“Hi Sean, our shower is still leaking, please send someone to fix it” I texted my agent for the 4th time in the month of March. I had to feel a little bit sorry for him. It would be the third time our shower had needed fixing since I moved in at the end of January. We had also called him out twice about our toilet leaking. The worst was when the toilet and shower leaked at the same time. The water from the shower would spread the water from the toilet all over the bathroom floor and make it smell even worse when just the shower leaked.
But this was a newly renovated apartment, completed just before we moved in. How on earth could it already be leaking this much? Well, I’ve been told that in China there aren’t any plumbers, electricians, plasters, painters or any specialists at all! There is just one man, a jack of all trades, who does everything. It’s the same guy who installs your shower, toilet, air-conditioners, lights and fridge. This guy also comes to fix your shower, toilet, air-conditioner, lights and fridge when they break.
But I have my own theory. What it means for something to be ‘broken’ in China, is not the same as it means to be ‘broken’ back home. When I say my toilet is ‘broken’, the toilet doesn’t seem broken to our handy man – well, you can still use it can’t you? Just hold your nostrils closed and watch where you step, there! Problem fixed!
The second part of my theory is what I call the ‘51% fixed’. By the time I moved out of my last apartment I had given up texting my agent to ask him to come and fix something. Ultimately, I realised that every time something was actually ‘fixed’, it was only fixed just enough so that it worked (at least for a short while). But when you fix something 51%, it eventually breaks again.
This 51% fixed attitude is something I see everywhere: bikes held together with all sorts of odd bits of materials found on the side of the road, additions to houses that look as if they might blow over in the slightest breeze, held together with all manner of bits and bobs. It’s this incredible culture of reuse and ‘fixing’. Even though I think that if you’re going to fix something, you should do it 100%, I still admire how much things are reused and repurposed here.
Everywhere I go I see nannas and grandpas on their bikes hauling around carboard, bottles, or anything that might be useful. They dig through the public bins to find anything that can be recycled or reused. They’re everywhere. For all the waste that China’s huge population generates, I’m glad to see someone making an effort to do something useful with it, or at least to sort it.
In my new place, I don’t bother sending messages to Sean. Even when someone came to ‘fix’ my air-conditioner (which wasn’t broken). This handyman pulled my unit off the wall, along with a huge chunk of the wall, changed a pipe saying it would stop my air-conditioner from leaking (which it wasn’t). He put the unit back into the enlarged hole in the wall and it now leaks, dripping water onto my desk whenever I turn it on. Instead of sending Sean a message, I got behind the 51% fixed philosophy. I found an old t-shirt which I use to mop up my desk and have patched up the new hole in my wall with some tape and a plastic bag, but I’m sure there is something nesting in the newly covered hole in the wall…