Monday, June 15, 2009

Repair time = circus and price war

Oh please dear receiver, don't ever break again!

There was a minor circus in our flat last Friday afternoon. As a result of both one air con and our receiver giving up we had no other choice but to call our landlords (something we try to avoid otherwise, anyone who’s lived in China knows what dealing with landlords is like) and ask them to send some repair people. Of course the landlords didn’t just settle for sending repair people, but they had to come themselves too (both of them: it’s a middle-aged, married couple) to inspect everything.

Starting with the TV problem, the repair guy received some serious gibes from our landlord because the receiver had broken only 1,5 years after it had been purchased (and, the warranty had expired 6 months earlier, leaving the landlord no choice but to buy a new one). Why had it broken so soon? Why had our neighbor’s receiver no problem? Why wasn’t it possible to repair the old one?

At first, the repair guy tried to actually explain the problem (“these things break sometimes!”), but when he realized that the landlords didn’t settle for that excuse he started pointing fingers to us.

Oh it’s the laowais! They have broken it! They don’t understand how to use these things.”

Too bad for him that I was sitting next to him, understanding about 96% of everything he was saying.

“What are you talking about? Why would we purposely break our own receiver?”

The accusation went on like that for a while, but soon I was pulled out of the discussion (it got more and more heated and I simply couldn’t keep up with my level of Chinese).

Soon people were standing up, screaming and pointing fingers at each other and when the landlord found out that he needed to pay 800 rmb for a new receiver I feared that he was going to start throwing things around.

He didn’t (phew!) although he kept yelling and arguing about the “poor quality,” saying that he “refused” to pay that much for that kind of bad quality.

I eventually left the room (get a headache from all the screaming, and also, it wasn’t fun when I couldn’t participate anymore) and when I came back I found out that the landlord had made a deal with the repair guy and that he was going to pay 600 rmb for the new (exact copy of the old) receiver.

I can’t help but thinking, that how can people over here expect a good quality when they always want to pay as little as possible? There’s this constant strive for buying cheap stuff in China. “Zai pianyi!” (“Come on, cheaper!”) is frequently used in price negotiation, and then still, the buyer expects the quality to be good?! It’s like they are constantly contradicting themselves, saying that “Oh we need this as cheap as possible!” and then when it breaks they get surprised, angry, and want compensation! Why not just pay some extra kuais and buy something decent? Or, make sure that you get an extra long warranty rather than a cheaper price? Because really, what’s the cheapest in the long run: Buying cheap things that break every now and then or paying a little bit extra and get a more decent quality?

Once the receiver was fixed it was the air con repair guy’s turn to arrive. Fortunately, the air con’s problem was fixable without a minor price war breaking out, but, as the guy took the air con apart I was told to go and clean the different filters (and man, were those filthy or what?!). I went out to our sink on the balcony where one half of the landlords later joined me. We cleaned the filters together and it didn’t take long before the sink was flooded!

Again, came the silly questions:

-Jonna, do you throw apples and stuff in your sink?

-Eh no. We put our trash in the bin like normal people. We actually don’t use this balcony sink. Only the ayi does when she cleans the mop.

-Oh, so the ayi must have put something into it!!!

Yeah, sure. Our ayi has nothing better to do but to stuff our sink with cotton pads. Of course. That has to be it.

Anyways, as a result of the sink being clogged the landlords had to call an additional team of repair guys who soon came to fix the sink (in total, there were three team of repair guys in our flat. And then every ‘team’ brought some of their ‘people’ –you know in China you should always arrive in a group of at least 3 people: So there can be one repairing and 2 extras, observing. Then it was me and the landlords. Yes, it was a circus). The clogging team arrived quickly and unclogged the sink with a bit of effort and laughter.

(However, the mystery of WHY the sink suddenly became clogged still remains unsolved. The landlord still blames our ayi).

Then it became pay time. The un-clogging team wanted 5 rmb for their instant arrival and problem solving. Five, single rmb coins.

-Oh my God so expensive! The landlord whined. Can we make it a bit cheaper? How about 2 rmb? I mean, when I first called I thought this sort of service was free?!

Not keen on having another second world war breaking out in our flat, I decided to step in.

-You know what, I will pay for that.

-Oh will you?! Well that’s great then,
 the landlord said, his whole face breaking into a smile for the first time since their arrival. (Man, it’s easy to make people happy over here).

