Have you ever noticed that Chinese people seem to fix everything with tape? I know I’m generalizing here. There are many skilled tradespeople in China, but I must say that the average everyday Chinese person in my life tends to have a special bond with big rolls of translucent packing tape. It’s not just an adhesive; it’s an essential tool in anyone’s household.
My mother-in-law uses it to get cat hair off the couch or the carpets. She uses it to cinch back her curtains in lieu of a strip of fabric. She swears by its high functionality as protective layer from grease for the backsplash of any cook stove.
In my eight years of living in Beijing, I’ve discovered packing tape as the “solution” to dozens of household issues from the trim falling off the walls, to the edge of a wooden chair becoming unglued, to the avoidance of oil build-up along the grooves of the stove’s range hood. The latter is like my mother-in-law’s backsplash brainwave: wrap something up in tape and when it gets dirty, rip it off and start again!
I just shake my head. There are surely other options. What about vacuums, wood glue, actual nails, and old-fashioned regular cleaning? Is this a national phenomenon?
So, me, the haughty foreigner, moved into a new place in September and spent a large part of the first week scrubbing off the sticky, gummy film that remained after I had stripped away the excessive use of packing tape by the previous tenants. I even found some on the inside of the clothing drawers that seemed in no need of repair. I still can’t figure out what its function was in there.
I especially worked hard on my windows. When they were finally gleaming, I stood back, proud and arrogant, thinking: “These windows haven’t looked this clean since the day they were installed.”
So, you can imagine my frustration when, about a month after settling in, I had an air assessment company come over to check on our indoor air quality. All went well until I came to ask about window sealing. Seems that this old building can’t be properly sealed through a window-sealing service. Apparently, no company will work with these old-style windows. Either I invest in double panes, or…?
(Yes, the irony is about to hit. You guessed it.)
The air assessment expert looked at me, point-blank, and told me my best option was packing tape. I stared back, amazed. And silenced.
“No,” he said, “Really. It’s ugly but it’s very effective.”
When he left, I looked long and hard at my perfectly clean window frames and sighed dramatically. The next day, I pedaled my bicycle to the local market and reluctantly bought two huge, thick rolls of packing tape with circumferences broader than my skull. They weighed down my knapsack. I brought them home, rolled up my sleeves, and went to work on window sealing, swearing under my breath.
Now, my windows look ridiculous, but my Laser Egg tells me I’m doing something right. I’ve been put back in my place, just like the tape, where I should grimly stay stuck and silent on this issue forever more. At least when I look at my kids playing inside in this clean indoor air environment on days when the AQI is screaming at me to get the hell out of Beijing already—well, it makes me feel better.
Who knew that packing tape could be the solution to the spiraling depression of a Canadian parent? Well, more accurately, who knew it wouldn’t be? It is, after all, the ultimate fixer-upper.
This article originally appeared on page 44 of the beijingkids March 2016 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Steven Lilley (Flickr)