Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.
After securing a safety belt around his waist, Zhao steps onto a stool before thrusting himself through the window, his wife holding tightly to the part of the belt that would normally be secured to an emergency tether. A wave of anxiety rushes over me as I watch Zhao set to work, six stories above the road below.
It’s 10am on a Saturday morning and it’s wet, with a drizzly mist falling from the sky in the wake of a heavy downpour. Only minutes earlier Zhao and his wife had arrived at my door with two hefty air conditioning units they’d carried up six flights of stairs. Now, outside the window, Zhao stands on the edge of the weathered metal frame that holds my apartment’s air condition compressor. With the light rain enveloping him, he sets to work replacing my broken AC unit.
Image by Tristin Zhang/That's
“Pass me a wrench,” Zhao instructs his wife in a Shandong accent. She removes a hand from her husband’s safety belt, squats slightly and reaches for the tool.
A half hour passes and Zhao climbs back through the window. Using a rope, he hauls the old, broken AC compressor through the window behind him.
“It’s dangerous. Huang shifu fell from three floors up and broke his waist,” says Zhao’s wife, recalling an incident involving an acquaintance of theirs. “Now he walks kind of funny.”
While she chats, Zhao drills some holes in my apartment wall and sets to work fixing a pipe that connects the outdoor compressor to the AC unit inside. In just moments Zhao will be back outside the window, undertaking a daring and vertigo-inducing mission to secure the new AC compressor.
“How much will this whole operation cost?” I ask the husband-wife team.
“200 kuai,” Zhao answers with brevity.
When all is said and done, the AC replacement process had taken two hours. While for myself it was two hours of nail-biting nervousness, for Zhao and his wife this death-defying work is just another day on the job – a job they’ve been doing since they moved to Guangzhou 13 years ago.
THE DIRTY DETAILS
Monthly income: RMB5-7,000
Days per week: 6-7
Hours per day: 6
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[Top image by Tristin Zhang/That's]