Sunday, January 6, 2013

I Have Gas… and Other Novelties

Yes, I have gas and it is not a case that any amount of Gas-X or Beano can cure. And I’m happy about it.

I have been the sole resident of this apartment complex for over a year. The school rushed to get me accommodated here immediately after the Great Rat Romance, when said rat promenaded up my leg while I was asleep (See ‘The Rat Party’, posted September 2011). I did not enjoy Mr. Rat taking liberties with my leg, or indeed my living quarters. 

All that is just a memory now. Since then I’ve lived with unfinished projects, noise and ongoing dust, all manifestations of living in a construction zone. I did not mind. I was, and still am grateful for the concern the school administrators have shown for my safety, health and well-being.

Because I was the lone resident here, many things went undone and many more that were hastily done had to be redone. The first few nights here I had no hot water because the water lines had been routed to a rooftop solar water heating unit that hadn’t been installed and was never supposed to be installed. My water heater is in my bathroom. The plumbing crew had to connect my water lines properly. They were convinced of that only after a loud argument between our campus maintenance team and the plumbing contractor, who had to be dragged 6 flights of stairs to the roof to see the lake on the roof caused by my futilely running water in an attempt to take a shower.

Last year I reported a water leak in the wall between my kitchen and dining room. It was as plain as the nose on my face: the concrete and whitewash bubbled out. A multicolored crop of mold was growing. Furthermore, all along the water line was evidence of leakage. The remedy was to scrape the wall clean of its fuzzy coat of mold, whitewash and loose, wet concrete, and then reapply concrete and whitewash, after tightening a plug for a water outlet in the kitchen that will eventually feed my gas water heater. That pipe is now leaking again. This time I enlisted Sam to help me explain to the maintenance team that tightening every water plug in the house will do nothing to stop this leaking – possibly broken pipe. The complex manager assured Sam and me that he would be back with a wrench to change out that plug and then they’ll get right on that wall. *Sigh!*    

Since I’ve lived in this complex, over a year now, I’ve been cooking on my electronic hotplate and the grill I bought at Metro. Both of these appliances rest on the gas stove imbedded into my countertop, one per burner. The built-in stove is very nice: brand new, with a black glass finish and gleaming gas jets and a gas line neatly coiled in the cabinet below, connected to nothing. I was OK with that. Since I’ve lived in China all I’ve had is an electronic hotplate, and I’ve learned to make do with it, even preparing enough food for the occasional dinner party I’d host. I did long for a gas connection but… ‘One day’ I kept telling myself. ‘One day’ as I watch gas lines being run outside the building into every apartment including mine. Several months ago workmen came to install my gas meter. I added ‘soon’ to my ‘one day’ litany. My eternal optimism got severely tested by all those ‘one day’s. 

My friends, that day has finally come! All of my ‘one day’s have come true on this day, the day my gas line was finally connected.

Connected by a very handsome man, uncharacteristically tall for being Chinese, I might add. (I thought about keeping him and even confessed so to Sam. He laughed at me.)

Cooking with gas is vastly different than using a hotplate. For one there is sensible heat: an actual flame heats the whole pot, not just the portion in contact with the ceramic from the hotplate. Fortunately I have oven mitts. The first few times I touched the pot while cooking, I burned my hands.

The food cooks much faster and tastes different. I did have to learn to adjust the flame – with the hotplate, the temp adjusted itself according to its cunning little sensors that ruined more than one meal by increasing intensity, even after I manually set it the way I needed it.  

Food stays much warmer when cooked over a flame – a valuable concession as my apartment temp currently hovers around 6 degrees Celsius (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit). I still can’t enjoy leisurely eating because my dinner will get cold quickly but at least now I don’t have to gulp it down, like I did when using the hotplate.

Keep your Gas-X. I’ll keep my gas. Next step is my gas water heater, scheduled for sometime in the future. I’m not even going to sing a chorus of ‘one day’ for it. I’m just happy I can finally cook properly and have 2 burners to do it on.  

Over the past few months more and more residents have been settling into their new homes. The complex is starting to become a community. Several of my colleagues have moved in, Chris and Julia and Baby Eddie among them. Everyone seems to prefer apartments toward the back of the complex, further away from campus. Until recently I was still the lone resident in my building at the front of the complex, save for Victor – but he doesn’t count being as he doesn’t actually reside here.

A few weeks ago the complex manager sold a unit in my building. Now I have neighbors who live on the 5th floor. After a frenzy of banging, sawing and drilling, and workmen of all type running up and down the stairs the grand day came when my neighbors moved in. We exchanged pleasant greetings, with me welcoming them and them pushing me out of the way so they could get their refrigerator upstairs.

My whole time here I’ve lived with dirt blowing freely through the stairwell, construction dust and debris drifting or being thrown out of unfinished apartment windows above and dirty, muddy footprints right outside my door. Most times the landing in front of my apartment was so dirty I had to sweep it or clean it several times a day. In spite of my efforts it still looked terrible. What could I do with construction work going on? I couldn’t sweep the whole stairwell – 6 flights, to prevent dust from cascading down, and I certainly couldn’t forbid workmen from walking past my doorway, being as mine is the very first apartment leading upstairs. I got in the habit of just cleaning my little portion: from the entryway to my apartment.

One day I opened my door to see the entire stairwell sparkling clean. WOW!! The same women who sweep our campus have been contracted to keep the apartment building stairwells clean as well. What a pleasure it is to see a nice, clean stairwell and to not be plagued by dust and mosquitoes every time I open my door!

The stairwell cleaning didn’t start until my new neighbors moved in upstairs. Nor did the increased security measures.

More than a few times when arriving home late I found myself locked out of my building. The stairwell door had a latch and a locking mechanism, but the lock itself had been removed. There had been a lock, briefly, and I had a key to it but it never did work very well and was eventually removed. At day’s end the workmen felt confident in latching the stairwell entrance, totally forgetting the lone resident of the building who might need to get in. My only way into the building was to climb the stairs in the neighboring stairwell, cross over the roof and climb back down 6 flights of stairs to my place.

Strange that the neighboring stairwell, with a working lock and no residents was always left open while the stairwell with a broken lock and a resident always got latched shut.

One night, after being locked out for the umpteenth time, appealing for help from Sam, and then the community maintenance supervisor (who told me he just climbs the other stairs and crosses the roof, as I had been doing when locked out), I decided to take matters into my own hands. I removed the latch. Proud of my small act of vandalism, for the next 3 weeks I gloated that I would never again be locked out of my own home.

And then my neighbors moved in. Apparently their complaints and security concerns have more weight than mine. Probably because they are paying customers and I’m a freeloader. It was only after they moved in that gas was finally pumped to my building, the stairwell was cleaned and is now maintained, and that the entrance door is fixed with a new, working lock installed.  

It doesn’t matter how it all came about. I have gas (YAY!), a clean stairwell (YIPPEE!), a secured building (YAHOO!), a water leak (BOO!) and other novelties.                 

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