Anyways, around 1 hour and 86493692634 cleaning and dust remarks later (another reason why I dread calling our landlords), plus some complaints because we don’t want to open our windows and allow the ‘fresh air’ to sweep through our flat (“Why not Jonna?! You know that fresh air is good for you, don’t you?” “Yes, but the air in Suzhou is everything from fresh. You can smell the pollution!” “Oh no it is not that bad! It is good with fresh air! They have made the air better lately!” –who are ‘they?’- “Well yes it is but trust me, this air is not fresh!” …..and so on), the landlords finally left. Oh man! I had to go and lay down after their departure, totally exhausted from 2,5 hours of defending myself. Let’s hope it’ll be a long while until something else breaks again. 


Kate said...

So sorry for your trauma, Jonna, but once again you entertain with your witty writing style! Bad things tend to happen in threes, so you are probably done with the circus for now... knock on wood!

Hang said...

What a landlord! 5 rmb for un-clogging is not expensive at all! It's painful to deal with such kind of landlord.

Emmy said...

Wow! Not fun at all!
And as you obviously know, you usually get what you pay for.

alan said...

Good point, Jonna!How could people expect to get a quality product at the cost of cheap prices. Big fan of your Blog, You are a really good writer! Keep up with your good job!

The Casual Observer said...

Am I understanding the exchange rate properly - about 7 rmb to the $US? In other words, the negotiation with th air con guy was regaridng whether he would get 70 cents or 30???

I fear that you've set a precedent and that your landlord might try to get you to pay for other small expenses.

How, exactly, would you break the receiver, other than physically throwing it against a wall? Did they think you broke it by pushing all the remote buttons at the same time? :)

Carl said...

Wow! That is quite the experience you have had, Jonna. So if the refrigerator stops working, who gets blamed then? LOL. I totally agree with your conclusion of just paying a little more for quality. Glad to hear that everything is working again! Great blog entry! :D

******************** Shanghai MiFeng said...

You calling that a Circus , is the perfect work for it .
It's amazing how people argue over as little as 5 yuan . It is almost the same here in the States with Landlord's , I guess they all go to the same School ? Hehe . Soooo funny .

WoAi said...

My lease expired on 9th June, signed contract with new landlords on 3rd and said I would move on 6th. Landlord insisted we start the lease one day earlier on the Friday and wouldn't compromise even though I wouldn't even be able to enter the place till the Saturday, just to grab that one extra day of rent.

So yes, landlords are a pain and it's why I've decided to become my own landlord and buy a place as soon as I can.

flyingfish said...

The seventh circle of hell:

Landlords, and a broken air conditioner.

Livia said...

Well, as I see it, no matter if you pay little or more you still get the same crappy quality when you buy electronics in China. So of course you'd want to pay as little as possible! And I find it very hard to find decent quality no matter the cost.

Brad Farless said...

What a nightmare!

I have to agree that paying a bit more for quality is better in the long-run. I've actually had a discussion about that with my wife. I'm not an extravagant spender but if I have a choice I get something that's just a bit more if it's better quality. I figure that it's better to get something that's going to last, rather than something that's going to fall apart sooner.

Maybe it's just part of the Asian mentality in general?

I can't say I've ever had quite the experience you had, but I've suffered through quite a bit of bickering over minor payments and money since I've been here in Asia.

The Candid Yank said...

LOL! It definitely does sound like a circus!

I can completely relate to people wanting the cheapest but not realizing that it will be more expensive in the long run. My boyfriend is always buying cheap crap that breaks or stops working a few months after he buys it and it's all I can do to refrain from saying "I told you so..."

Sucks though that your landlord is so cheap. and LOL at arguing whether the air is fresh or not!! I guess when you come from a place with mountain air like we do it's hard to consider musty, flat polluted air "fresh". Got the same issue here in Berlin ;)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Kate -hehe, yeah afterwards you can't do anything else but laugh about it all... :) Until next time something breaks, the Circus is over!

Hang -it sure is.

Emmy -Yeah, my point exactly. I cannot believe they agreed to buy from the same supplier that provided the previous 'bad quality receiver...' Oh well...

