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Whitefella Australian learning how to be gwai lo (鬼佬) in Hong Kong

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fix or flick?

Our repaired handy-vac, happy again...
Picking up on the environmental thread of this blog, after a long delay, I need to say that there is one green area where Hong Kong excels.
Back in Australia, it was defeating whenever an appliance broke down. If it was a small appliance, you knew that there was no chance of getting it repaired, and if you were lucky, it was new enough that you could take it back to the store and get an even newer replacement. However with no electronic waste (e-waste) program, you knew that it was likely to be bound for the dump.
If it was a large appliance, such as a washing machine, you had a genuine desire to get it fixed, because the pain and expense of replacing it was a lot harder than taking something like a toaster or electric kettle back to the store. But even then it was hard to find someone to fix it, and when they did come out, there seemed to be little guarantee that the thing would actually be fixable, and if it was, it often cost most of the price of a replacement machine.
Now, I had thought that this was simply the modern world, and that the relentless search for cheap labour, and the driving down of manufacturing costs, had made things not worth repairing. It turns out that this is not actually true, or at least, only true for Australia.
For in Hong Kong, everything and anything seems to be repairable. This is A GOOD THING. A repaired item doesn't need to be replaced entirely, or even very much at all. It doesn't need to be condemned to landfill, and only make the world that little bit more polluted. And best of all, when it is repaired you don't have to relearn how to operate a new make or model - you have your old 'friend' back in place. Nice.
Now even though I'm writing this I find it hard to believe, but it has turned out to be true, time and time again. The last twelve months has been a bad year for stuff going wrong. I guess if you want to have bad karma, it's much better to have it with electrical goods that with your health. Bad stab-mixer or bad stabbing pains in the heart? I know which one I'd choose!
Let me see all the things that have broken... Hmmm... Hand-blender, handheld vacuum cleaner, the toilet cistern (three separate problems), the air conditioner, the microwave, and the electric kettle. So I am now quite experienced with getting stuff fixed now, especially toilets (, 先生 - Thanks, Mr Chan!).
The latest to go was the hand vacuum cleaner, which we bought because we didn't have a vacuum cleaner at all, and it seemed like it might be a more suitable size for our small apartment. It has, it's been perfect, but the other day, while lifting up the bed platform to access the under-bed storage (a must in a small apartment), the cord to the vac got caught as we put it down, and completely severed. So our poor little vac gradually got less and less charged, a pathetic low-pitched whine, until we noticed it's power source wasn't actually connected to any electricity grid.
Now this had been our mistake. I assumed I would have to buy a new charging base, so I headed to my closest listed repair store, which turned out to be just near the Star Ferry terminal, in Tsim Sha Tsui. I took the broken charger to the repair counter and explained, in English (as I wasn't up to this nuance in Cantonese) that this had been our fault, and was it possible to buy a new base. The very helpful staff-member said, 'Do you have your warranty with you?' (I didn't, because I hadn't even thought this would be covered). He said, 'Don't worry, I can see the manufacturing date here, let's just see if they'll repair it for you, just sign here, take this receipt, and come back in a week.'
I came back in a week, receipt in hand, to find that the power-cord had been replaced, and even better, I wasn't being charged anything! Is this some secret conspiracy by Hong Kong appliance manufacturers to create good will? Is there really that fierce a competition for business in Hong Kong? Whatever the reason, I love it! It may be a pain when something breaks, but I am made endlessly cheerful by the need NOT to have to throw things out, and relieved when the repair cost has been minimal, or nothing.
So clearly the Australian situation is not normal around the world. Perhaps the consequences of high labour costs, and great distance from the centres of manufacturing, makes the Australian marketplace particularly prone to the chuck-and-replace approach? So for all those who might be reading this, and living in a 'repair' culture, rather than a 'replace' one - celebrate! And perhaps be extra nice to your next repairer - they're saving the world, one repair at a time...

1 comment:

  1. Oh I wish for a repair culture. Ours seems to be a buy-more-warranty culture and even then the repairman is snooty and looks more like a professor than a tradey and treats you like there was really nothing wrong (as happened with our oven which is due for another visit less then a year after purchase). The HK culture sounds like heaven.