One of our British friends generated an algorithm for determining the time to complete any given task in China:
“Imagine the longest possible time you think it would take to do [the given task] in [your home country] and triple it.”
Here at 凤凰山庄 we get our propane for cooking from a large canister on the balcony. (This is in accordance with the Chinese principle of maximum decentralization.) We purchased this canister when we moved in (mid August) and it’s started to run dry. So we had a Chinese colleague at the school (the supply requesitions guy, whose job it is to [among other things] run odd jobs for 老外 teachers) call our building manager and arrange for fresh propane.
First a side story: Way back in September, the building management plumbed the building for centralized natural gas. (From a city utility? That sounds suspiciously efficient. My guess is our entire building is intended to share a single propane source.) Of course, this plumbing is attached to the exterior of the building; installation of said plumbing required the construction of comically rickety bamboo scaffolding and took about two weeks to complete. And of course this plumbing was never attached to the actual stove in our actual apartment.
We pretty much forgot that ever happened. After all, we’re still getting the gas from the tank on our kitchen balcony. Which is now dry.
So this morning a guy with a gas company logo showed up, presumably to deliver our new propane tank. He came up to our apartment, looked out onto the balcony, and left. Forever. We asked the guard, Hey, where’d the gas guy go?, and asked him to call an arrange to have our gas installed. He said to expect workmen between noon and 12:30. Which apparently means “around 3:30 in the afternoon.”
So, at 3:30 in the afternoon, no fewer than four guys (and the guard) show up with about 20 feet of gas plumbing, two big bags of tools, and a gas meter. (That a task as simple as plumbing the last three feet of gas pipe takes four workers no longer passes for comment. One guy hangs off the ledge of the balcony to finish the final three feet of pipe, one guy dispenses plumber’s tape, one guy operates the drill, and one guy is an apprentice, or possibly someone’s friend with a slow Saturday afternoon. The guard is there for our “safety.”) The whole operation takes about half an hour — not bad, considering — but when they’re done we can’t help but notice: there is about 20 inches of tubing missing. The last 20 inches.
We point out that all this work has not actually produced the desired result, and whose job is it to connect those final 20 inches?
Oh, they say, that can’t happen right now, there’s no gas in the central line yet.
Well, we point out, we don’t any have gas at all. Mei you meiqi. When will someone be back to actually, you know, bring us a propane tank which is what we actually wanted in the first place?