I’ve always wanted to be a handyman, because I like to keep things in order and fix them when they’re not. When I was a little kid I believed my dad could fix anything, as he usually claimed. Later I realized that’s impossible for any human being, but within certain context it’s not a total pipe dream.

When I went to Tsinghua EE I thought I could learn how to fix electronics, but soon I found I had absolutely no talent for it. All I did was “fixing” some earphones from J’s classmates, since in most cases it only required soldering a broken cable. I never figured out why girls like to pull on their earphone cables.

As I started my own home in America the handyman dream came back as a necessity. Many Americans seem to have a strong DIY spirit, especially if they grow up in a big house and their dads tried to do everything by themselves. I don’t think I’ll ever acquire the skills and wills to fix up a whole house, but the tasks for a condo is rather limited.

Lately I did a string of small but diverse repairs. The most significant one is flushing the heat pumps. Our condo uses some old (1980) in-wall HVACs with really ugly and old thermostat, which uses the good’ole double metal strip with no precise temperature control. Last year a resident posted an ad in the building for replacing the thermostat, I contacted him and bought and replaced the thermostat in our master bedroom using his instructions. He replaced a couple of relays and it really made the HVAC a lot quieter. He also flushed the pipes so I kind of know what it’s about.

When my parents came I bought two more thermostats from him and replaced the ones in the living room and den. I could do it in less than 30 minutes now.

Then a while ago there was a heat wave and we had to keep the AC on for two straight days, at the end the master bedroom unit stopped working: the compressor doesn’t turn on, so the fan can only circulate room-temperature air. I asked that resident and he said it needs flush again. It’s not a difficult task, but it does require some courage and force to open up the big old unit and keep switching off and on the water and pour it out. At first the water is dark red with all the rust. I probably filled no less than 20 buckets until the water doesn’t look too red.

And it still didn’t work. I was very frustrated and exhausted. I guess I wasn’t supposed to be handy after all.

Next night when I came home, I tried one last time and it worked. I guess the machine is human after all: It just needs a good dump and some rest. The next day I flushed the living room and den units, since they’re also showing signs of fatigue.

All three have been working perfectly ever since. We wouldn’t have survived those recent New Orleanish 90/90 days.


The next day was a Saturday and Jay’s family came for dinner, and when they’re leaving the dead bolt on our entrance door somehow turned itself on so everyone was locked inside. It had been broken for a while, such that the inside knob doesn’t turn the bolt any more. Jay managed to pry the bolt back in, but I knew I had to fix it.

Pray to the Almighty Gods of Internet and Google Inc, I found some discussion online for taking the lock apart, and I even found the schematic diagram on the manufacturer’s website. I happened to buy a set of precision tools for the HVAC thermostat, without which I wouldn’t be able to open up the lock.

And then a few days later one of the surface unit on our stove stopped working. Another one has had problems before, and I know it’s because the contact is loose, especially since my dad started cooking 4-course gourmet dinner every day. This is an easy one with a couple of new receptacles and surface units from Home Depot.


As I mentioned after our kitchen remodeling my hypothetical 2nd job can be an Ikea installer. Now I think I can work towards one more alternative as a condo handyman 🙂

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