A friend of mine teaches at the international school here, and called me because she was worried about a gas leak in her apartment. Every year the gas company comes to every house to check for gas leaks. When they came to her apartment, they said there was a very slight leak, and turned off the gas. But she couldn't cook, so they came back and turned it on. No one explained whether or not they actually fixed the leak. She can smell a strange smell in her apartment, and has noticed that bugs are dying in the kitchen and bathroom, and wondered if that could be from a gas leak. Yesterday the gas people came by again to check it, and said there was no problem. She still smells the odor, so asked me if I could call the gas company. I told her I wanted to first call the school and speak to them in Chinese to verify what had been done.
When I called the number she gave me, the Chinese woman on the other end of the line was LIVID! She was very angry that I was calling, and started, almost yelling, saying, "Have you been to the apartment to smell it? I have! It smells like humidity and hot air, but not gas!" I couldn't even answer her with a full sentence because she kept interrupting me. Finally I was able to get her calmed down enough to get out the full story.
I'm still not sure I believe that anything was ever repaired, but I also believe that the first people could have been wrong about a gas leak. I noticed that when they came to my apartment to do the inspection, their instruments aren't very good, and sometimes beeped when there was nothing wrong. The inspector would fiddle with it for a minute, and then check again, and it would not beep. So I don't think there is anything to worry about.
This is typical of how you are treated in China though. Usually, this is the way Chinese treat each other in business. If you are a foreigner, they usually treat you better. But the only real power people have in their lives is in their work, so they will really laud it over you. I remember when we lived in Beijing 20 years ago, at that time the stores had all merchandise behind the counter. They had a person standing behind the counter, and they would reach the merchandise for you. But they would do it with a snarl. Things haven't changed much. Some people here are of very high character, and will be nice to you no matter what the situation. But many people are sharp and short with each other.
I feel so sorry for the woman who sells me vegetables. People who buy from her are so snippy, and are always accusing her of cheating them. And then they try to get her to give them free things. She is one of the poorest among them! One day recently I stopped to get some vegetables from her and as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed her eyes looked swollen. I asked if she has allergies. She said, "No, I'm just in a bad mood." Then I noticed that she was crying. I asked if I could help her. She said, "You need to get home to cook dinner." I again asked if I could help her. She just said, "No, I'm just not in a good mood, but I'll be okay. Thanks" I wished her well and left. But I kept thinking about how hard her life is, and how people should be nicer to her. When I go to buy vegetables, she responds differently to me, and we sometimes talk. When other people come, they just argue with her. She doesn't respond meanly because there is a lot of competition in that market place. But that's the way most people act here. They are snippy with each other unless they know the person well. And it's highly unusual to offer to help others. People get so surprised and almost scared when I ask if they need help. If I see someone struggling, and I offer to help, they automatically say no, and then look at me like I have some ulterior motive. This is one of the things that I hope will change in China as the years go by. I hope they can be nicer to each other and respond with kindness instead of with a snarl.