Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cirque de Shanghai

There is a workman standing on our balcony in blue overalls and shiny fake crocodile-skin dress shoes. To be more accurate he is standing on the 3 inch-wide ledge OUTSIDE the windows of the enclosed balcony, and is hanging on to the thin strip of protruding metal at the top of the window sill to keep his balance.
Did I mention we live on the 13th floor?
Obviously Western occupational health and safety standards have not yet reached China.
The workman is here to replace the putty in the windows, as it has completely dried up and started falling out in giant chunks. Without the putty there is nothing holding the window panes in, preventing them from falling 13 floors into the school playground below us. And I'm not even going to start talking about the freezing winds that blow into the apartment through the gaps.
Here I am, I sitting on the couch, trying not to look at him precariously balanced on the window sill. It is like driving past an accident… you know you shouldn’t watch, but, by god, you just can’t look away.
As his toes are scrabbling at the edge of the ledge, trying in vain to get a better grip, the tune of Beethoven's Fur Elise fills the room. His mobile phone is ringing in his pocket. Our eyes lock as he silently panics at the obvious dilemma.
Oh, dude, don’t answer it. Seriously!
But in the history of mobile telephone technology in China, I think there has never been a ringing phone that has gone un-answered. Phones are answered in public toilets, in classrooms, in doctors’ offices, during candle-lit romantic meals, and while riding motorbikes.
So I watch in horror as the workman releases his grip on the window, leans in and tries to grab it with his chin, and answers his phone.
Let me recap: He is balancing in dress shoes on a three inch ledge, 13 floors above the concrete below, phone in one hand, putty and chisel in the other, gripping onto the window with just his chin.
The last time I checked, our chins did not have opposable thumbs.

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