Monday, June 19, 2006

Lost In Translation

We had been in the hotel for about a day in Shanghai, and I made a comment to Michelle, “Have you noticed the toilet is running.”

She replied, “You should call them and let them know.”

I knew she was right, but I had my reluctance for some reason…

“Hewo Meester Phwillips, may weee helwp you?”

“Yeah, the toilet is running, could you send someone to fix it.”
Then I realized they did not know what “a running toilet” means. “The toilet is making noise, could you fix it?”

About five minutes there was a knock on the door, and sure enough a member of engineering showed up. He had a plunger in hand, and did not speak a word of English. I guess they figured I meant the toilet was clogged.

Except the strange thing is that he did not even use the plunger on the toilet, he used it on the sink. He started to plunge the sink. Then he began to take apart the drain pipes of the sink. Michelle and I tried to explain that it was the toilet and not the sink which was broken. As we were explaining we were pointing at the toilet, so he looked at us and then he put the toilet seat up and then goes back to working on the sink. Mind you the whole time anyone can hear the toilet is running, no matter what language you speak.

So, Michelle and I left to room to work out. When we came back the man was gone, but the toilet was still running.

The next morning as I am working at my computer in the room (its about 9AM) there is a knock at the door. The same man from the previous evening is at the door, with his plunger. He repeats the same steps from the previous evening. He comes out after about 10 minutes and tries to explain something to me in Chinese. I think he is saying the drain is clogged. Clearly it is working fine, the water goes down. He leaves.

Not more than a few minutes pass when the fellow returns with another man, who is carrying a bigger plunger. Repeat steps (plunge sink, pull apart pipes, wash, etc). At this point I call down to explain they are working on the wrong problem. Reception just wants to make sure they are in the room working, and offers me a new room. I try to explain I am not looking for a new room, but for the toilet to be fixed, and the not the sink which is working fine. They offer to change my room, and I again explain that engineering is working on the wrong problem. Reception transfers me to the assistant manger, repeat same conversation.

At this point, the two “plumbers” have dragged the fire house from the hallway and have it pointed down the drain pipe. I decide to leave.

On my way out of the lobby I stop by the assistant manager hoping they speak English well enough so I can explain what is going on. They seem to understand and escort me back to my room. At this point the manger says something in Chinese to the “plumbers”, and then asks me if I would like a new room. I explain that is not necessary, I just want them to fix the toilet and not the sink. At this point the manger kicks the two men out of the room, and asks me to contact them when it would be convenient to work on the bathroom.

After they leave I pop open the toilet and fix it in two minutes.

Next time I will tell them the sink is broken so that they fix the toliet.


timmer k. said...

Simply stunning. The best part about that story is how I picture your face looking. It is some kind of intermingling of the following: entertained, shocked, angry and exasperated. Thanks for the story, Joe. I giggled like a school girl.

BTW, I'm bummed you aren't going to be around over the weekend of the 4th. Jess , Ben and Brooke (and Courtney) and I will be down in Milwaukee. We're even going to take in a Brewers game while we're down there. I'll have to catch up with you when you're done explaining household repair to the Chinese. Good luck with that.

Geoff Sheldon said...

I love reading your blogs Joe! I was having the worst morning until I read this story! I hope you are having an amazing time and experience there!