I’m a do it yourself kind of guy.  Call me crazy but I see absolutely no value in paying a trained professional my hard earned money to invade my home for up to an hour while he completes a simple task that I could clearly do myself in seven to ten hours for twice as much money.

However, labor is generally cheap in China so when our kitchen faucet started spraying water on the zippered part of my pants last week I called the fix it guy from the management office of our apartments . . . and I changed my pants.  He arrived quickly.  He looked at the faucet (which I had taken the liberty to disassemble for him).  He laughed a little bit.  He left.

Outwardly acting disappointed, my inner manly man simultaneously grunted for joy at the prospect of a DIY experience that might actually involve tools and more grunting.

Doing it yourself is a whole different beast in China though.  There are simple considerations that, if left unconsidered, can cause considerable challenges.  So I have prepared this step by step guide for my fellow expat menly men in an effort to minimize the stress of what could be a very simple project.  Obviously, if you are a fellow Do-It-Yourselfer you don’t NEED to read this but you may want to suggest it to others who don’t understand things like we do.


STEP ONE: Put it off until later.

This is important.  Do not let your ambition cloud your understanding of what you know to be true.  This is going to take a while.  That urgent, “I need to do this now” feeling that you are experiencing is simply the surge of extra testosterone that your body produces when you hear of a DIY project.  It’s perfectly normal but you must fight it.

Symptoms are:

  1. Forgetfulness (non-capacity to remember what happened last time)
  2. Internal Bargaining (How hard can it be? How long could it take?)
  3. Delusions of Grandeur (It is not uncommon for men in this state to believe they can fly, fight crime wearing spandex or fix a leaky faucet)
Be strong.  Even if you were in your home country this would take seven times as long as your hormone-disabled brain is allowing you to think at the moment.  You are in China which automatically adds an extra multiple of seven.  That’s 49 times as long.  Think you can do it in an hour?  See you in two days.


Here are some suggestions to get you through STEP ONE:
    1. Go to ESPN.com:  Important – Even if you have television in China do not go to there!  It’s probably ping pong or soccer.  Find a sport that involves hitting, crashing or punching.  DO NOT, under any circumstances, go to any site or channel that even remotely promotes the fixing, assembling, remodeling or demolition of ANYTHING.  There are password protected safeguards that you can place on your computer to protect you from a vulnerable moment.  Use them.
    2. Eat Something Spicy:  Really spicy.  The kind that you would get to write your name on the wall of some restaurants just for eating.  Sharing it with a friend is even better especially if that friend cannot eat the spicy food.  Even if your face turns purple and your tongue catches fire pretend you feel nothing and say, “What? You think that’s spicy?”
    3. Pretend to be Spiderman
The sense of urgency will soon subside.  In two to three days your wife will point out that every dish in the house is now dirty and it may be time for you to begin the project.  You should begin the project two to three days after that.


STEP TWO:  Disassemble the Old Faucet
Tools needed: Any wrench you have, hammer (if you have one), Drill (which you probably don’t have), Fork or chopsticks, Old shoe, Duct tape.


No instruction necessary.


STEP THREE (optional):  Learn the Chinese words for “Kitchen Faucet”
Note:  If you forget this step it’s ok.  You can use sign language and your taxi driver or the hardware store owner will teach you the correct words.  Even if you know the correct words it is wise to use sign language for context since you will probably pronounce it incorrectly and say something like “The dragon has wet hair.”  This will make no sense unless you are pretending to turn a faucet on and off while saying, “Pshhhht  Pshhht”.


“Shui long tou” (shway long toe) – That’s how you say faucet in Chinese but however you said it in your head . . . it was wrong.


STEP FOUR:  Go to the Hardware Store
This is actually a complex step due to the various styles of hardware store in China.  Most larger cities are now equipped with three options for fixing your sink:


The Tiny Store:  A one room, streetside shop owned and operated by one Chinese manly man, his wife and their two year old daughter.  The shop will be cram packed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with every conceivable hardware product . . . except kitchen faucets.


The Kitchen Sink Street:  This is an entire city block of nothing but wholesale kitchen sink faucets and related hardware.  This is your best option.


The DIY Megastore:  Popping up around China are a number of DIY monster retail superstores.  In our city it is B&Q which looks and smells like a Home Depot.  I have heard other cities have actual Home Depot’s but they look and smell like Lowe’s.  DO NOT GO HERE – the prices are generally outrageous and there is much less hunting and gathering required which defeats your manly man purposes.

