Settling Into “Normal” Life – Modems, Bathroom Explosions and the Joys of Gym Shopping (Part 1 of 2)

Hello 2010 and my new year’s resolutions…. If you’ve been following this blog, you’re probably wondering “where the heck are those weekly posts promised??”  Yes, yes, I’ve been horrible at this and I am behind in each of my new year’s resolutions so far.  It’s hard to start having goals that require weekly hour logs when you still have much to do to actually settle in.  As I mentioned before, I moved into a new flat — an actual real apartment, with a bedroom, a kitchen with two gas burners, a bathroom, and a living space that is primarily occupied by a dining table.  Even though it is a sublet complete with furniture, cookery, and all the basic household needs, I still had to go and get myself internet services, clean, buy a few missing odds and ends, and deal with plumbing issues!

Internet:  While this is a rather mundane subject to expound upon, I did wish to keep this blog to detail living costs and my methods, so here goes. On my first day back, I wandered down to the Three shop, one of HK’s major wireless providers, to check out their plans for a month-to-month USB modem stick (I felt that this was a more suitable solution for me since I wanted to make use of my brand new netbook and have internet anywhere I went).  Here I could get unlimited data for 200 HKD a month, and I could furnish my own USB modem stick separately.  Essentially, the cost is the same whether or not you are in a contract or not — only difference, those who lock into 24-month contracts get the modem stick free (their modem sticks cost an extra 780 HKD).  Not bad, but I wondered if I could do better.

Fortunately for me, HK likes to organize a lot of similar shops in the same place, not unlike many of NYC’s shopping districts (think the fashion district, flower district, the kitchen supply shops on Bowery, etc.).  PCCW/Peoples and Vodafone/SmarTone were all sitting in a row for me to check out one by one.  I eventually discovered Three had the best deal, and was the most flexible in terms of not locking me into any sort of contract.  Other plans were actually vastly more expensive, or did not have flexible month-to-month plans.  So points to Three.

Only small obstacle — apparently I’d need to leave a 3,000 HKD foreigner’s deposit fee if I did not have an HK ID.  Now last term when I visited the folks over at Immigration Tower, I was told that all I needed was to renew my student visa to show a 6 month stay in HK and I’d be granted one.  I wondered if it could really be so easy, and yes, it was.  In fact, I did not need a copy of my birth certificate, as stated in the instructions – perhaps this is more important for those who need a “right of abode” designation.  It took me a few hours or even less to get it all sorted.  Thumbprints scanned, photo taken.  I can pick it up in a few weeks’ time.

I got a copy of my application to prove that I have a HK ID, and then proceeded to head over to the nearby Wan Chai Computer Center.  I’d never shopped here before really.  I did stop in once when a friend wanted to look at cameras, and thought it was madness.  It’s just a collection of stores all in one place, each selling various electronics — cameras, computers, camcorders, tvs, etc.  Once again, it was a case of the first shop was the best one.  I did shop around a bit, but found my modem stick for 600 HKD at the first shop I’d inquired.  I negotiated it down from 700 or so.

And pursuant to typical HK convenience, I just had to walk across the street to visit a Three shop (I’m also very familiar with this part of the ‘hood having lived right around the corner last term).  It didn’t take long to get my new modem stick subscription and voila — internet at home!

So… no excuses on the whole failure to blog once a week resolution, right? Okay-la!!

Bathroom Explosions.  It’s not as gross as what you’re probably thinking… So I had my very first house-guest that first weekend in the apartment.  Namit, who had taken an extra long holiday from work, decided to take a side trip from Mumbai to HK.  It only cost him ~$300 on Jet, R/T, and I was told the flight was shockingly comfortable (I say this having recently flown Indian Airlines; most folk who have flown this government-owned airline know what I’m referring to).  Unfortunately, it was during his stay that we encountered a few issues.  First, the motorized air pump that came with the air bed left behind for me was not working.  Then on the last day of Namit’s stay, the bathroom floor was suddenly filled with several inches of water during his shower.

I was frantically trying to figure out what to do without disrupting too much of my guest’s stay.  Guests of mine, please take note, while you may think you are being helpful in dealing with such things, I really need you to just go away and enjoy your stay, leaving me behind to suffer.  I promise you, I suffer more when I see my guests lifting a finger to clean/deal with mystery water.

