Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Friday, September 13, 2002

When I arrived in Taiwan a year ago. I remember sitting the apartment and hearing the familiar bells of the good ol’ neighborhood ice cream truck ringing throughout the neighborhood. It brought back memories of the summers of my childhood. Back then, these bells signified the weekly excitement was the unexpected, yet timely visit of the local ice cream boy. As children, we scrambled to gather change leftover from our weekly allowance or piggy banks and we plotted and planned with anticipation which frozen dessert we’d try. The “original ice cream boy” was a local teenaged boy who rode around on a bike-like contraption that was basically a freezer on wheels. The bells that hung off of the handlebars rang throughout the neighborhood as the ice cream boy pedaled by. Later, the “ice cream man” drove an actual truck that played automated bell-like tunes such as Pop goes the weasel, etc.

Oh the familiar sound, or so I thought. I soon discovered that the lovely bells a-ringing were the bells of the GARBAGE truck making it’s nightly rounds. Yes it’s true. In Taiwan, the bell-a-la Fur Elise (by Beethoven) signify that your friendly neighborhood garbage man is in the vicinity and it’s time to take out the trash! Literally, as I will shortly explain.

It used to be that people would leave their garbage on the side of the street to be picked up, but many parts of Taiwan are so densely populated that the trash quickly piled up into a disorderly fashion and became a menacing public health risk as the tropical heat hastened the decomposing of garbage, which soon began to offer offending scents. Now people are required to hold their trash until they hear the garbage truck song, at which time they must personally take out their garbage to the garbage truck. Not home? Missed the garbage truck’s rounds? Tough luck, all trash must be taken out precisely at the time garbage truck comes around. Hark I hear the lovely bells a ringing Fur Elise, let’s gather up our garbage and run down to dump it in the garbage truck before it’s too late.

Then I read an article in the Taipei Times that confirmed my suspicions. It turns out that the now computerized music boxes used for ice cream truck in North American and for garbage trucks in Taiwan are in fact one and the same, manufactured by the same company!

While this is a charming little tidbit about sanitation management in Taiwan, there is another reason why I’ve gone through the exercise of this explanation…

One morning this past September, I was eating breakfast in my parents’ suburban house in Canada, when I heard the sounds of the garbage truck lumbering down the street. I had no idea that it was garbage day today! I thought. Having arrived for a few days already, I had accumulated quite a bit of garbage from cooking, etc. that I certainly didn’t want to let lie around and rot… so I hurriedly gathered up all the garbage in the house and ran out after the garbage truck thinking that I’d missed it since it had just passed my house. They will surely think I’m crazy for running after the garbage truck, but what other choice to I have? I thought. Then I stopped looked, realizing that the garbage had been picked up from all the houses on the opposite side of the street; I looked at all of the houses on the same side of the street as mine, noticing that they all still had garbage bags and cans neatly placed at the end of each driveway. It was then that I remembered that the garbage truck drives back and forth the same street twice, first pick up all the garbage from one side of the street, then it drives back along the very same street a second time to pick up all the garbage from the opposite side- don’t ask me why they do it that way; it may not be the most efficient method, but in my neighborhood that’s always been the method. Well I quickly realized that the garbage truck had only picked up the garbage from all the houses on the opposite side of the street. When I looked up the street- indeed the garbage truck was turning back around to collect garbage from my side of the street. I stopped in my tracks, suddenly feeling very foolish and sheepishly walked home. I dropped the trash bag at the end of the driveway and looked around quickly to see if anyone had witnessed my idiocy just before running back into the house. And it was then that I realized that maybe, I’ve been living in Taiwan a little too long.


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