Saturday, November 20, 2010

When central heat becomes central leak

Nov. 17, 2010

by Kevin

Generally “heat day” is a highly-anticipated day in China. At least for those of us living north of the “heat line” an imaginary line (following the Huai River and the Qinling Mountains) that divides Northern China from Southern China and thus divides the country into “buildings with central heat” and “buildings where people freeze for several months unless they can afford to buy some other form of heating.” Some Southerners have even begun to clamor for central heat.

Thankfully, we live just north of the heat line. Ruth spent two years south of the heat line when she was in Yangzhou. I think she was colder than me most of the winter even though the ice was always frozen in Tonghua by early November at the latest and didn't thaw till March at the latest. Why? I had central heating. She just had a small AC/heat unit, space heaters and blankets. They were so inefficient that doctors in Yangzhou sometimes told people to just keep their windows open all winter. Nevermind the frostbite.

Anyway, as November 15 approached, our apartments were getting chilly. The baby's been bundled up in extra layers basically since her arrival in late October. The flipping of the switch that would send heat through the pipes in our floors (a wonderful innovation in a country that rarely uses insulation in it's concrete-walled buildings) eagerly anticipated.

But by the time we went to sleep that night, we hadn't heard the tell-tale trickles of water that indicated the onset of heat.

Then, the next day, again no heat. We began to worry – after all, the heat has ALWAYS been turned on Nov. 15, no matter how hot or cold it is outside. Thankfully, our fears were assuaged when I awoke to warm floors and set off for 8 a.m. class on the morning of the 17th.

Throughout class, we heard the slithering sounds of water filling pipes, as well as loud clanking. Undoubtedly workers had to fix something, I figured. The shivering students, bundled up in their coats, smiled.

When I went to office hours at 10, my smile quickly faded. The side-effect of water trickling through the pipes was a leak from the radiator in the foreign teacher office/library. At this point, a growing puddle had formed near the desks and computer at one end of the room. So I got on the phone to the foreign affairs officials. They told me that there was some flooding on the second floor, but a worker would be coming soon. Office time came and went with no help. About four hours later, when Ruth was in the office, the workers arrived and proceeded to inspect the radiator and remove it from the wall.

Naturally, they didn't drain the water out first, so filthy, rusty, grimy coffee-grind looking water splattered onto the wall and poured across the entire floor. Thankfully China doesn't do carpet. They tried to shut off the incoming water, but a steady leak continued to drip onto the floor. They put a small basin underneath it, but it was full within a few minutes, so they opened the window and began bailing it out. Just before Ruth's office time ended, the workers left. The drip continued. They made no indication of whether or not they would return, so I wrapped up the baby and headed for the office so I could pass her off to Ruth and wait for them to return.

Again, I told the school about the situation. They assured me that the workers would return. I got to work cleaning the floor. Some of you may remember a post earlier this summer about the flooding of the basement in Georgia this summer. If I was superstitious, I'd think it had followed me. But in the process, I'd become quite adept at getting water off the floor. The mop didn't help much because it didn't absorb enough water. Instead, I grabbed brooms and began sweeping into the hallway. The workers returned, grabbed the radiator and carried it off. Again, with no indication of whether or not they would return. “The entire floor is wet. Do you know if the workers will return?”

The response: “They left to repair the radiator. After it is repaired they will return again.”

“When will that be?” I wondered.

“They will call me,” she replied.

Why did I even bother asking?

Soon, a trio of concerned students arrived and offered to help. Before I could turn them down, they had mops and brooms in hand and went to work. Unfortunately, by this time, my 4 p.m. class was about to start. Kelly had just finished teaching her third class of the day and was exhausted, but she hurriedly went back to her apartment, changed her clothes and returned to bail water for a couple hours. Again, I told the school officials. Naturally, the worker responsible for unlocking the door to a computer classroom didn't show up until 20 minutes late. It was just one of those days.

Since our school was going to be hosting a banquet at 6, again, I pestered the school officials. “Will they be back to fix it in time for the banquet? I have to go to teach, but now Kelly and some students are trying to clear the water so it doesn't damage the furniture or the books.”

“I am coming,” she replied. Finally.

I had to go teach my class. Naturally, since nothing was going right, the worker who is responsible for unlocking the door to my multimedia classroom didn't show up, so we waited in the hallway for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Kelly and some students bailed water and cleared the floor.

After class, I went to check on the progress. The workers had just arrived. Our banquet was supposed to begin now (Sherri, our PA was in town and the school always throws us a banquet when she comes), but we waited while the workers attempted to install the repaired radiator. The drips continued until the workers realized that they might need to install a washer onto the pipe. I can't help but wonder if this would have solved the problem in the first place, but I tried to keep my mouth shut.

Flustered, we headed off to our banquet.

On the plus side: now we have so much heat that we can see Juliana's hands and have to crack the windows to keep from sweating.

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