Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Boom, boom, out go the lights
The Lucky Number Apartment is rapidly morphing into the Amityville Horror. Recently I was returning from a late night of, er, uh, volunteering at an orphanage. Yes, that's it. The orphans. Poor. Starving. Grateful for my selfless help. Anyway, upon entering the apartment and switching on the overhead flourescent (only the best in ambient lighting in the Lucky Number Apt.) living room light I was greeted with a flash, a small popping explosion, followed by darkness, a burning smell and the sound of shattered glass falling on tile and a glass coffee table.
Not wanting to test the rest of the Lucky Number's electrical system and drawing on my atrophied skills as a Boy Scout for one week in 1961, I craftly flicked on my lighter and surveyed a landscape littered with gleaming shards of glass over which I stealthily crunched and crackled in wide steps for the sanctuary of the All Plexiglass Bedroom Unit.
Cut to late afternoon the next day. I am home again, sitting in the rapidly appproaching gloom on my chic vinyl turquoise couch awaiting the apartment manager whom Mr. Tan has assured me will be there "shortly."
What followed could serve as a primer in How Things Are Done in China (or: If These People Ever Get Organized, the Rest of Us are Doomed)
As in all projects - whether it be driving a bus, which takes three people a driver, a ticket taker and a woman to scream out the stops over the din of the passengers; buying something in a department store, three clerks minimum, usually four - sometimes five - fixing my exploding fixture wasn't a one man job.
When the knock came I greeted four fellows. The apartment manager/super in a short sleeved white polyester shirt and black skinny tie (to designate his status as manager); two guys in wife beater T-shirts and a younger dude fashionably clad in a T-shirt decorated with a quote dubiously attributed to "Huxley" (presumably Aldous) which read: "Summer happy sweat penguins hip-hop cool with atrophy boy."
Funny. I can't quite recall reading that in Brave New World.
None spoke English but if there were subtitles it might go something like this.
All four stare up at the inspect the blackened light fixture. None have brought flashlights, and I've been too chicken to switch on any other lights so Wife Beater T-shirt No. 1 flicks on the Plexiglass Bedroom Light as I flinch. The light flickers on sans explosion. I stop holding my breath and exhale.
Apt manager, staring at broken fixture. "It appears to not be operating correctly."
WB Nos. 1 and 2: "Yes. It is a shame. The Foreign Devil is very careless and unlucky."
Chinglish T-shirt kid, pointing at TV set, which I had bravely turned on previously: "Look! The latest installment of a gripping quasi-historical soap opera set in the Ming Dynasty. Thankfully for us the Foreign Devil was watching that instead of English language reports on Hong Kong Gem and Precious Metal Indicators. Let us take a break from our labor and smoke cigarettes and watch the Ghost Vampire Woman attempt to vanquish the Pure Jade Maiden."
All: "Agreed!"
Smoking and TV viewing commences for about 8 minutes.
Apartment Manager, gazing woefully at light fixture:"I am dismayed that it has not repaired itself. And I have just realized that the fixture is several meters above our statures. We will need a height raising device. Comrades 2 and 3! Take China's Slowest Elevator down 19 floors and spend 40 or so minutes trying to find such a device before eventually returning. Comrade 1 and I will remain here to monitor the travails of the Pure Jade Maiden and her handsome Virgin Prince. Please do not bother to bring anymore cigarettes back with you, as the Foreign Devil seems to have enough that we can look longingly at and eventually cadge from him after we have consumed our own."

Wife beaters 1 and 2 eventually return with a rusty, slightly unbalanced step ladder.
Mgr shakely steps up ladder as the remaining three gather 'round it steadying it, eyes still glued to the TV.:"Yes, we will need a new illumination fixture device. And also a new illumination tube. Just as I thought. But first we will need tool devices in order to dismantle the offending fixture. This time I will volunteer myself and Comrade 1 to descend in China's Slowest Elevator in search of such materials. We will probably also take our sweet time consuming a meal. Comrades 3 and 4, please stay here and smoke what is left of the Foreign Devil's cigarettes and otherwise make yourselves at home. I believe a new installment of another historical potboiler is begining soon and I think I glimpsed soft drinks in his food cooling unit. Perhaps if you look longingly at those, he will feel compelled to offer them to you!"

Hours pass, Foreign Devil's soft drinks and cigs are drained and inhaled, the light fixture is eventually fixed, but not before more trips for supplies and several fitful and somewhat scary attempts - finally successful - to shut the power to the living room off in order to make the repairs.

Apt. Mgr., loosening tie, wiping brow:Our work here is done!
All cheer. Foreign devil mutters to self
Wife Beater No. 2:He invokes his Foreign God! I did not know that Jesus Christ's middle name is 'Fucking'! Hee! Foreigners are funny because they are not like us!"

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