Plumbing Problems

posted in: Everyday Life | 4

When you rent an apartment in China, you can never be totally sure of what might not work properly, what problems might crop up, and what the landlord’s response might be.  For example, this happened in the kitchen of a previous apartment I had, about 36 hours before I had to start making a turkey and other side dishes for Thanksgiving:



Thankfully, that situation was resolved quickly.  I’ve been counting my blessings that I hadn’t had problems with my current apartment.  But, while I was in Sichuan, that streak came to an end.

Actually, the problem started before I left.  I noticed that in my entry way, it seemed like there was water seeping up from under the tiles on the floor.  It was strange.  I saw a little water on the floor and checked the ceiling for a leak, but there was no evidence.  Instead, it felt a little squishy walking on the tiles.  I sent a text to my landlord reporting this problem late Saturday afternoon (of a holiday weekend).  He didn’t respond to me until early Monday morning.  And when I say early, I mean he sent me a text at 5:23 am.  I was, for some strange reason, half awake when it came and I wondered what was wrong that someone was texting so early.  I didn’t respond and he also tried calling before 6am.  I finally responded around 8am, and he came over to look at it.



He wasn’t overly concerned.  He knew that the sink next to the entry area leaked a little bit, and his solution was just to make sure that water didn’t pool up at the bottom of the sink (although that area was damp, water wasn’t pooling there).  I had a roommate for a couple months, and I told her we should probably try to minimize use of that sink and see what happened.  I figured if it got worse, I’d contact the landlord again.  A couple hours later I left for Sichuan.

Two days later, after I had spent 9+ hours on a bus, I was in Chengdu eating delicious food when I got a call from the apartment management office.  Usually when they call it is to tell me that I have a package, and I was eating dinner, so I ignored it.  They called again immediately, but I was still eating.  Then a few minutes later the landlord called.  I was still eating, so I waited to call him back until dinner was over.  When I called him I found out that water was now leaking seriously into the downstairs neighbors apartment.  They wanted to go in and fix it.  I said I needed to call my roommate and let her know.  I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a hold of her and before I had finished, the landlord was calling me back because they wanted to get in ASAP.  I ended up telling the landlord that he could go and let the management into the apartment to check out the problem.  It turned out my roommate was not at home and wasn’t looking at her phone, so she missed all the drama.  A bit later the landlord called to say that there was a leaking valve under the sink.  Except for I didn’t really understand that (I don’t have much plumbing vocabulary beyond “its leaking water”).  He ended up asking his daughter (who speaks English) to call and tell me what was happening.  She had to look up valve in the dictionary because she doesn’t have much plumbing vocabulary in English, but she got the message to me.  They had turned off the water to the apartment so it would quit leaking on the neighbors until the problem could be fixed, so my roommate had to deal with a night of no water.

The landlord promptly went out the next morning, bought a new valve, and had it replaced.  He called me at 9 or 10am to tell me that it was all fixed.  By the time I got home late the following day, the tiles weren’t even squishy any more!  This was once of the first situations that called for me to use a lot of Chinese on the phone, so I was really glad that I had done a bit of practice on phone etiquette the last day of class before we left for Sichuan.  I’m also thankful that once it was clearly a serious problem, the landlord acted quickly to resolve it.


Linking up at Velvet Ashes as an example of different expectations about home maintenance.

4 Responses

  1. Amy Young

    Ruth, your story reminds me of a great line from my friend Joann: Plumbing is not a cultural value in China.

    I hadn’t realized it could be a strong value … until it wasn’t :). Thanks for linking with Velvet Ashes!

    • Ruth

      So true! Its amazing what you discover are cultural values once you don’t have them.

    • Ruth

      I’ve never met those neighbors (unless I’ve chatted in the elevator and didn’t know it was them), but I didn’t want to flood them!

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