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China: The land of home remodeling headaches

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If you think you've had building headaches, try remodeling a house in China, as I did over the past three summers. You'll never again complain about American contractors. Things start off easily enough: Neither building permits nor inspections are required for residential remodeling. But that's just about the last of the good news. The first step, of course, is demolition. In China this is no small task, however, since the floors are 4-inch-thick concrete slabs, and even the most trivial closet partition is made of bricks plastered with cement on both sides.  Due to the difficulty of running pipes and wires through this kind of structure, plumbing and electrical work have to be very carefully thought out. Drilling a hole for, say, a sink drain isn't a matter of whipping out your Black & Decker–it requires a huge, water-cooled concrete coring machine and a good hour of time. In China, the plumbing and electrical trades are one and the same, as the term shuidiangong ("wa...