Bring Out Your Dead

January 2nd, 2007 § 0 comments

The garbage truck pipes its pied tune up and down the streets of town, quarter by quarter, all nights except Sunday and Wednesday. Nine at night is when I’m likeliest to see my neighbors, few of whom I recognize, all lined up in the fluorescence of the corner Family Mart’s sign, their blue municipal trash bags in hand, neatly knotted or blithely bulging and taped over at the top. We’re all in sandals for the five minutes we’ll have to stand and wait, a community of purpose, watching the yellow truck get caught in its sidewalk crawl by the nearest red light. Meanwhile, the recycling vanguard has arrived and set out its barrels for paper, plastic, and pig slop. That’s spoiled leftovers, but nothing too peel, rind, or compost-like for swine to down. For this, many Taiwanese families have dedicated buckets they dump, rush home, and rinse, but with my fruit fly issues I’m loathe to keep rotting food around, even covered.

Apparently, citizens used to treat public trash cans as local dumpsters. Since the dump-your-own-trash system was instituted ten years ago to combat this abuse, there’s rarely a public bin around when you need one. At first, those never home at nine smuggled their trash to work in small bags, like convicts emptying their pockets of the previous night’s tunnel diggings in the prison courtyard. Within Taipei city limits, you not only need to catch the garbage bus, but use a special bag that costs NTD. The garbage trucks—compact, like everything else here, by American standards—play a jingle to signal their imminent arrival, and footsteps pound down every stairwell on the block. I don’t know what the song is, but I can hum it; my uncle says it’s always been the same. The recyclers have recently switched to Für Elise at a subdued volume. Down in Tainan, the garbage trucks broadcast basic phrasebook English as part of an educational initiative.

A nearby restaurateur hauls two sullen, slouching sacks out on a handcart and slings them truckside. A pretty girl in slippers runs up to recyclers readying to leave, and they pretend, with gloved gestures, to refuse her petite bag of waxed takeout cartons, disapproving in hard hats and orange vests. They relent, with laborers’ guffaws; she gushes cute thanks with a maiden wave; the caravan moves on.

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