. I love to travel light. Traveling light sometimes puts me at a disadvantage in certain situations. This was one of those situations. For a minute, I stood at the counter and stammered. Then, I looked around which I tend to do to see if there are any students around that might be able to help me.
Well, when I looked around, I spotted two students at a table. There were only two tables occupied and at one of the tables were the two students I spotted. I looked closer and realized it was my friend Pascar whom I taught last semester. I called out his name. He did not look up. I did called out again. No response. I thought it looked like him. Maybe it is not him, I thought. I called his name again. This time he looked up and saw me and smiled.
He rose from the table as he slurped one more mouthful of noodles. Across from him sat Allen. Allen is a student who I became friendly with at the end of the semester last term. Last semester, he asked me at one point why Avril makes great sounding records but live her sound is of poor quality. I was not sure how I was to explain this. Would he understand if I told him she was a manufactured star? I told him much more money and technology went into recording her records. Live you get what you get. He seemed to understand.
Allen and Pascar both smiled and said hello. I asked them if they could help me order something to eat. I explained what I wanted. You can get the wontons dry or in soup. I wanted dry wontons. I pointed to a picture. They asked me if wanted hot ones. Yes, I want hot ones I told them. They ordered for me. I paid the cashier 9 rmb which is about $1.12.
I sat with them as I waited. They finished there wontons in noodle soup. Pascar told me that he could not believe that they saw me. He told me he was nervous to talk. I told him to not be nervous. Allen told me he was not nervous to talk because I am so nice. I told them that they should not be nervous. I think it is very courageous that they would talk to me in English. I cannot speak Chinese.
While we sat, I learned more about them. My wontons arrived. I listened while they talked. Both of them are from the same town and they live in the dorms at the school. Their town is 10 hours away by train and 5 hours away by car. I asked them how often they talk to their parents. Pascar told me that he talks to his mom about 'one time every day.'. I told him that is very important.
They asked me how many brothers and sisters I have. I told them I have 3 brothers and 1 sister. Allen said that my mom does not miss me as much then because she has other children to love. I told him my mother passed away 8 years ago. He told me he was sorry for me. If my mother was still alive, I would not be talking to you I told them. It would have been too hard for me to leave her.
We finished our lunch. I asked them if they wanted to walk around with me. I was going to buy some shoes. They told me they would like that and that they could talk to the clerks for me. I did not know how to tell them I had no problem shopping. I just have problems ordering food. I guess we know what is more important to me.
As we walked around, I realized that inviting the two of them along might impede my decision making somewhat. They seemed to want me to hip hop out. I told them that might not be age appropriate for me which is something I am trying to take into consideration these days. Not to mention, that I am just not really into the hip hop chic.
Oh well, I enjoyed walking with them. I had plenty of time to shop later after the toilet problem was alleviated. I told them I had plans to go to London for winter holiday. They both wanted me to come with them to visit their hometown. I told them I would love to come and visit their hometown with them, maybe for the break that we have in May. They both walked on each side of me so that they could both take turns asking me questions. We plugged each others' numbers into our mobiles. I did really enjoy walking with the two kiddos.
Oh well, I thought, we were close to the shop with the Comme Des Garcons slip-ons I had been eying. We walked in. I saw the shoes. I pointed to the shoes and told the boys those were the shoes I had been thinking I might buy. They looked at them and I think they were a bit dumbfounded because they are really shiny – somewhat preposterous - shoes. I told them they would be good to wear to work but that I could wear them in London when I played my show there. Pascar told me that the shoes made me look younger. I have never heard of shoes making someone look younger but I did take it as a compliment.
For some reason, I thought when I had come by the shop a few days previous, the woman had marked the price down on the shoes for me. I am not sure why I thought this but I did. This was not the case. Nevertheless, they did knock a few dollars off of the price which made me happy.
“Bu Hao Yi Se.” I told the lady which means that I am sorry or embarrassed or something like that.
I did not take off the shoes; I bought the shoes – the clerk put my old shoes in the box – and I headed back to meet Michael and the worker. Pascar asked if they could walk with me back to my flat but then Allen reminded him that they have much homework. They went back to school to do homework. I walked in my new shoes back to my flat. I stopped at the scooter boys scooter shop. They eyed my shoes enviously and smiled. I rubbed the scooter boys head who got a haircut last week and I made my way back to my flat.
