Friday, December 10, 2010

Teacher Habitat

One of the "bonuses" of my job is a free apartment next to the middle school. It's a small 2 bedroom furnished flat that dates back to more Communist times. The beds are OK and it has air conditioning, a stove, and a washing machine. The bathroom cries for new tile, and paint. Most of the windows are modernish with screens, but the doors are ancient wooden things that might look trendy on a Marin County outbuilding. There are geckos and gecko sized roaches that show themselves at night briefly when you turn on a light. The roaches are kept in check with Chinese Raid sprayed monthly down the floor drains.
I have rarely used this apartment for anything other than a place to spend my two and a half hour lunch time. It's a cool haven where I can shower, eat and have a nap. I keep it as clean as conditions allow, and the neighborhood is quietly inhabited with the students and minions of the school. When lightbulbs go out, or leaks happen in the "plumbing" I call my supervisor, who gets the school maintenance guys in, and things get fixed.
My schedule this semester is less commuter friendly, with very early classes and long days. Because of this, I've taken to staying a few nights a week there. It seemed like an OK alternative to commuting after extra long days in the classroom.
A common plumbing technique in older buildings is to use flex hose for drain pipes. They go straight to a floor drain. The floor drain may have a cover and be inside a catch basin, or it may just be a hole with the pipe going into it. In my kitchen I have the latter. The diameter of the hose is smaller than the hole, and a couple of months ago I heard a rustling in the wastebasket. When I went to investigate, a grey furry streak came out and straight for the floor drain. Oh boy, rats! Wastebasket outside, all food into the fridge, call my boss.
The next day, I came back from class to check on any work done and saw that someone had placed a brick over half the hole, leaving a rat sized gap on either size of flex hose. At least no over sized rats could get in now.
Keeping food and trash out of reach seemed to keep the rodents from making a home in my home away from home (away from home?). However, they were make occasional forays into the apartment as evidenced by a random rat turd here or there. A second request for a drain repair was followed by a second brick which covered one of the rat sized holes. The school appeared to be sending a mason to do a plumber's job.
When I found rat shit in my bed, I went sideways and demanded a proper repair to my problem. One of the journeymen showed up with a strip of galvanized sheet metal which he indicated was going to go across the base of my bedroom door to decrease the gap so rats couldn't get into the bedroom. Apparently he considered rats in the rest of the house was an acceptable condition. Maybe he enjoyed a rodent dim sum roll on Sundays, but I was having none of it. I took him into the kitchen and demanded he do something about the main access. After lots of gesturing to the hole, and frequent repetition of the mandarin word "rat" (which is just a slight tone different from the word "teacher") we started puzzling over how he could fix it without going to a hardware store to get the proper materials to effect a repair. He pulled a pair of tin snips and a hole punch from his tool bag and manufactured a screen for the hole, which he pounded into place. It works to keep the rats out, and water goes down OK, although it will need to be cleaned periodically. In some ways I admire this guy's insistence on using at hand materials and utilizing a Chinese version of Okie engineering, but on the other hand, a properly repaired drain in the first place has its appeal.
China is referred to as an "emerging country" instead of a "third world country". The difference is sometimes a little vague, and sometimes you see that some areas need more emerging.

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