Is it just impossible to trust people in China? This question keeps disturbing me after a drain repair episode involving me, my landlord and the plumber.
Last Sunday, God prepared a surprise for my return to Beijing after the Chinese New Year: a clogged drain. The problem was so severe that I had to turn to the landlord for help.
I had asked her to bring a plumber, but she turned up alone. After a close scrutiny, she believed what I had told her over the phone and finally she decided to call a plumber.
When the plumber arrived, I thought they were acquaintances, as the landlord talked very kindly to him. But when the plumber had left to get more tools, the landlord told me, in a serious voice: ‘I’m busy and have to go. You must watch him carefully, otherwise he will play dirty tricks.’ All her friendliness was pretended. She had never met the plumber before. He was recommended to her by a neighbour.
Soon after she left, the plumber came back to continue his work. Unfortunately, the landlord’s worries came true. As I walked in on him, I found him crack the drain strainer. ‘That’s the only way to fix it’, he said without remorse. His attitude forced me to act tough: ‘Sorry sir, the only way you can leave this room is to fix it back, period.’ Apparently my toughness worked out; however reluctant he was, he bought a new strainer to patch up our petty quarrel.
In retrospect, I am very disappointed with all the distrust this experience has left behind. I got so used to the sense of trust and security I had when I was a student in Wageningen, where my bankcard would always get found and returned to me after I had lost it on the campus. But I am not a student in The Netherlands anymore, I am in a transition of living the adult life in China. That means I am in the process of learning to play a different kind of Game of Trust.