I arrived at my flat with plenty of time to spare. The maid had just cleaned so I did not have to do any cleaning. Ten minutes after I arrived, Michael showed up with the worker in tow. The worker busied himself in the freshly mopped bathroom, which was soon not freshly mopped – or at least, did not look freshly mopped. He snaked the commode while I made tea (Earl Grey). Michael told me that his friends would arrive at 2 pm. I showed him my lip. He did not know the English words to explain what he thought might be the problem.
Occasionally, he walked into the bathroom to check on the progress. From what I could tell from my limited knowledge of toilets is that there was no progress. The worker explained something to Michael. He was very adamant in his explanation. This was serious. I had no idea what sort of serious operation this Marcus Welby MD of plumbing was exacting. I was in the dark, in the toilet dark. I kept trying to gain hints or clues but I could not. Finally, the worker stopped to take a breath and light a cigarette. He looked at me to see if it was okay to smoke the cigarette he was about to light in my bathroom. I gave him the okay.
The problem, I was told by Michael, is that there is something hard that the snake cannot penetrate in my toilet which means that more serious measures will need to be taken.
“Something hard?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, something hard.” Michael confirmed.
“I assume this means,” and I took a breath “that the worker has to remove the toilet to remove the problem.”
“Yes,” Michael, again, confirmed, “so it will be more expensive.”
“I think the landlord should pay for this,” I told him “I know that I have not thrown anything in the toilet and it has not worked like it should ever.”
“Yes,” Michael said, “but the landlord does not know that.”
“Oh,” I said. That is true I thought. I have never complained about the toilet so how would the landlord know that it has always had problems. I decided to take my lumps. In my head, the figures are multiplying which freaks me out a bit. Actually, in my head, the figures skyrocketed. I imagined that I might have to take out loans from some Chinese loan shark. Something told me that this problem is not going to be easy to alleviate after all.
“How much?” I asked, as I prepared for the worst.
“150 rmb.” Michael replied.
Okay, I was not happy about it but, okay, I thought. That is a little less then $20.
The worker then dismantled the commode. The next thing I knew the commode was sitting in the middle of the bathroom. He ran the snake through the commode with no problem. The hard object was not in the innards of the commode. It must then be somewhere down in the floor which made me nervous to say the least. I was not sure what to think. The worker talked to Michael again. They talked back and forth for what seemed like an eternity before I could get a word in to ask the problem.
Michael then told me that the worker said that the toilet does not fit. After he explained it somewhat, I understood him to mean that the hole in the floor did not match up with the toilet. When I flushed the toilet the waste just gathered on the floor and oozed to the opening unless I poured the bucket of water down which would be enough water to force the sludge down the drain. This, I told Michael, is the Landlords problem because I am not the one who had the commode installed. Michael agreed and asked me if I had the landlord's number he would call. I told him I did not know. He told me it would be on the lease. I had no idea where the lease was. I started my search for the lease. I thought it might be in this canvas box in which I keep important papers. It wasn't. I then thought it might be in my white leather bag. I hoped it was in my white leather bag. If it was not in my white leather bag, I did not know where it would be. I pulled my bag down from the top of my built in armoire and sure enough, there the lease was. I handed it to Michael. He called the landlord. At one point, he was laughing. He got off the phone and told me, yes, the landlord would pay. Good, I said, because this was not my fault.
Of course, this is when Michael's two friends showed up, the one who wanted help on his resume and his girlfriend. I met the girl at Michael's birthday Karaoke party. Her English name is Lisa. She is nice. She thinks that most Chinese music is crap. She hates the Back Street Boys and all of the foreign music that most Chinese seem to like. I liked her instantly.
Of course, this is when the whole scenario had the makings of screwball comedy. Constance Bennett, Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, – any of them could have played the lead at this point; take your pick. Michael's friends walked into my flat, into my commode-less flat, or at least, into a flat where the commode is sitting nonchalantly in the middle of a somewhat expensively fitted bathroom with a now filthy muddy floor. Furthermore, where the commode once sat was now just a pile of muck, sludge, murk – which I do not wager to guess what this crud consisted of - and next to the pile was a hole in the floor.
I told my visitors to come on in. I gave them slippers to put on. I do not let anyone where their shoes in the flat which I know is quite different from the days when I launched pop bottle rockets and had cook-outs on various abode floors back in the days of liquor and drugs. Of course, I know they thought it odd to have to wear slippers in an apartment where the commode was not even fastened to the floor. And that in plain sight they could see a pile of dookie.
