Chinese products and buildings are known for being made quickly and cheaply. A local friend’s entire office building was constructed in twenty days flat. A fellow student’s apartment was fully renovated in a week while he stayed at a hotel. When he returned, the apartment had been modernized and everything was shiny new.
But, this type of efficiency can come at a cost: quality. The renovated apartment has been nothing but trouble: the new toilet has clogged repeatedly, the nice new showerhead is leaking profusely from its connection to the pipe in the wall, and the washing machine has flooded the bathroom and the apartment below at least twice because its tubing hadn’t been hooked up properly. There’s a hole in an interior wall that howls in high winds – a botched AC tubing placement they didn’t bother to patch up. That’s in the private sector – even in the public sector, recently paved roads or recently laid sidewalks develop cracks and holes within months. I can only hope that most bridges here are structurally sound. It makes one wonder about the superficiality of many things in China: how many structures/machines/organizations are resting on hastily rigged foundations? A number of things in China are, after all, all about ‘face’.
In a recent ‘Letter from China’ in The New Yorker, the reporter talked about the deterioration of his hutong apartment, which had been renovated 4 years earlier. Upon asking why the doors were rotting, why the walls were molding, and why the roof was leaking, the reporter’s repairmen replied that the landlord before had only opted for materials that would last 5 years. 5 years was the duration of that landlord’s lease from the landlord above him. Almost the entire apartment had to be redone, but it landed many people jobs, and meant they had to purchase many new materials.
In some ways, that’s the beauty of it all. What has China needed to provide for its 1.3+ billion people? Jobs. When your appliance in your new building stops working, or when the paint starts peeling or the lock on your door gets jammed, you call a repairman. When your motorcycle breaks down, or your machinery grinds to a halt, you take it to a dealer to get it fixed. When the sidewalk starts cracking, or when the street develops potholes, you call in the repair crew. Why get it right the first time when you can get it wrong several times and create thousands of jobs?
Because it’s unsustainable. There’s a reason the environment is a mess here, and this might be one of the dozens of factors.