Several minutes after waking up this morning, as I was checking my temperature so I could text my teacher that I don’t have a fever, I dropped my thermometer. The tip broke off on the floor, leaving a small pile of shards of glass and small metallic balls. My mind was still a little sleepy but I figured out pretty quickly that this thermometer contained mercury. Oops.
I did a quick internet search and found a site that advised using a “mercury spill kit” to clean up the mess – but wouldn’t you know, I left mine at home. I called my parents instead and they got to watch the rest of this unfold via Skype. First, I tried to scoop the little beads up with pieces of paper, but they kept rolling away. Mercury is much harder to handle than water because it has a much higher tendency to stick together in little balls than to stick to anything else, and it rolls ridiculously fast because it’s so dense.
I decided to go downstairs and notify the front desk man. In my naivete (like I said, it was early), I thought they might have a spill kit, or at least experience and general cleaning supplies. I grabbed my dictionary, ran down, and told them that my thermometer (体温计) had broken. I figured this information would start a train of thought somewhat along the lines of “thermometer > mercury > danger > oh no!”. Instead, I was offered a new thermometer, because apparently that’s the only reason they could see for me feeling the need to alert them. I tried again, saying that thermometers have mercury (汞 or 水银, which is literally “water silver”) and that it’s bad for you (对身体不好). No, no, the woman assured me – it’s only bad if it’s above 37°C; if it’s below 37°, then it’s fine.
I finally managed to convey to them that there was mercury on my floor and that it needed to be cleaned up. They may have also have been vaguely aware that I was concerned about my health for some reason. The woman asked a few questions about where it happened, and then resolved the issue by saying “不多, 没关系!” (it’s not much, don’t worry about it!).
(When I told my Polish friends about the spill, they were as concerned as I was, so it’s not just an American thing. Unfortunately, not caring does seem to be a Chinese thing. Magda told me that someone broke their thermometer in class and the teacher didn’t even try to clean it up – 没关系!)
Back in my room, I cleaned up the spill as best as I could. Here are the contents of my “NQR Mercury Spill Kit”:
- Paper (several sheets). For scooping up large beads. Preferably American, as Chinese paper is probably not up to this task.
- Plastic container (1). Any sort will do, although ones that close are preferable. I emptied my thumb tacks into my desk and sacrificed that container.
- Tape (several pieces). Duct tape is advised, but if you’re in China you probably don’t have that. Use this to collect smaller beads.
- Plastic bags (at least 1). For disposal of tape and other things that have come in contact with the mercury. I used a bag of crackers that I ate last night.
I managed to get the majority of it in my thumb tack box
and put everything else in my cracker bag. I put these into a plastic garbage bag, which I tied shut and placed on the balcony. Lenira later had a doctor friend come over to take it away. I was mainly thinking about getting it out of my living area, but of course it’s not as easy as taking it to a hazardous waste site. Because most of our garbage is rummaged through by scavengers looking for bottles, disposing of it responsibly is not an easy task.
But after this whole ordeal, I took my temperature with the digital thermometer I brought from America and discovered that my temperature was below the 37° cut. Whew. So . . . I may get mercury poisoning, but at least I don’t have swine flu!
By this time, I was late for meeting my Polish friends to return to the Entry and Exit Office to pick up our visas. With surprisingly little 麻烦 (a general word for life in China, meaning hassle or inconvenience), I got my passport back, complete with a Residence Permit for Foreigner in the People’s Republic of China.
This victory was largely overlooked because I was too busy sweating through every pore in my body. According to weather.com, it was only 100 even with the heat index, but it felt like the hottest day yet. (Keep in mind that if you check this link, you’re probably doing so during nighttime here, when it is actually quite pleasant). It was so hot that I couldn’t even eat lunch. I was so hot that I started swearing again, just to have stronger adjectives to describe how hot I was.
Oral class this afternoon was fine, but I’ve decided that Listening class is like the antithesis of dancing. It is the worst part of my week and sucks all the joy out of me. The teacher is quick to criticize and very stingy with praise – basically the opposite of the wonderful people at dancing. The only good thing is that I have time in between exercises to do other stuff, but that only attenuates the overall negativity of the class.
Let’s see . . . I just got back from dinner (best described as a fried green-onion-and-egg burrito) and tried some of the food I bought yesterday. Total shopping victory! I bought a big box of Cheery Breakfast Biscuits (almost a kilo, in fact) and they turned out to taste exactly like graham crackers. So some risks are worth taking! I’m in for the night, because I showered and don’t want to ruin this wonderful feeling. I have lots to do – homework, reviewing, previewing, taking down my hopefully-dry clothes, filling our buckets with water in preparation for the weekend, and looking into various options for the upcoming National Day break.
Also, I wanted to let you know that I’ve started a second album on Picasa for pictures of butchered English, commonly known as Chinglish or Engrish. I moved some pictures from the other album to this one, and added a few new ones (including pictures of the Lemon Speak Story lunchbox and a new one from Wal-Mart yesterday).