August 6, 2013

Water Wars

Drinking water straight from the tap in China is one of those things you do not do. So what does one drink? Well, there are a few options. Some choose to boil the tap water and keep it on-hand for drinking water. Some have their own filtering system. Others pay for big five gallon jugs of drinking water. We are in the five gallon jug category. Usually, it’s a pretty convenient system. If the water jug is running low, I pick up the phone and call our water guy who lugs a fresh five gallon jug up five flights of stairs to our apartment. I give him my empty jug and a water ticket worth 10 yuan ($1.35) and he gives me the new water jug. Simple and convenient, right?

Well, the problem comes when we run out of tickets. The water guy can no longer accept cash or sell water tickets (which makes perfect sense from an accounting/control standpoint but aggravates us foreigners who are used to the simplicity of buying tickets off the water guy at our door). That all started a few months into last school year and there was about a week when no one knew how to get water tickets and therefore couldn’t get water. Then, we were told to go to a neighborhood office to buy tickets. This neighborhood office is nicely tucked away in a part of the neighborhood I wouldn’t normally just stroll by, so I had one heck of a time finding it the first time. Once said office was found, I bought 10 tickets and the whole deal was back on track. Until yesterday.

We had been out of water all weekend because we forgot to buy water tickets on Friday and they’re closed Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning I went to the office and was answered with “we are sold out of water tickets.”

“Sold out?!” I said indignantly “Then how can I buy water? What should I do? I need water.”

“Buy them from the water delivery guy,” the unconcerned clerk answered back.

“He told me to buy them here. And, I don’t know where his office is. Now what?,” I said, determined not to let this become totally my problem since this office is in charge of water tickets and I am following “the rules” by buying them here.

-Long pause punctuated by me not turning around and going home thus accepting that the office is out of water tickets-

The clerk waved me off to the woman at the front desk. Repeat above conversation. Another long pause in which pregnant, thirsty foreigner stares down front desk lady. Front desk lady picked up the phone and called someone. Then told me to “wait awhile” (one of the most vague expressions in the Chinese language because it can mean “wait two minutes” or “wait two hours” or “wait until tomorrow”). From listening to her side of the phone conversation, I got the feeling the tickets are on the way, so I went and sat on the steps outside the office because it’s cooler out there than inside. After waiting about 20 minutes in which I made a frustrated call to Jeremy just to tell him the trouble I’m having and that he is indeed right that he will never be able to do this errand because he doesn’t speak Chinese, I duck back into the office. To my surprise, the water tickets have magically appeared. I buy 10 of them and rejoice.

Later that day I found out one of our foreigner friends had been in the same office trying to buy water tickets just an hour before me. I’m hoping she gets her tickets today!

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