Behind the scenes
This post needs a disclaimer because it is tedious and stressful and might make you feel like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I had to write it for the catharsis.
The problem of the sealer
Through a miscommunication (before I arrived) precipitated by the basic incongruity of communication platforms between China and the U.S. vis-a-vis Google/WeChat an epoxy based sealer was used on the entire park which ultimately turned it an off-putting brown color. It was imperative that the park get painted to remedy the brown color and yet the owners of the park were adamant that the park not be painted due to the “shininess” of the paint.
You should know that when I arrived my paint was not there yet and it was raining, so there was not much I could do anyway. After a few days of rain and talking to my liason I realized that I was not getting anywhere in convincing people to help me paint the track or to even get my paints delivered. I asked to speak to the people in charge to try and move things forward. I was granted a meeting with the owners of the school and without giving too much away I was able to convince them that I only intended to paint strategic parts of the park that are on vertical or sloped surfaces so that they would dry quickly after it rained and that we would sand the paint to take off the shine. I had thought through the safety issues as part of my design process. Being the gracious people they are, the owners had seen me working to tape off the park and get ready to paint and trusted that I was sincere in my desire to see the job through properly. They also saw an opportunity to complete another project and made me a deal. If I would paint another wall at the school they would get me the paints and labor to paint the park. Ok so now I had 2 jobs but at least I could start working on my painting!
To paint or not to paint?
On my first day I was told that after doing a test patch of paint it was decided that the paint was too shiny and reflective. There had been complaints that it would hurt the children’s eyes. There was also a concern that it was too slippery, especially when wet. I had actually skated the track and all I could tell was that it was super fun. I explained that we could sand the paint to take off the reflection and that no one should be skating at all when it is wet out anyway, but logic was not necessarily what was at play here. I was told the painting was off. I had traveled halfway around the world, there were three weeks to spend in Ningbo and it seemed I would have nothing to do.
The saga of the paint can be traced back to WeChat. For those of you unfamiliar, WeChat is everything in China. If there is ever cyber war with China all you have to do is shut down WeChat and they would be crippled. No one bothers with email or even money, you pay with everything via WeChat. Since an epoxy sealer was used on the concrete we couldn’t use a waterbased paint, so I agreed to use an oil based paint. It was also requested that we pick standard colors off of a paint card so they would not need to be custom mixed. I updated my PMS color specifications to the standard colors in my material request and sent it all via email…big mistake! My message did not get through because again, no one checks email, its all about WeChat.
On Monday Sept. 3rd (10 days after I had arrived in China) the paints arrived. CJ (the project coordinator/translator) and I had gone to the big laughing Buddha the day before and prayed for the delivery to arrive, so maybe that helped. We had been using only white and grey and some yellow that I was able to pick up at a local shop. I asked everyday why it was taking so long when I ordered standard colors, but no one could explain it. When the paints finally did arrive it said “water borne” all over them, but I thought, “well they are just mislabeled” because everything else I had seen up to that point had been labeled as the opposite of what it actually was (see picture of turpentine labeled as “good paint”).
The wrong paint
We spent an entire day painting. About 3/4 of the way through the day I realized it was in fact water based paint (you have to understand we had discussed the fact that it would be oil based paint so many times that I could not even fathom getting water based paints, also it came with all these additives that looked like turpentine) when I saw a painter cleaning his brushes off with water I realized what was going on. About 30 mins. after we finished painting it began raining. The next day we had to sand every surface we had painted and repaint them. It was utterly demoralizing.
I didn’t dwell on why we had gotten water based paints. We had grey oil based paint that worked, we had white oil based paint that worked. I had a color card of red, blue and yellow oil based paints that I had been given. Where were those paints? I asked for the umpteenth time about these oil based paints from the color card and finally I was told that those paints were easy to get, in fact they were premixed and at a warehouse just down the road. You can imagine my frustration level at this point. However, I also had over a week of experience with this kind of situation and realized that getting angry would not help anything, so I focused on the fact that after 11 days we would have the correct paint we needed to start applying the colors!
The kicker (saving face)
Once we had the oil paint, the park was painted in a matter of days. Everything had been taped off and we just had to fill everything in. They were long hot days to get it done, but it went smoothly. We were finishing up on Friday the week before the grand opening well ahead of schedule at this point. A team of corporate types showed up and were smelling the paints and asking the workers about how the paint was working. I got really nervous because I thought there was another problem with the paint. It turns out they were sales people from the company that provided the water based paint and they wanted to know how it was going with their product. My brain filled with conflicting emotions. Do I tell them we didn’t use their product? Do I get angry at someone for even inviting these representatives to see that we were not using their product? Maybe the entire reason we went through that whole water-based paint debacle was because of a special relationship between the school and the paint company? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from working in China is that often times it is better not to know or to waste time trying to figure it out. With a big smile on my face I told CJ to tell them that we were very impressed by their product and that it was of a very high quality. They asked if they could take a picture with me holding up a can of their paint for their marketing materials. I held the can high and continued to grin.