February 25, 2010

One Way to Get a Free Shower

It all started with a text message, “For you the hallway bell doth toll.” Our apartment has prepaid electricity and when our meter is running low, we head downstairs, talk to the guards, get our new electricity card, and recharge our meter. (We usually do this 1-2 times per semester.)

So downstairs I go to retrieve the electricity card. First attempt was unsuccessful (but maybe I should reserve that definition for the second attempt as we’ll see later). The guard informed me that he needed some collateral to ensure I’d bring the electricity card back. I offered him my keys, but he refused. He wanted something more valuable.

Back upstairs, actually up the elevator, to get the more valuable possession, my university ID card. Now I don’t consider this card to hold too much value, but if it’ll get my electricity refilled by handing it over, then so be it. And back downstairs to get the electricity card.

With it all squared away, I traded the university ID card for the electricity refill card and turned to leave.


Out shot a stream of hot water from the radiator! The cargo pockets on my pants caught the end of the radiator and broke off the release valve! I immediately tried to plug the hole with my thumb but the pressure was too high. I managed to hold the radiator closed from some time as the guard dialed numbers on his emergency phone list. The guard was getting no response. He tried number after number trying to get someone to come help out.

I keep the pressure on the valve with my thumb braving the hot water and spraying water as the pressure built up. It got harder and harder to hold my thumb in place. Sometimes I adjusted my thumb shooting the water out again. The guard franticly waved at me to cover the hole again. I pressed on, literally pressing my thumb for what seemed like forever. Then, the guard came out of his office to check out the damages and informed me that the “plumber” would call him back in a minute.


As I was spraying myself and the walls with the water adjusting my thumb and trying other techniques to stop the water, other guests would come and go. Each one would gasp at the sight of the first floor covered with water, black water, and what plaster from where the water had shot off the wall! And it stunk. The water had an old nasty smell to it. But I kept holding it off with my thumb hoping someone would understand my broken Chinese asking for a pencil.

Finally another guard came in the building. I guess it was his shift change. He understood my Chinese and tossed a pencil from his office to me that I used to plug the hole. I continued to hold the pencil for 10-15 minutes longer waiting for the plumber.

The plumber finally arrived carrying only pliers. He examined the situation. I handed him the broken valve which he examined and tossed back to me. I continued to hold the pencil effectively stopping the flow of water from the radiator. The plumber looked for a valve that would turn off the water to the radiator, but there was none. (As a note, the radiators in our apartment had a red valve to turn off the water if I break one in our apartment.)

After he looked for the shutoff valve, he returned to the office with the guard. The both looked over the phone list again and decided to take a smoke break. A SMOKING BREAK! I’m still holding the pencil in the radiator and your smoking!

After the cigarettes were done, the plumber comes back out of the office and asks me to release my hold on the pencil to see if the pencil will stay on its own. I do gingerly and the pencil does its job!

Now came the fun part, cleaning up the water that’s everywhere. The guard gets a broom, dust pan, and bucket and started to sweep up the water one bucket at a time. I offer my help and asked for another broom but there are no more.

Another man worker came in the building and immediately asked what happened. The guard simply said, “TA!” (Meaning HIM!) as he pointed my direction. Next to come down the elevators were the cleaning ladies carrying the trash out. They ask the same question to which the guard responded, “TA!”

Not knowing what to do, I stand around as the guard does some cleaning. Then finally the guard says some more Chinese “Mei shi” meaning it doesn’t matter and informed me that I could go. So I left to take a shower and clean up my own mess!


I returned the electricity card an hour later and the guard smiled and waved at me again saying “mei shi.” Today when I went down to replace our bottled water, another guard was on duty. He had heard the story and smiled at me asking if I broke the valve yesterday. As for the damages…

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