Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where Air Means Water

“Every few months there will be a water bill,” my landlord explained. “and if it isn’t paid, they will shut off the water to the apartment.”

I had been in my lovely new apartment for a week when a clump of mail came addressed to my landlord. One of the missives was a postcard with red letters, obviously a bill, but for a trifling amount of what amounted to six US dollars. The postcard was in Bahasa Malaysian and was from some company that obviously dealt in air conditioners, since Air was a prominent part of their name. I put the mail in a safe place and got ready for my first house guest.

The day before my friend Lee arrived, a notice went up that on the first day of his visit, water service to my floor would be suspended while repairs were done. Being an Alaskan homesteader by upbringing, I filled two large buckets with water for hygienic purposes, bought a gallon of drinking water, and Lee and I both made sure to get up early for showers on the morning of the appointed day.

As far as we could tell, there was no interruption in our supply and the next morning I foolishly dumped one bucket of my improvised reservoir. Soon after I did this, I had no running water in my apartment.

When it was still in abeyance the next day, I began to feel vexed. Lee had wisely departed by that time and I used the last of my reserved water for a very unsatisfying shower. With a sink full of dirty coffee cups, I went down to see when the building would restore my water.

It wasn’t my building—it was the red postcard saying that if the bill weren’t paid, I would lose all rights to cleanliness. Air in Bahasa means water, and if I live to be 110, I will still have that piece of linguistic competence implanted firmly in my memory.

After I had traveled downtown to pay the bill, made many, many phone calls, and hurled myself upon the kindness of the building management staff, this morning a man wearing an official water department vest appeared at my door to remove the clamp on my water meter. “Do you have a pipe wrench?” he asked with a very sweet smile, and finding that I didn’t, began what sounded like an impotent round of tapping on the restraining apparatus that deprived me of water.

“Turn on your tap and see what happens,” he told me, and I became grateful I didn’t have a pipe wrench because I just might have used it to hit him. But in seconds he became world peace, a cure for cancer, and Santa Claus all rolled into one body, as water gushed from my bathroom sink and for the first time in almost 48 hours, I could flush my toilet.

Air=water, cleanliness=sanity, and the Penang Water Department=I have no words. All I know is for a matter of six dollars aided by my linguistic idiocy, they quite efficiently showed me what life would be like without a functioning water supply, and believe me, it isn’t pretty. I've always had an affinity for water, but now I worship it.

5 comments:

kurtislowe said...

Apparently, the pulpo comes from the coast of Spain, not the Phillipines. I believe them, but still, Octopus is tricky. They do it right here. Picture to follow. Packed my bags at the hotel and don't have my data cord for the phone.

kurtislowe said...

Sorry, Janet. Wrong copy. Here is my response: Shit! I thought that I had copied it, but see that the comment is lost forever. I'll try to recreate:

When I was in San Carlos, Nicaragua. Water was at a certain premium there as well. Clean water, I thought, should come from the rain. So I would position a bucket to collect the runoff from my roof. Then one day a friend said: "pero que del las aves que caquen en el tejado" So I decided to drink from the cistern and I sat on the shitter for two days. It's all about the good water.

Bouwou said...

AIR pronounced AH-YER; ituh untuk minum dan tjutji dan musti/haroes di bayer; is for drinking and washing and must be paid! sooo funny!

Janet Brown said...

Oh Kurtis--A weight loss regimen you certainly didn't need. Bou, thank you for the pronunciation tip! Yes, water must be paid for but this was my landlord's consumption, not yet mine--so it came as a surprise when I suddenly had none.

Janet Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.