The Unexpected

Sometimes I become lulled into thinking that I’ve got used to living in China and that I will no longer be surprised by what I see. But I was jolted out of my complacency this afternoon in Metro. I noticed a young woman in front of me at the checkout changing from slippers, new furry ones picked up in the store, back to her own ankle boots. I naively imagined that she would pay for the slippers along with her shopping. But no, once all her stuff had been put through, she gave back the slippers to the guy on the till. She’d just been wearing them to be comfortable in the shop! No one batted an eyelid.

At the weekend we renewed our acquaintance with Landlady’s Dad, who appeared on Saturday afternoon in charge of The Installation of the New Water Heaters. Two young plumbers were in attendance, one wearing ear muffs against the cold. It quickly became obvious why, as none of them made any attempt to keep the outside door closed. Every time I got up to close it, they quickly reopened it. Why would you want to heat your house? Fintan and I sat shivering on the sofa, a couple of bit players in the main drama being enacted in our flat.

Landlady’s Dad strode around, shouting into his mobile phone and occasionally at Young Plumber with Ear Muffs, now engaged in making maximum mess in our bathrooms. It didn’t occur to him to cover anything up, and soon the toilet cistern and surrounding accessories were covered in thick red dust. Once the water heaters were in place, Landlady’s Dad called me over to look at the fancy new digital remote control, covered in Chinese characters. Clearly he had no idea how to use it himself, and hilariously while Young Plumber demonstrated the temperature up and down arrows, Landlady’s Dad told me that my husband would know how to use it….. Young Plumber was quickly paid off and LD casually assured me that the old tanks now filling up our spare bathroom floor would be collected tomorrow. No one mentioned the mess.

There are little piles of post-construction debris all around our compound and out on the street and by the new mall. Often a bit of the pavement gets dug up and then no one bothers to clear up the excess cement or left over pieces of stone. We were just experiencing the same phenomenon on a domestic scale. LD picked up pieces of spare pipe, a new shower head, wire and screws and offered them to retreating Young Plumber. ‘Bu yong. Not needed,’ he shrugged.

Meanwhile, two days later Alice continues attempts to negotiate the removal of the old tanks, in between making arrangements for her recently announced and to us, unexpected, marriage. At one point she was checking out when the plumber might arrive, while posing for her wedding photos somewhere in Ningbo. I was profoundly embarrassed at the intrusion; she was completely unphased. We have been invited to a party in March that will take place after the honeymoon. Colleagues tell us that Fintan should prepare to make a speech. The actual marriage is apparently an unaccompanied visit by the couple to register and get a licence and seems already to have taken place. While we fly to India, Alice and her husband will take a honeymoon in The Maldives. Apparently Chinese people don’t need a visa to go there; someone has spotted the potential for Chinese tourists. A pity the Indian government don’t take the same view. She will return in time, as a good daughter and daughter-in-law, to spend the Chinese New Year with family.

Meanwhile, the new water heaters work extremely well and once more we are enjoying hot showers. One last surprise – unlike every other appliance in the flat, the heaters are A rated – the best for the environment. In the short term the installation caused a commotion and took us time to clear up, but in the longer term maybe it represents a chink of light in China’s environmental problems.


7 thoughts on “The Unexpected

  1. How interesting all this is Felicity! And it ends on an encouraging note about the environmental awareness that is dawning. I read somewhere this week that apparently smog in the Chinese cities can be lessened by sprinkling ‘rain’ from the top of the skyscrapers!
    In addition to Fintan’s wedding speech (not one hopes in Mandarin) you will presumably have to negotiate all the money gift angst – how much? Is Alice’s surname expected to change when she marries? love, Margaret

  2. Hi Felicity,

    Firstly a very belated ‘Happy Sixtieth Birthday’ to Fintan.

    We have been missing in action, and missing a number of blog entries, due to a trip to another “Socialist Republic” – that of Vietnam.

    If Mao might be feeling slightly queazy at the speed of the spread of consumerism in China, “Uncle Ho” must be spinning in his, hideous, mausoleum in Hanoi.

    We were in Saigon twenty one years ago. Where there were then huts covered in galvanized metal, with people selling bits and pieces, there are now sky scrapers boasting ‘Emporio Armani’ and ‘Rolls Royce’ showrooms at street level. The change is mind boggling!

    I can now begin to understand your alarm at the sea of bicycle traffic in Ningbo.
    In Vietnam we faced an ocean, nay- a tsunami, of motor bikes. (To begin with our favourite was the guy moving a double mattress on the back of a scooter. North of Hanoi he had to relinquish the trophy to a man with a fully grown water buffalo on the back of a Honda Fifty!).

    We had an absolutely wonderful holiday.
    If you go one place in your life you must visit Ha Long Bay.
    We even merited a first, and probably last, “cool”, from nephew Peter because it featured in one of the James Bond films. (Mind you, that was before we show him photographs of his ancient Auntie and Uncle firing A.K. 47’s at the site of the Cu Chi Tunnels- in the week when Kalashnikov died.
    No need to tell him that his Auntie was in the car on the way home before she found out that she was firing live rounds – talk about an eejit!).

    Don’t say that you were not warned about the “challenge” that is the application process for a tourist visa for India. The Dalai Lama took the quick, three month, route over the mountains as a boy!

    We wish you great joy of your new water heater.
    Don’t worry about the mess.
    Having experienced Biblical torments last year, in a similar attempt to achieve hot water producing showers, I can assure you that, after about eleven months, the mind begins to forget the pain – or simply gets used to the dust!

    Must go now and get some shut-eye as I’m off to Ennis Court in the morning to try to help get 79 year old Margaretta D’Arcy, (Fintan will know), out of Limerick Jail for sitting on the runway at Shannon airport in an attempt to stop American rendition flights from landing. (Never a dull moment!).

    All love from here for now,


    • Welcome back Mary – been missing your comments! Margaret x

      > > > Mary FitzGerald commented: “Hi Felicity, Firstly a very belated > ‘Happy Sixtieth Birthday’ to Fintan. We have been missing in > action, and missing a number of blog entries, due to a trip to > another “Socialist Republic” – that of Vietnam. If Mao might be > feeling slightly quea” >

  3. Your posts are always so entertaining – reminds me of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ but better. Very envious of you going to India. Judy x

  4. Thanks Margaret,

    I’ve spent the day on the periphery of reason at Ennis Courthouse having driven a 500km round trip.
    Be assured that the ‘Looney Left’ is alive and thriving here – only out-matched by the daftness of the judiciary!
    Bella basset left the only sensible “message” of the day on the lawn outside the courthouse.
    Glad to be back in touch,

  5. Great story, & wonderful that Fintan has been granted an understanding of boiler remote controls! (We’re having problems with our thermostat so perhaps he can advise…)

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