When Lisa stepped into my flat, she looked around and told me that she thought it really nice. Her boyfriend, who wanted help on his resume, was not forthright. He was maybe even a bit stunned by the whole scene. She was the talker. She loved the garden. She told me to tell her if I move. I told her I would. I told her Michael found the place for me. He is such a dear.
She had her computer with her. Mine currently does not have Word because I replaced the hard drive and my friend installed some strange free office software. I had told Micheal to tell them to bring a computer because of this situation. We opened the computer on the floor and set about to start working.
At this point, Michael told me the worker had another engagement and that we could go get the toilet later. This is when something clicked in my head – toilet later? Something about that rubbed me wrong.
“No,” I said, “we can work on the resume later and get the toilet now. There is no way that I want to be without a toilet.”
“Yes, yes,” Michael agreed, “get toilet now, resume later.”
I would have assumed that Lisa and her boyfriend would take the hint and just come back another time.
“Do you mind if we wait here?” Lisa asked. “We could watch a DVD.”
That is fine. I showed them where I kept the DVDs. I then remembered that most of the Chinese people I know are very fond of Amelie.
“This is the same director who directed Amelie” I said, as I handed her Delicatessen.
“Oh, I love Amelie,” she told me.
They then got settled in to watch the movie. Michael and I proceeded to put on our shoes to go pick out a commode. This is when the worker came in to tell us that his company sells toilets. He told Michael this who in turn told me. He will get one from his company, a better one. The worker headed off to snatch a commode. This will cost me 900 rmb which is around $112 which is fine because my landlord will reimburse me. I can take it out of the rent.
While the worker was gone, I helped Lisa's boyfriend with his resume. It was not as bad as I imagined. I tried to advise him the best I could. While I was glancing at it, buried at the bottom of the resume was the fact that he had the highest score on the graduate school admission exam to Fudan University. I told him this was a major deal. This should be at the top. Getting the high score on the graduate school admission exam to one of the most prestigious schools in China is a really big deal. Lisa agreed with me. That is much more important than the fact that he started a computer game sports club at the school.
Soon, the worker was back with his elderly father – I assume the old man was his father – and his very young daughter. Michael asked me how old I thought the daughter might be. I guessed six. Michael asked. She told him six. With them, they had a big box shaped like a commode. Yes, the box was square but it was actually shaped like a commode with two boxes stacked off center on top of each other. I was interested to see if this was actually a nicer commode. When they tore the cardboard away, I instantly could tell that yes, they had brought a nicer commode with two buttons used to flush the toilet on the top.
They got busy and had the commode in place in no time. I told Michael I had to go to an ATM and get the cash to pay them because they were nearly finished. I ran off to the ATM and had no problems which always surprises me. There is a little All Days convenience store next to my ATM. I thought I might buy the painfully shy daughter some candy. She really did want nothing to do with us boys when her father brought her into the flat. For 3.6 rmb, I spotted a small plastic dog – 2 inches high or so – filled with little hard candies shaped like fruit. Oh, and the dog was wearing a fedora. I thought this might be nice. I grabbed it and headed back to the flat.
As soon as I walked in, Michael and Lisa's friend wanted to see what I had in my hand. Lisa had left by this time; she had a previous engagement. I showed them the dog then I handed the dog to the little girl. She took it but she seemed a bit baffled.
“Ruff” I barked.
“Dog” I said.
This did not seem to make her any less puzzled.
Lisa's boyfriend packed up the computer, Lisa's computer and left. He asked Michael if he was going to leave as well. Michael told him that he had to go to the pharmacy with me to deal with this sore on my lip. Of course, this discourse was in Chinese but I somehow knew of what they were speaking.
The worker asked for a mop and actually cleaned up the bathroom somewhat as he tracked it up more as he mopped. I was touched. I mopped it again this morning. The worker, his daughter and his father packed up and left. They lugged the old commode with them. I briefly thought of planting a plant in it in the garden but then I thought.
“Nah, too Clampett.”
(Sidenote – Michael and I did go to the druggist. I bought some pills for the equivalent of 50 cents. The druggist told me to not eat any fried foods or anything spicy for three days. Actually, he told Michael to tell me this because he said it in Chinese.)