Ethereality News & Weblog

October 30, 2008

Putting my foot down

Filed under: My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 11:10 am

I made a list of requirements for the contractors, demanding that they meet what I consider the most basic requirement that any professional contractor should be able to achieve, and when they read it, they were simply stunned into silence, because they have never been asked to step up to even the most basic requirements. In a way, maybe it’s not their fault because every place we go, be it a public place or a home, the average construction quality really is just as bad as what they’ve done in our home. That is the quality that the people in China appear to have no problem accepting. This is what happens when an entire society has no expectations and do not demand quality, even for themselves, let alone their service to others. It’s exactly this kind of mentality that leads to toxic foods and junk products.

Anyway, this is the list I gave the contractors:

Basic requirements:

1) All straight lines must be truly straight.

2) All caulking must be smooth, with no irregularly bumps, dirt, wood shaving, or other discolorations mixed in.

3) All gaps and holes must be filled in smoothly.

4) All corners must be straight and smooth, and not look like it was gnawed on by a dog.

5) All filled holes and gaps must be smooth, not full of lumps.

6) Anything filled by hand (glue, caulk, paint) must not be accidentally applied to or dripped onto surrounding areas.

7) Any shape or surface that’s supposed to be smooth must be smooth, with no deformation or bumpy surfaces.

8) All borders between various materials must be clean, attached properly with no gaps, and not crooked.

9) All moving parts (drawers, doors, knobs, switches) must operate smoothly and without glitches, and with perfect fitting.

10) There cannot be any scratches, dents, or scuffs on surfaces (mirrors, windows panes, sinks, doors, walls…etc)–we are paying for a finished home without accidental damages.

11) All Reworks must be done carefully to ensure that it’s done right, with proper precautionary steps such as taping edges down first, covering things with plastic sheets, using proper sized tools…etc. Any attempt to skip proper steps for the sake of rushing things will not be tolerated.

October 28, 2008

The horror continues

Filed under: My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 10:56 pm

I started to reply to Jason’s comment in my previous blog entry, and as it got longer and longer I decided to just make it a new entry, detailing on how ridiculously bad the quality of China’s construction work is. Jason commented that he’d probably end up doing it himself after firing a string of contractors, and yes, there were indeed many times when I wanted to just grab the drill/screwdriver/knife/paint brush from the hands of the construction workers and just do it myself, but it would just take far too long, and I’m the kind of guy that only gets handy when I have absolutely no choice.

I’m not one for exaggeration, but I swear there were moments when I could almost hear the slow turning of the gears in one of the contractor’s brain as he proceeds to pound on the wrong spot and completely destroys our very expensive bathroom tiles–just to hang a towel rack. There were numerous moments when a problem needed a solution and they would just stand there scratching their heads, and it only took me a few seconds to come up with a work-around solution. I would suggest my solution when they appear to be totally defeated by the challenge, and they’d mull it over and finally the light clicks on and they’d go “Is that even possible? Hmm, oh yeah, it just might work!” Now, I’m not all that smart–I doubt my IQ is that much higher than average, but the difference is I’m willing to think creatively to solve problems, while these supposedly very experienced contractors who allegedly know all kinds of clever trade secrets and tricks, seems to have their brains stuck in 2nd gear permanently. I believe the key is professional pride. I cannot detect any hint of personal or professional pride in these people–not during any moment, in any of them, during the 4+ months of construction. It’s like you snap the whip and they move an inch, and if you look away for a moment, they’ll fuck something up in the most absurd manner. I commented to Elena yesterday that now I know why there’s no comparative saying in Chinese for what we often refer to as “common sense” in the west–it’s because they have very little of it over here. This is not me being overly critical–it is simply a very honest observation.

I know I sound like a drama queen when I get this way, but you know what, let me post some photos and then you can imagine how you’d feel if your home, after spending the kind of money that makes your sides hurt, still looks like this a few days before completion (click on photos to see detailed photos of the horror and read additional details of how they have fucked up our new home):
construction pics

These photos kinda puts things in perspective, don’t they? I bet you’d all be as pissed as I am–especially after having explained your expectations for 4+ months non-stop. They keep telling me “don’t worry about the rough edges–it’ll be clean when we’re finished” or “That’s only temporary–it won’t look like that when we’re done.” And now it STILL looks like that and they’re telling us they’re done. I’m going to be on them like white on rice until I get the home we paid for, and I’m not going to pay a penny for any kind of reworking they need to do to get the place looking like it should. I knew coming in that there’s absolutely nothing you can trust about China’s workers in any industry, but we hired a close friend–someone we trusted– to be the head contractor and he promised a rose garden. During the construction I even more than once asked why the contractors weren’t taping edges down or covering things up during painting, caulking…etc, and I was told over and over that they can clean it all up in the end. Now I hear “I guess my standard of excellence is different from your standard of excellence–this is just how we do things in China.”

