Yesterday afternoon, an engineer from China Unicom called round at my apartment to install a new phone/Internet socket in my office. (The previous arrangement, I discovered upon my return from vacation, had involved no actual plugs, just bare wires loosely bound together with ancient - and no longer sticky - insulating tape.)
He hadn't brought a socket with him. So, he had to cannibalise one from the living room. (That one had never worked either, but I was never likely to want to use it for anything.)
Nor had he brought a screwdriver with him. At least, not one small enough for the tiny screws that are used to hold copper wires in place inside an electrical socket.
He demanded to borrow one from me. As it happens, I have quite a wide selection of tools (nearly 20 years' experience of China has taught me that you often have to be prepared to try and fix things for yourself): a sturdy torch, pliers, wire-cutters, an adjustable spanner, a ball-and-claw hammer, and several screwdrivers in assorted sizes, both regular and Phillips-head.
But I didn't have a screwdriver quite small enough. So, obviously, it was my fault now. The worker pantomimed disbelief and disdain at my lack of preparedness in the screwdriver department.
There is, in fact, a pretty decent hardware store directly over the road from my apartment building. But I didn't fancy my chances of being able to persuade the worker that he should go and buy the right screwdriver. And I was damned if I was going to buy one for him!
So, I left him to bodge up some kind of makeshift solution. (I couldn't really bear to watch, but I caught a glimpse of him struggling to fold the wire ends over and over until they were fat enough to - just about - stay put in their mountings without adjusting the retaining screws.)
This, in a nutshell, is why I believe China will NEVER be a world-class power.
Oh, sure, incompetence like this happens in every country in the world. There are doubtless many other countries where it is fairly commonplace. But none of those countries, I think, is ever touted as a likely global superpower. And in no other country, I think, is this kind of foul-up not merely commonplace, but routine.
And it's not just the elementary foul-up that so appals and depresses me, but the way the chap made no apology for or even acknowledgement of his shortcoming. And the way that he made no attempt to correct his mistake (other than with a half-arsed bodge-up).
Oh yes, and the way that he then tried to shift the blame for this on to me. That is China in a nutshell.