Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"We're just "Do-ers!"

Insulating the U.S.Garage for an All-weather Workshop

Some people golf on the weekends, some barbecue, some attend sporting events.  But for us spending weekends doing projects has always been our style. This couple fixes stuff!
I say that loosely because sometimes I'm just the beverage getter or lunch wench.
I am awesome at "hold this right there, wouldja?" or "you got any paper towels?"

Our first 900-square foot home on a gravel road with a 1/2 acre lot kept us being productive from the start. The Big Guy bought it as a single 25-year old.  The house was small and a definite "fixer-upper" and that's what we did, weekend after weekend. We called it home for eight years. 

Twenty-seven years after shedding that house we still have night terrors about "Parkville."
It's true and happens several times a year to both of us!  There is unstoppable water damage, rotting wood, caved floors, carpenter ants, cracked walls, unusable windows, a leaking roof.  The dream conclusion is usually the same; the house on Parkville has remained ours, we've neglected it,  it's falling apart and there are other people living there, kinda. My jaw is clenching as I write this.

Weekend projects with far less angst and hopelessness or the recurring night terrors ensued when we purchased another place nestled in a suburban wooded setting on a quaint cul-de-sac. Just a few miles away, this house is the complete package of family, friends and the best neighbors on the planet.

Our Home in Michigan

But like any other home we found plenty to do.  In addition to casual home maintenance the Big Guy took on hobbies that require large commitments of time and expertise. Classic Ford Car Restoration being one. 

Apparently we are just "Do-ers" and never mind spending time, talent and treasure on both hobbies and home improvement. 

So this year, after decades of weekends of hobbies and fixing stuff, we fled to China to live in a rented space.  This is foreign to us in so many ways.  There is no need to putter and putz about really.  The landlord is responsible for all repairs and maintenance. Talk about a new way of thinking. As described, the Big Guy is truly "Mr. Project" and will tackle any project sent his way.  To say he's pretty gifted in the do-it-yourself arena is an understatement, and I bet you know someone just like him who lives a heckuva lot closer than China!  But we are HERE now.
Having friends coming in and out of our rusty iron gate in our villa's courtyard here in China began to bug me as soon as the rusty lock broke free.  Large lethal hunks of peeling black paint shards on the gate seemed dangerous and the word 'tetanus shot' kept going through my craw. Should we call the landlord?

"Eh...I'll just do it myself" said the Big Guy.

A Saturday trip to the only big box hardware store in   Nanjing resulted in a warm feeling
of being in the USA - minus the color orange and the hot dog cart.  As I pushed a wobbly wheeled shopping cart the Big Guy sashayed through the aisles tossing scrapers, wire brushes and a couple different grades of sandpaper my way. Off he went to the paint aisle and by this time I was BORED so I perused the organizational plastic tubs.

Upon my return he said, "Hmmmmmmmm, this is just the interior paint, the exterior paint must be somewhere else." 

But it wasn't to be found. 

NO exterior paint, NO Rustoleum primer, NO such thing in a big box store? 

Really, People?

By the third lap of the store I started to whine in hunger and disgust. I'm quite good at this, by the way. So we toddled home with ALL the supplies we needed, except for..well...the PAINT.

Returning to work on Monday the Big Guy spoke to a native Nanjinger about the lack of paint to do this maintenance job.  The response was a surprise. There was a prominent furrowed brow & puzzlement on the face of the co-worker and an eaves-dropper.

"Why would YOU take on a REPAIR job," was the distinct message from both.
"We don't do things like that," he exclaimed. "We hire someone to do it and they    get the paint themselves." 

"Okay, well where do THEY get the paint?" said our do-it-yourself-er. 

 "Ummmmmmmm,I don't know but I will find out."   -As a teacher I LOVE that answer.

The next weekend with address in hand we were taken to an industrial site with a footprint about 1/2 mile square and three floors high.  An outdoor escalator took us up, up, up.   It was filled with hallways of small stores that specialized in building supplies and tools. I guess you'd call it a Suppliers Mart.  Some housed furniture, kitchen cabinets, plumbing hardware, stoves, shower doors, definitely a builder's warehouse.  They seemed to be categorized by hallway and our driver pointed us in the direction of the paint stores and fled back to the car. 

