Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Landing in the Wrong Kind of Hot Water

Apr. 14, 2013

Illustration: Chen He/GT

Illustration: Chen He/GT

By Tom Fearon

I turned the taps of the shower only to be greeted by an annoying yet all-too-familiar sound from the kitchen. It was the water heating system, letting me down when I needed it most to wash away the stench one accumulates from a typical Beijing day.

The central heating system had already been off for more than a week, and now more than ever I longed for a reliable supply of hot water. I rang my landlord to remind her of the faulty water heating system, receiving a reassuring response that a repairman would come to fix it.

Sure enough, he arrived the next day. He tipped his faded blue hat and greeted me with a friendly smile, instinctively finding his way into the kitchen to the source of the problem. 

I offered him a cup of freshly-brewed tea, but he politely declined. I explained the incessant beeping and my past attempts to solve the problem the only way I knew how: turning it off and on again.

He nodded as if he'd heard the story a thousand times, fishing into an old wooden toolbox for his favorite screwdriver. Sensing I had more important things to do, he gently waved me out of the kitchen.

Ten minutes later, he motioned for me to turn the taps. Chilly water gushed into the kitchen sink as the system clicked and groaned, gradually warming the stream. I was impressed he had fixed it so quickly, further convinced when handed me the dusty troublesome part he claimed to have removed.

The new part and his brief labor cost me 330 yuan ($53), a not-so-small price to pay for reliable hot water.

But it was too good to be true. Two days later, the "death beep" rang out again and I was forced to take another cold shower. Slightly embarrassed, I called the landlord. Another repairman would come around, she assured me, this time from the system's manufacturer.

A young man dressed in a smart yet oversized uniform came the next day. I went through the same routine of explaining and shrugging my shoulders as he listened attentively. Slightly suspicious, this time I busied myself in the kitchen to keep an eye on his work.

Ten minutes turned into 20, and then 30. Remembering the faulty part, I pulled it out hoping it might shed light on the problem.

"This thing here," the repairman began, unsure whether to smile or remain stern. "This is from a washing machine."

I searched for the receipt my kindly con man had given me, hoping it would have his name, phone number or even a company name.

Alas, all it had was an undecipherable chop and "¥330" - the zero mockingly resembling a smiley face.

I wanted to be angry, yet couldn't help feeling impressed.

It's one thing for vendors to use their home-ground advantage at the Silk Street or Yashow markets to cheat foreigners, but it takes real skill to notch up an away win in a stranger's apartment.

See the original article here.