Saturday, May 07, 2011

Painting the New Tree House

The university is quite proud of the Tree House English Library and
Community Center. Before old campus even moved to new campus, leaders
made a guarantee that the Tree House would also move and move it did.
While I was at COS conference, my sitemate, the Tree House volunteers,
and the students of the English department moved all the furniture and
all the books into a full size classroom on the first floor of the
School of Foreign Languages. The President of the university came to
visit and said, "Write up a furniture budget and make the Tree House a
comfortable place with a western style."

We wrote up a 10,000 RMB (1,500 USD) proposed furniture and paint
budget where a couch was the most expensive item 4,000 RMB. 10,000
RMB is a lot of money in China. I only get as a PCV about 16,800 RMB
(2,500 USD) per YEAR so 10,000 is a HUGE chunk of money. We also
submitted a proposed cheaper budget of 3,000 RMB itemizing all the
same but lower quality furniture. Surprisingly on Thursday the Tree
House was granted 10,000 RMB and the leaders wanted it all ready by


I have become a Job Site Supervisor, not only dealing with writing
budgets, dealing with leaders, having meetings with different
departments, meeting deadlines, buying materials all over town via
bus, bike, and taxi but also supervising student volunteers who want
to help as well as doing the work myself. In two days, the department
wanted the Tree House painted so we could move in the new furniture.
When it takes 4 hours to purchase paint because we are traveling by
bike, bus, foot, and taxi, a paint job is not an easy task especially
in China where there are language barriers and different standards and
ways of doing things.

The year between graduation and shipping off for Peace Corps Africa, I
spent a couple of months doing odd jobs working with my dad. He
remodels houses and builds duplexes, a hobby during retirement. I
also worked as a temp worker on different construction sites getting
up at 3:30 am to make it to the temp agency to stand in line with a
bunch of men for the daily jobs. I like working with my body and
hands. I like the fatigue of a full day of physical labor. I do not
like the combination of physical and mental stress.

Supervisors and job site managers in construction often talk about how
difficult it is to find good workers. They love me because I do a
good job without having to be told what to do and during the temp work
I got a taste of what it feels like to be a manager. My boss would
leave me in charge of the other temp workers. That was a challenge
because the other temp workers didn't like their work nor did they
want to be there. Their philosophy was work as slow as possible so
that there would be a job tomorrow. I decided even though I like
construction labor, supervising wasn't really for me; however, because
of my work ethic and ability to lead I naturally get placed into
supervising positions. If I worked in construction, it would be
difficult to escape such responsibilities.

In Peace Corps especially Peace Corps China it never occurred to me
that I would be supervising a paint job and have to make decisions
about how to paint. Currently the room's walls are full of peeling
paint and water damage. To do a quality job, we would need to scrape
the old paint off, sand the walls and re-plaster the areas with mold
and water damage; however, the leaders say that there is no time.
Just paint over it. My sitemate and I shake our heads in disbelief
and remark, "In China buildings are built in a day and torn down the
next to build a new one." Our philosophies are just different and we
must put aside our western ways of thinking to do the job the Chinese
way. The leaders did say that in two years, they will repaint the
Tree House properly.

Not only is the paint job too big for just two people it needs to be
done in two days; therefore, my sitemate and I needed to supervise a
team of volunteers. Painting can be extremely messy. Good painters
leave no mess. Inexperienced student workers umm… put too much paint
on the brushes and rollers, leave massive puddles and drip marks
everywhere. They put down wet brushes in the dirt, on newly painted
shelves and other furniture. They wear new looking clothes.

Yesterday was the first day on the job site and I was a bad
supervisor. I hate being a micro manager, but with inexperienced
helpers I have to become a better teacher. Instead of assuming and
expecting good work, I have to teach those skills. Hopefully I will
learn how to be a better supervisor and the students will learn how to
be neater painters.

Today we finished painting the bookshelves black and the walls green.
It looks fantastic! I am proud to say I was a much better supervisor.
Before anyone started painting I made three rules: 1. Do not make a
mess. 2. Do not put too much paint on the brush. 3. If you see wet
paint NOT on the walls, clean it up. This time instead of actually
doing the work, I just walked around helping people, telling them what
to do and shouting, "Mess," which would have a student come running to
clean up the wet paint.

My sitemate went to buy furniture with a 5 person delegation from the
English department. It took them a long time because everything had
to be bargained for. Funny- getting quotes, then writing a budget and
then bargaining? Not sure how all that works.

Tomorrow morning the books will be moved to the newly painted
bookshelves and the furniture will arrive. Next things for the Tree
House to plan? An opening ceremony, an American wedding, game night,
yearbook and photo club, teacher night, a broadcast, and activities
for different departments when they come to visit.

This blog is dedicated to my DAD who has helped me become the
construction worker I am today resulting in the success of leading
along with my sitemate our first construction project whose volunteer
workers from six different departments were also amazing!

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