Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Catch a Fire
We interrupt our normally scheduled low-grade soap opera regarding unemployment, debt, taxes, self-pity and malaise in Hong Kong with a special report on civic action in Shenzhen.

Scene: BoHo Apartments, Nanshen district. Time: 6.10 p.m., Monday. Camera pan of north horizon from 20th floor balcony. Clouds of noxious smelling smoke, a combination of sewage, garbage, solvent and wood, choke an already smogged up horizon and roll into the unit 20-D as well as any other north facing domicile foolish enough to have the windows open.

Below eight scattered fires blaze in two enormous vacant lots, one to the northeast with two fires, and six alight in the other lot -- which contains, not coincidentally, a temporary construction worker barracks unit with no apparent modern waste disposal ability -- directly below the mighty and trendy Boho complex.

Closeup: C scrambling daintily like a tiny dancer to drag the laundry rack inside before four days worth of clothes winds up smelling like a barbecue at a toxic waste dump. Cut to my clumsy, liver spotted hands throwing windows closed.

Various dialogue: Me swearing in English. C muttering irreverent comments in Chinese.

"Call somebody," I pleaded. "The fire department. Environmental control! Someone, please."

"It will not do any good," she replied. "No one will answer or if they do they will say it isn't their responsibility and give me another number who will say it isn't their problem either"

C was right. Though she did call every relevant department except the fire department ("If it isn't an emergency they know my information anyway and can make trouble for us") twenty minutes later she had been through six Shenzhen city government numbers, four of which answered and the best response she received was: "My surname is Wang and it is not my responsibility."

Then I heard sirens in the distance, held my breath, opened the balcony doors and peered thorough the filmy, oily black glop. Sure enough, someone -- probably someone with a high ranking relative or connection -- had called the fire department and they actually responded.

"Let's go down. This is wild," I said. "Shenzhen government efficiency in action and it doesn't involve breaking up a demonstration of eldery, disgruntled PLA pensioners or pissed off karaoke bar owners and prostitutes! Real life positive public service in action!"

We descended 20 floors, hit the north exit under the alert eye of the dozing 15-year-old security guard in cast-off Tajikistani Pirates of Penzanze rent-a-cop clothes two sizes too large for him and joined about 5 other onlookers as Shenzhen's smoke busters went to work in the construction crew lot like Larry, Curly and Moe spraying each other as much as the large trash fires.

I noted several shadowy figures fleeing from two of the fires in the direction of the construction barracks and asked C to ask a grim, stoic looking fire chief (who was smoking a cigarette in nice touch of unintended irony) if they were going to cite the construction company for publicly burning what must have been about a month's worth of sewage and debris

"You are kidding, right?" she said. "No one will be in trouble for this. We're lucky they came at all." I had a brainstorm. "Thank him for coming! Maybe he'll appreciate knowing that he did something good for the public. Creating a harmonious arson-free society and all that..."

She sidled up and said as much in Chinese, I think, although from his mute response, which involved looking resolutely away from her and dragging hard on his cigarette, I think the only response he wanted was a call back to the fire station so he and the crew could resume playing cards and watching pirated Taiwanese porno DVDs.
So, that's why it is so expensive to clean up my construction sites here in L.A. We just haven't found the most expeditious way...I'll try it the "HK Way" next time.

Keep your pecker up, Justin (that's a clean phrase, as you would know, writing the King's English lately)....

I did some research and can't come up with an Asian Cylinder Boring Weekly...are you sure you got the name spelld right? Maybe your resume didn't reach them.

If you need dust masks or respirator let me know...I think Home Depot delivers...

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