I just hope we can get all of these problems taken care of so our original dream of building our little piece of heaven could come true. Our home will be our sanctuary, and we will not allow this kind of substandard work to be passed off as finished construction. Seriously, if it wasn’t the for the fact we have growing investments in China, and that I’d get to freelance doing anything I wanted at home, we’d never have moved back to China. Our only consolation was that we’d build our little cozy nest and we’d stay the fuck in as much as possible (it’s impossible to afford building a home according to our design in California), so it’s absolutely imperative that our home looks exactly as we had designed it. The next several days are going to jack our blood pressures sky high.

October 27, 2008

One step back and two steps forward

Filed under: Audio & Music,Food,My Life/Musings — Rob Chang @ 9:06 pm

The new home is almost done–we’ll be moving in about two days or so. Right now we’re doing the final round of inspection, and it’s just so infuriating dealing with contractors in China, because they seem to have no common sense whatsoever, and doesn’t seem to have the ability to engage their critical thinking skills or think outside the box, let alone respect professionalism or work ethic. It’s even worse that they do not bother consulting you when they aren’t sure about where to cut/place/glue/nail anything–they just GUESS and then do it. By the time you find out it’s already too late. We’ve wasted a bunch of material because of that kind of bad work ethic. Unforgivable mistakes like dripping paint onto our expensive and rare lamps, installing the light switch cover so that it goes OVER part of the mirror frame, crooked frames and walls and wall sockets/switches, paint job where none of the edges are clean–like a three-year-old coloring outside the lines, windows where all the sealant look like they were applied with a finger, looking like someone rubbed chocolate sauce around the glass, wallpaper where the edges look like they were torn by hand–you name it, we had to deal with it. Over and over again I expressed shock at the ridiculous low quality of the craftsmanship displayed by the contractors in China, and every time the response was, “That’s just how things are in China.” But being the perfectionist I am, I don’t let anyone get away with that kind of low quality–especially when it comes to what’s to be our home for the foreseeable future. I would point out every little imperfection and demand that they improve/correct it. There are few things that they fucked up on so badly that nothing can be done anymore (such as cutting the wall switch hole so close to the bathroom mirror that the switch plate actually covers part of the mirror frame–in fact the dumbass actually cut a hole out of the the mirror frame so the switch plate would sit on it without too much of an angle!), and we’d have to live with the result of their dumb-ass mistakes. We still have a few more days of final corrections to go, and I hope all the imperfections could be fixed–they would have to be, otherwise I’d get angry every time I look at those problematic spots in our home.

The studio is pretty much done at this point–just need to get the door knobs and the curtains in there (and the cosmetic touch up’s ). Here are a few photos of how it looks now (the first reflection side panels with floor stands will be placed at where the window is):
studio progress-5

studio progress-6

studio progress-7

Elena and I will be back in California for a few weeks in November, taking care of her citizenship application. We’ll be shopping while in California and bringing a bunch of stuff back to China–things you can’t find in China (or are too expensive due to import tax), or the quality is far inferior. I look forward to being able to visit a half-way decent pro audio store again–even if it’s something like Guitar Center. The ones they have in Fuzhou are like a hole in the wall, selling the cheapest of the locally made brands–stuff that any serious musician wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Anything above the lowest of the low-end you will not see here, and even the lowest of the low-end from known brands are considered the best of the best here. It’s really sad. It’s suppose to be a lot better in the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou…etc, but even if they sell the good stuff, they charge at least 25% or more (and often 50% to twice as much) than what the prices are in the States. The exchange/return policies in China are also not nearly as flexible as in the States. Returns are unheard of–you can only exchange for the exact same item if it’s defective, and maybe you can exchange for something else and pay the difference, but never something that costs less and get money back. Shopping is also a joke–they don’t even let you try anything out–they just want you to fork over the money and get the hell out.

While in California we’ll be pigging out too. Ever since the toxic food scare in China, we’ve tried to not eat out whenever possible, not to mention food in Fuzhou generally sucks anyway. You know it’s bad when McDonald’s and KFC are at the top of your eating out list (though to be fair, the Chinese branches do have inventive locally designed menu items that are very tasty–stuff you cannot find in the States, such as the Peking Duck wrap or Passion Fruit Custard at KFC, or the Szechuan spicy hot flavored items in McDonald’s). The only fine dining we found to be worth our time and money is the buffet at a four-star hotel in Fuzhou called Shangri-La. That is the only place with decent western, Japanese, or Southeast Asian food (though Ramada hotel in Fuzhou isn’t too bad either).

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