I returned from my trip out of town last weekend to hear my smoke detector chirping, indicating that it was time to change the battery. Innocently, and probably naïvely, I thought it would be as simple as contacting the front desk and asking the good maintenance people to replace the battery. Boy, was I wrong.
A few minutes after I notified the front desk, a team of three, yes three, people came to my apartment to examine the situation. They looked around the apartment for about five minutes, then located the smoke detector. They all stared up at the smoke detector for a minute or so, then spent another five minutes huddled together, discussing the situation in hushed voices.
Finally, one of them looked up at me, and in an apologetic tone of voice, said sorry, they couldn’t fix it.
Why not?, I asked.
They said that the smoke detector was not their equipment. They said that the consulate requested that it be installed. They said that they didn’t have the “technology” to fix the problem.
The problem is a battery, I explained. You just have to replace the battery.
Their faces lit up. They said, we can do that. We will be right back. They shuffled out of the apartment.
Ten minutes later, they returned with yet another person, making a total of four people in my apartment, who had a ladder with him. He ascended the latter by stepping on the bottom rung, so that he could reach the smoke detector.
After removing the smoke detector from at ceiling mount, another few minutes were spent trying to figure out how to open the battery compartment.
Faces fell as they saw the battery: a 9 volt battery. Indeed, unknown technology in China. With despair in their eyes, they looked at me and informed me that in fact, they could not fix the smoke detector.
I informed them that we were at an impasse: I would not allow them not to fix the problem. I reminded them that there was a fire in this very hotel just last month, on this floor, in one of my coworker’s apartment. I told him that I would not go to sleep in an apartment without a smoke detector, and that they had to fix the problem before I went to bed that night.
They assured me that they would fix the problem, and retreated en masse. In my mind, I queued up the Keystone Cops soundtrack.
30 minutes later, all four of them returned, accompanied by one of the locally engaged staff from the consulate, who had in his hand a brand new 9 V battery. Within 15 seconds, he had installed the new battery, and replaced the smoke detector in the ceiling. Our eyes met, then we each rolled our eyes. The Keystone Cops music was playing full blast in my mind.
As he walked out of my apartment, he surreptitiously slipped me two additional new 9 V batteries, so that in the future, I would not have to force the poor hotel maintenance staff to face the confusing technology of 9 V batteries, and could fix the problem myself.
The next time your smoke detector starts to chirp, take comfort in the fact that it will not take five people and an hour and a half to replace the battery.