Clearly, we were going to be on our own for any description of what we needed or more importantly any transaction. 

 And so we were. 

There were over 30 'little box' stores with just paint. Some were closed for the day so we wandered around and around.   Finally one shopkeeper understood what we were looking for and took us three hallways over to another booth. There we found a pint of exterior high gloss enamel- SCORE!  (It's funny what we find exciting here, isn't it?)  I was thrilled enough to suggest getting a second pint 'just in case,' since selfishly I wasn't keen on a return trip.  (Again, whiny, hungry...)  The cost was peanuts compared to what we would have paid in the US.  The shopkeeper told us the price and took the 'right amount' out of the Big Guy's palm. Trusting saps that we are. 

Returning home the scraping and sanding began.  Because wrought iron oxidizes so quickly the painting had to begin as soon as the sanding stopped. And so it did. I was stationed on lunch patrol and keeping a little black miniature schnauzer away from the noxious black paint that she was so curious about.  After all, that gate is her window on the world.

Puzzled gardeners stopped to watch this "whitey" painting so carefully.  A security guard screeched his bike brakes to a full stop, said something in Mandarin and took off.  He returned with some sandpaper.   Anyone who meandered by did a double take and felt the need to watch or comment. Along came new ex-patriate neighbors who after politely introducing themselves kiddingly scolded "Shouldn't your Ayi be doing that?  YOU shouldn't be!"

The lack of supplies should have been our first clue. The puzzlement and comments just underscored what we were starting to conclude; In China, all household maintenance is always hired out to someone of less stature than yourself. And a "do-it-yourselfer" is NOT a coveted role here.  That type of work is perceived as beneath your station and degrading.

This truism has not slowed down "Mr. Project." 

Since the gate painting he has:
  • caulked the shower
  • fiddled with our water feature
  • repaired the plumbing on the dishwasher
  • installed a fire-proof box for our important papers and passports
  • added a doorbell to our entrance
  • installed shelving in the garage
  • assembled a shoe rack
  • installed clothing hooks
  • started to make a wooden clock
  • assembled a push mower
  • bought a table saw with 220-voltage
  • moved a garage door button to a side wall
We are running out of things to fix and tweak.

And in my best Yiddish accent I say, "Once a Do-er, Always a Do-er!"

Last Saturday we sat next to another new neighbor telling him our gate repair story and how the Big Guy attracted quite an audience with each brush stroke of black paint. He laughed at the picture we painted and nodded his head knowingly.

His reply went something like this:
"Wow, our gate was in similar condition.  I was about to head to the hardware store and buy all sorts of supplies and do the same. Instead, the little woman called Keiko in the main office and the next day they sent someone over and replaced the gate."      

 Go Figure!

I'm lobbying to put a halt on the home improvement and get to some of that traveling in Asia that we've been promising ourselves. We'll be stepping beyond our pretty courtyard, but maybe it's about time...
Casey Marie - 12 years old

Thanks for Reading,



Becca said...

This was just so much fun to read..I felt like I was there with you through the whole thing. Gordon looked so happy painting that fence! Finally, a real project to tackle!

It's funny the way different cultures look at things, isn't it? Here in America we pride ourselves on that do-it-yourself attitude. All part of our need to break free from the old class systems, I guess, starting way back in Revolutionary War days.

Casey looks very fine in that picture. Did you find a dog groomer, or did you do it yourself ? lol

Tara said...

If this is what "do-ers" do, then we are definitely "don't-ers" We have always rented and even look at each other when a light bulb blows! Good on you guys! Now I see why we are so happy over here :)

Julia X said...

Your courtyard gate looks just lovely...I think your landlord will find his house been upgraded with you staying in it for a couple of years...lucky guy.

Tao,my husband bought a Bosch tool kit so he can drill holes on the wall and put up a micro-wave holder...I found him very sexy while he was doing that--

Anonymous said...

I recognize the place in those photos, and the name Keiko sealed it! We just arrived in Masterland in July, and I've spent a bit of time at B&Q looking for things I can't find, too!

I just keep asking myself, how much do I want to improve in a house that I'm renting?