Our first night in Taiwan, the early morning hours:
A smell. Like a urinal at a truck shop. It was briefly noted, somewhere between the time we made the bed and crawled between the sheets, something to the effect of “What—in—the—hell?”
Source: a drain in the bathroom adjacent to the bedroom.
What to do? Nothing. Deal with it mañana. And anyway, it’s not really so bad. Turn on the fan. Close the door. Hardly smell it now, see?
The wee morning hours. I’m up now. Wide awake, despite the obvious, desperate need for sleep (sleep cycle’s in full rebellion).
The smell is back, more pungent in the still, rain-soaked morning air. Palpable, like an otherworldly encounter with some unseen malevolent force—still not doing it justice. It’s like standing in a stadium restroom during halftime, a hundred stumbling drunks shoulder to shoulder pissing into a troth filled with ice. It is a full-scale Normandy invasion of the olfactories.
Clearly, an issue with the plumbing, one that refuses to be ignored, but what to do about it? What to do, indeed.
I’m not a plumber. My father’s a plumber. His father was a plumber. The plumbing genes, however, skipped this generation. Perhaps the only time I’ve ever wished to be a plumber is precisely now.
I’m the supposed to be the fixer. I’m supposed to take care of these things (and write occasionally). That was our implicit agreement. Dahlia goes to work, makes all the money and keeps roof over our head. I stay at home, tinker with words, and take care of the shit that needs taking care of.
But I already know—there’s this general sense of it, a foreboding, a looming inevitability, a resignation to the fact—that I will be thoroughly tested in the taking care of shit department, that I’ll inevitably come up short again and again. This will be my reality for the foreseeable future.
Two days later:
The bathroom door’s shut. The fan’s going. Still the smell. It lurks just behind the door, despite the pine-fresh air fresheners, despite the attempts to flush the drains with oh-so-many gallons of water. I told Dahlia: It’s the smell, or it’s me; one of us will have to go.
The day after that:
She found a plumber through her employer. We’re supposed to get help with things like this. It’s an expectation. You pack up and move halfway across the world for work. The employer should help you to get settled, should ease your transition to a new life in an unfamiliar place. It is, in business speak, a win-win. The employer gets a happy, healthy, sane employee, free of distraction and worry, unencumbered by the blizzard of problems she will
likely encounter in the days and weeks and months ahead. These are ordinary problems, of the domestic kind—mundane, unassuming problems, problems easily dispatched under normal circumstances by any normal human being possessing a drop of self-efficacy, problems that, due to the mighty walls of language and culture, become as insurmountable as they are inevitable.
The win for the employee, in this case, is quite obvious: she guards the sanity of her tagalong husband, and thus her own.
A little later the same day:
The plumber comes and goes. The problem lingers on.
There was an attempt to fix said problem. There was an attempt to point out that the problem was unlikely to be fixed by the attempted solution. A single trap inserted into a single drain was unlikely to block the emission of sewer gas from the other, clearly, unblocked drains. An attempt was made to convey this message, mostly through hand gestures. Yet I am quite certain, not a single ounce of mutual comprehension passed between writer and plumber.
Later that evening:
He relates the plumber’s visit. He vents his many frustrations. Dahlia listens.
We resolve not to move. Dahlia successfully argues it would only invite further complications. We resolve to keep the bathroom door shut, for now. We resolve to buy more air fresheners and resolve await the return of the plumber or another plumber. Perhaps we can find an English-speaking plumber. Or maybe someone to translate writer to plumber. One can hope.