I was happy the apartment had an internet connection, though in the living room only. On more than one occasion I’d head downstairs at midnight to Skype and find a several strangers, traveling friends of Daniel or the Other Tenant, snoring on the couches.
But the big selling point for me was the shower. The bathroom boasted not only a Western toilet but the ever-elusive shower-as-separate-entity-from-toilet. In most Chinese bathrooms there’s no curtain or door or ledge separating the shower from the rest of the room. It’s just a nozzle on the wall and a drain on the floor and you live with the fact that every time you shower the entire bathroom’s going to get soaking wet.
Daniel, or the previous tenant, had installed an actual fiberglass shower. Picture a quarter-circle enclosure in the corner of the bathroom about three inches off the floor.
The only problem was instead of going down the drain, the water would flood the bathroom. Just a little at first, but it got worse and worse. Left to its own devices, it might have dried up after a few days, but there were at least two of us showering every day, so eventually it became a Sierra-Club-recognized life-supporting wetland. And when I pointed this out to Daniel–thinking he might be concerned about potential structural damage to his floor—he suggested the Other Tenant and I clean the drain before each shower. I tried to explain the water had no hope of reaching the drain because it all went out the cracks in the fiberglass. But between his English and my Chinese the conversation was like playing ping-pong with a volleyball net. (Oh wait, that’s badminton.)
Daniel was more enterprising than myself. His solution was to take a wash cloth and begin soaking up the pond that was the bathroom. This was like trying to drain a swimming pool with a cotton ball. But he was giving me ‘face’, showing me he had heard my concern and was doing something about it. I told him I was willing to do this in the short-run, but asked if he had anything larger, like maybe a towel. We went down to the linen closet and he pulled out a blanket.
I didn’t really feel like subjecting his blankets to the stagnating waters of old showers. So I did what any red-blooded American would do. I went to Wal-Mart, bought towels and duct tape, and taped up the shower floor.
Back home Wal-Mart is met with scornful shouts of execration. But here it is a godsend. You can even buy a box of Corn Flakes if you’re willing to shell out $10.
Yesterday I asked a trio of locals where I should buy new jeans—having worn my current pair nearly every other day for the past half-year. Despite dozens of clothes stores in Dali, all three replied, in unison, “Wal-Mart.”
Wal-Mart isn’t in Dali Old Town. It’s a forty-five minute bus ride to Xiaguan. But in all the time I’d been in China, I had never seen duct tape, and I knew there was only one place guaranteed to have the perfect tool for the imperfect DIY.
Taping up the crack at the bottom of the shower managed to slow down the leakage, and the extra towels helped to reduce the pond to ankle depth. But by this time I figured I’d only spend one more month at Daniel’s (he already had my money) and head for higher ground.
Fate determined I’d leave sooner than that.