Follow these directions exactly:


1.  Go to the tiny store and say, “The dragon has wet hair.”  The shop-owners wife will look at you like (or maybe because) you are stupid and say, “huh?”  Lean forward and repeat louder, “THE DRAGON HAS WET HAIR!”  She will call her husband from the back, not because he knows more about the shop but because she is concerned for her safety.  When he arrives, tell him about the dragon but include miming a faucet and say, “Pshhht, Pshhhht.”


He will say, “OOHHHH, A kitchen faucet.  Yeah, we don’t have any.”


Ask him where Kitchen Sink Street is.  He will tell you.  Practice saying it a couple of times with him.  Apologize for being a foreigner.


2.  Get in a taxi and tell him what the shop owner told you to say.  He will look at you “like” you are stupid.  Repeat it louder.  Pause while he gives you a blank stare.  Tell him, “The dragon has wet hair pshhht, pshhht” with sign language.  He will say, “OOHHH” and drive you to the DIY Megastore.


3.  Swallow your pride and forget about finding Kitchen Sink Street.  Enter the DIY Megastore.


STEP FIVE:  Purchase a Faucet
There will be more than 7000 faucets installed onto a shining faucet wall.  Remind yourself that you came to buy the cheapest possible option and locate it on the wall.  Point it out to the assistant and tell her you want to buy it.  She will say, “No you don’t.  You want to buy this one.  It’s more expensive.”  Politely decline and look at all of the faucets again.


Repeat this process several times and then buy a more expensive one.


I personally chose the single handle option with the retractable head but not because she showed it to me – and out of the single handle retractable’s I chose the cheapest one.


So there.


STEP SIX:  Return Home and Begin Installation
Sidenote:  There is no need to clear the dirty dishes from the sink at this point.  You can work around those.  There is also no need to read the directions which is good since they are probably not included in the box and if they were they would be in Chinese.
Installation is self-explanatory but follow these simple steps if you have trouble:
  1. Screw stuff together: Most hoses, handles, washers, bolts and rubber things only fit in one spot so you can’t possibly go wrong.
  2. Poke stuff through the hole in your sink:  Rule of thumb – If it is shiny, it probably goes on top of the sink.  If it is ugly, stuff it through the hole.
  3. Realize there is a hose missing:  You can do this by visualizing what will happen if you turn the water on.  If you can foresee yourself getting soaked there may be a problem.
  4. Say to yourself, “That’s strange, I wonder why it’s not included.”


STEP SEVEN:  Return to the DIY Megastore
Follow these directions exactly:


1.  Explain to the front desk that the hose is missing.  If you don’t have the vocabulary for this you may pull the pieces out of the box and assemble the entire faucet in front of them.  Then it will be obvious that a hose is missing when you say, “Pshhht, pshhht” and pretend to spray water all over them.  They will call in a specialist from the faucet section.  She will tell you to go to aisle 18 (plumbing) to buy the extra hose and you will question why it is not included.  This is pointless.


2.  Go to aisle 18 and ask for help.  The plumbing specialist will tell you they do not carry that hose.  You can tell her that you purchased the faucet at their store.  She will say, “That’s strange, I wonder why it’s not included.”  Then she will say they don’t carry it again.


3.  Return to the section where you originally found your faucet and explain the situation (using words or sign language as needed/able).  Show them the faucet you purchased and find another box with an identical faucet.  Open the box and locate the hose that you need so you can show them.  They will say, “OOHHH, just take that one.”


Note:  At this point it will become clear why the hose was missing from your original box.


4.  Return to the front desk where they will try to charge you for the missing hose.  Explain that it should have been in the box and they will say, “OOHHH, that’s strange, I wonder why it wasn’t included.”
5.  Smile.  Nod.  Say, “Yeah . . . strange.”


6.  Return home.


STEP EIGHT:  Learn some Chinese Cursewords
This will be important in Step Nine.


STEP NINE:   Install the Faucet
Tools needed:  Same as Step Two plus a hacksaw, a file, a blow torch and/or a small amount of C4 explosive


Follow these directions exactly:
  1. Screw stuff together
  2. Try to poke it through the hole in the sink
  3. Realize the hole in the sink was made for a smaller faucet
  4. Make the hole bigger (see tools needed)
  5. Try again
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 as many times as needed
  7. Attach all hoses to water supply
  8. Make it tight
  9. Turn the faucet on
  10. Shake it up and down
  11. Hit it a few times
  12. Curse in Chinese
  13. Realize you didn’t turn the water on under the sink
  14. Do that
  15. Turn the faucet on again
  16. Grunt with rejoicing when the water comes out
  17. Curse in Chinese when you see that it leaks


STEP TEN:  Call the Fix-It-Guy


And that’s it.


Let me know if this is helpful and I’ll think about writing a “How To in China” book.


Next up:  How to Break Into Your Own Apartment in China.
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