34 - Cleaning the Flat

‘Cleaning the flat’ ought to be an essay on how to get the stink of rubber off your hands after changing a wheel. Much more domestically, I have been discovering that, for all the good intentions and New-Year-style resolutions, as the job at school grows so I cannot maintain any (my) place in a state fit to accommodate visitors; I expect to be able to invite people on whim or with circumstance and can not rely upon myself to have the place clean. While in Xi’an I tried, but it was really difficult. The job in Nanjing is significantly bigger: I am up by 0500 and usually at the desk before 0630, sometimes before 0600 and often responsible for rousing the security guys at the gatehouse at school. I discover that the lifts often don’t work in my apartment block before 0600 (and that that has changed since I arrived is a wonderful response) – that is an effect of being so easily recognised, helped by going running most days.

On arrival here I had a disaster with water, described elsewhere (28 The Leak), and requiring visits from my landlords. On one of these visits I remembered to ask my lady landlord if I could make use of her cleaner. I was reminded of this from a conversation overheard in the coffee shop across the road (coffee and bakery, German-owned) about IEs, clearly a term describing a domestic servant, perhaps a cleaner. I spent a long time wondering what IE could stand for from the context (‘indigenous expert’ fitted well, so did ‘independent and essential’). I misunderstood; an aiyee is a domestic. Ah, well.

My new flat is 140sq.m. The priceless lady Mrs Wang (liar that I am, she costs 200¥ every 4 weeks) of course cannot communicate with me, nor I her. Here, she is called Miss Wang or Ms Wang, no matter how very married she might be. When she called on the same day as the guy who came to lay new floor, she chattered happily for two hours at the guy. They both finished after my bed-time, he having inspected the ceiling, briefly, many times.

She makes her presence felt, even when I succeed in being out when she calls (I gave her a key). I was in today, nursing a sore foot from running badly and, of course, at the keyboard. To make sure I notice she is here, although I have already opened the door for her, she usually cleans where I am first.

This is reminiscent of the cleaner at school, (see 38 Fresh Air) whose charge is to keep the public spaces clean on one floor – so she cleans the corridor just before we all traffic it, which ensures there is something (the dirt from shoes) to chase around with a mop for the rest of the day. She also cleans the staff offices (but not classrooms, they stay dirty because the kids are responsible for those. See also 22 What is Safe?). This involves moving us around, with amused co-operation all round. I wanted to use the Meeting Room: she has been asleep in there and, I now gather, thinks of this, the largest, nicest room we have, as hers. So while I get the meeting going, she appears and starts cleaning the already clean room, getting steadily louder: eventually we gave up and left and I will deal with her another way than by confrontation – humour is more effective and produces long-lasting results.

Back to Mrs Wang: I think she is critical of my lack of materials, but she has not brought or bought any of her own; she hasn’t asked me to pay for stuff (I offered that in the negotiation stage) and she has not looked for nor noticed the stuff I have subsequently provided. This often means that, if I am not here, she spends a lot less than the 2 hours advertised, more like 45 minutes, but the place is cleaner than it was before her and it is staying that way. Each visit when I am in, something or somewhere is cleaned just as thoroughly as it possibly could be, as if for the first time.

Today it was the internal windows first (success, that; I cleaned two of the outside ones to drop a hint, but cannot find window cleaning fluid in the supermarket across the road). After the windows, she bee-lines back to where I am working. She scrubs at the desk, lifts my hands off the keyboard and scrubs at that with her Granville-style cloth (Open All Hours). Then she climbs under the desk to clean under my feet, forcing her ample rear between my knees....

Sit-com time.

I give up. Point made.

                                                                             DJS 20081116


© David Scoins 2017