This was not an easy thing to deal with at all.  I called Vicky, my sublettor, and immediately had to deal with a bad phone connection to China.  But after a few tries got enough time to communicate my issues.  Apparently my apartment is owned by some entity, and that I can call an agent to help me with issues pertaining to the apartment itself, and just pray that the landlord won’t make me pay for repair costs.  Building issues can be addressed downstairs at the front desk.  Thinking it was a building issue, as the pipe that flooded didn’t seem directly connected to either the tub or toilet, I sought someone at reception.

The regular desk man was not there, as it was lunch break, and I had to talk in Cantonese with the cleaning lady.  She gave me a number to a repairman, who then told me I’d have to pay him $600 HKD to deal with the repair.  Not wanting to have to go there without having someone at the building at least look at the problem first, I declined.  I had to wait til next morning to see someone in the building.

That was all unhelpful as I was then told it was a problem my landlord had to fix.  So there I was afraid to take a shower in my own house still.  I called the landlord’s agent, who surprisingly turned up within 30 minutes to try to fix the problem himself.  Now the agent is no repairman, but somehow had enough experience to determine that the toilet pipe was somehow causing this backup.  He popped out and returned briefly with an extremely caustic chemical.  In his suit, he donned a pair of orange rubber gloves and dumped a cannister of something so chemically reactive that I highly doubt it’s available to the ordinary consumer in America.

Once he threw the contents of the cannister into the toilet, a whole bunch of very stinky smoke came out, and we had to wait for it to subside before flushing the toilet.  After a few flushes we found the problem persisted.  The agent then disappeared again, and came back with some kind of helper to look at the problem and see if he could fix it.  He had no special tools with him, some tube thing and a big plunger.  He tried to plunge the drainage hole on the bathroom floor from where the flooding came out of, but to no avail.  I was told to call someone called the “tun kuy loh”.  I have no idea what “tun kuy” means, but I assumed it meant someone who would snake the pipe.

Unfortunately, I was likely to be liable for the 500 HKD it would cost to get the tun kuy loh to pay a visit.  I argued that this was completely unfair and that it ought to be the landlord’s cost, as this seems to be a deep-set plumbing issue that I could not have possibly cause.  I asked the agent to at least see if the landlord would meet me halfway.

At this point the floor was flooded again, and there was all kinds of brown dirt.  I’d like to believe this dirt was not related to the toilet, and since there was no foul odor, I can hopefully safely say it was not fecal matter.  In any case, my bathroom was completely dysfunctional at this point.  Worse, some of this flooded out of an adjoining drainage hole into the kitchen, which is adjacent to the bathroom!

I called the tun kuy loh, and he said he could come anytime, which was a relief since I would not be home til past 7pm that night (school and my weekly facial).  I then sped off down the escalators to get to school.  I was going to be late for sure due to all this!  That’s when the agent called me again and said he’d convinced the landlord to bear the cost! He said he explained how I was new to HK and a pretty young girl who shouldn’t have to deal with this.  Now don’t start thinking that’s scuzzy of the agent — it’s actually pretty normal to coddle young pretty girls.  We are supposedly “helpless”, or at the least, those who are able should be taking care of us.

Now lighter in my step, I was unafraid about dealing with the tun kuy loh later that evening.

When I called the tun kuy loh, he said he could meet me in 30 minutes, which was just about the amount of time I needed to get home from Causeway Bay.  When I got there, I saw no “老” (short for old man in Chinese), rather, I saw a young boy who could have well been a teenager! He had a backpack and inside said backpack was a mighty machine that looked like something from Ghostbusters.

Upon inspection he said he might have to charge another 300 HKD to do a second pipe.  Not knowing whether the landlord would pay for this additional pipe, I asked the tun kuy kid to just try the one pipe, and if we still had issues, I’d consent to the second.

Now I’m sure you’re all dying to know how this crazy device worked, but I’ve been writing from a terminal at my new gym (yes, that comes in part 2 as well), and I ought to get to a happy hour event just down the road — ahh, the convenience of living in Soho.

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