Alan -Ah, thanks!! I love hearing from people that enjoy this blog! And hearing that someone enjoys your writing is almost better than eating chocolate... ;)

Observer -fortunately I don't deal with them that often, but yeah, u r prolly right. Next time a small payment comes up it might be me footing the bill. And yes, 5 rmb = less than 1 US dollar. And yeah, gotta love the fact that he accused us of breaking the receiver. Do u wanna know his exact words!? (Scott nods his head, OK I'll go ahead!) Well he said: "They have obviously pulled out the cables too often. These things cannot handle that'. First of all: no, we haven't pulled out any cables and second of all; what device cannot handle having its cable pulled out!?

Carl -uhhhh don't say refrigerator... that would be such a pain!! I don't even wanna think about that!

Mifeng -yeah it is amazing how some people turn small things into big deals... but I guess that's just in their nature. I feel that if the un-clogging team would have asked for 1 kuai my landlord would have still tried to haggle...

Woai -omg... yeah, well u have also written some pretty amazing landlord stories in your blog... I hope your new one turns out to be a good one. Looks like u had a good pre-housewarming btw... hehe. Laughed when I saw the pix and read about your brunch adventure the next day.

flyingfish -yeah that's another way to put it! haha!

Brad F -I think that since haggling is such a big part of the every day life here it might be so that the quality suffers as a result of people not settling for anything else but low prices. I mean, back in Europe products have a set price, take it or leave it, and that's it. I have to say that I prefer the way things are in Europe. I don't enjoy haggling.. at all! I always feel that I end up being cheated.

Des -is the air so bad in Berlin?!
When I first came to China I was like 'wow, this is so cheap and this and this and this...' buying all that cheap crap that would break 2 days later. Now I'm a bit more careful when shopping. You learn from your mistakes I guess... although that obviously isn't the case with all people (speaking of my landlord....)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Livia -yeah that is true... But why buy from the same supplier/company that just made you so disappointed? That I simply don't get.

Brad Farless said...

I have to agree with you on that Jonna. I like having a set price that I can see, so that I know for sure I'm paying the real price and not being ripped off. Haggling is something I don't enjoy. Besides not knowing if you're getting a good deal, it's also tiresome.

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel Jonna. Personally, I try to keep lanlords out of my life as much as possible. If there's anything that needs some work, I just call someone in and pay for it myself. I dont find it worth the hassle.

Did I tell you the story of my previous landlord? He's this uncle, about 65yo.

About 2 weeks after we rented his unit, he called up at 10am on a Sunday saying he was coming over. At 10.30, he just used his set of the keys and opened the door and invited himself in, and then proceeded to go through every room and look at everything I had, while asking the usual invasive questions about my personal life.

We had to get the real estate agent to explain to the uncle he wasnt allowed to come and go like that. He was introduced to a new concept- invasion of privacy.

To play it safe, we changed the padlock on the front gate and didnt give him a copy of the key.


Pete In Syracuse said...

The good news about having a circus leave is the fact that chocolate can heal all wounds!!

alan said...

I just want to say the haggle and take or leave it practice exist in both China and the country I live now US. I never haggled in China since I simply do not like it, however my wife seems to quite enjoy doing it:)

Anonymous said...

jonna, I recently linked to your blog from a friends and I have to say I am totally enjoying reliving my time in china. I lived in Nanjing for 3 years and returned to the United States last year. I have to say that everything you say is so so so very true. I couldn't have said it better myself. Thanks for being so good at capturing the alternate universe that is China. No one ever really gets it unless you have lived it.

Koop Tribe said...

Last time we left China we got a letter from our old employer saying that they had taken off extra money from out check because of what they had found broken in our apartment AFTER we left. One example was that the coffee table had bowed because the TV that was on it was too heavy. The problem is that we had a furnished apartment and they had put that TV on that table, but now I had to pay for it, and now I was half a world away. After my hubby calmed me down we just laughed. I have had many a landlord here being just as silly. So just like Shanghai MiFeng said, they (landlords) must go to the same school!

Glad you got everything going again.

The Candid Yank said...

noooo, the air in Berlin is certainly not a radioactive smog mass, but it is definitely a flat place with low barometric pressure and a lot of city traffic. When it rains the city smells disgusting, as opposed to when it rains in Seattle, where, unless it has not rained for a month prior (which is pretty rare!) it smells clean and fresh and green. When it rains here all the car exhaust, oil, and dog excrement is reconstituted and it's pretty gross. Berlin is dirty in general and there are parts of town where you'd be best advised not to drink the tap water.