Saturday, June 23, 2007


So Alison thought that if I was going to work here I'd probably have to put on my own music to drown out all the noise from outside... Trouble is, I find even my own music to be a distraction, mostly when I have to think hard about something in particular that I'm working on. And at first the noises outside were indeed annoying. There's the incessant car honking, the restaurant or whatever nearby that plays about four songs1 on an interminate loop, talking and shouting, random sounds of construction and such, and then the guys who walk around with pushcarts shouting something unintelligible every ten seconds or so - all either selling or collecting something. (Actually, more irritating than the unintelligible monosyllabic cries is the loudspeaker set to repeat the same line over and over.) But now it's all truly just background noise... unless I'm in a particularly irritable mood, of course.

On the guys- pushing- carts- collecting- crap- and- shouting- something- probably- meaningless note, I'm intrigued by the garbage collection system here. The place for people in our building to take our garbage appears to be an arbitrary spot next to some stairs outside. So that's where we take it. And amazingly enough, at times we see a guy coming up the stairs to collect it, taking it down to his little cart to carry it away somewhere. I see lots of these garbage cart dudes around. (Actually our guy seems to be better-off than most - his cart is a bicycle one, not a mere walky one.) It wasn't until a week or two ago that I went for a fairly-early-morning walk that I saw the next step in the system - I came across an actual garbage truck, at its rear a large number of garbage carts with their pushers unloading them into the truck. I'm told, actually, that sometimes there's an intermediary - a larger cart pulled by a donkey or mule. I guess all this is a way to make use of the huge excess of cheap labour this country has.

This excess is apparent in other areas, too. For instance, virtually every store or restaurant has too many employees. A lot of shops along the street Alison's school is on seem to have the view that this overemployment can be put to use to bring in more customers. I'm sure there are many ways to bring this philosophy to life, but I'm not so sure of how successful their current strategy is. It consists of this:
  1. Put a large display out in the street, usually comprising something big and inflatable.
  2. Play really loud bad music outside the door.
  3. Place many employees amidst the display. They can be divided between these two tasks:
    1. Handing out flyers.
    2. Clapping.
Of course your business can pick and choose from these techniques. So the stores with somewhat smaller annoyance budgets will simply have loud music and a couple of workers outside clapping (and occasionally smiling).

And now a brief break to gripe about toilets again. I've mentioned the toilet paper thing before, yes? Now, a lot of toilet paper rolls here have no core, which is because many bathrooms (such as our apartment's) don't have a toilet roll holder, and I guess because it's somewhat less wasteful (which I'm all in favour of). But the lack of roll holder means that you have to pick up the roll at each use, and, hypothetically, one could slip and drop the whole roll of paper into the toilet. That would sure be careless though, and boy am I glad that I've never done that. Not even just now.

Back to garbage stories! The other day this woman came to the door and knocked really loudly, repeatedly, not even pausing, for, say, five seconds or so between bouts of knocking to give anyone a chance to get to the door. When Alison opened it:
  • Alison: "对不起,我不会说中文。" [Sorry, I can't speak Chinese.]
  • Alison: "Um..." (reaching for phone)
Alison finally got hold of one someone from her school, who then spoke with the woman. Turns out she was there to get the garbage collection fee. My point, for those at home, is simply that if someone doesn't seem to speak your language, whatever it be, the following are not going to help you get your point across:
  • Talking loudly.
  • Saying the same thing repeatedly without slowing down.
Here endeth the lesson.

1One of them seems to have English lyrics, even.


Alison said...

hehe.. "JABBERJABBERJABBER" is an excellent portrayal of the garbage fee lady. Not only was she speaking loudly and quickly, I think she she had a speech impediment.

Owen said...

Oh and now I feel mean. Thanks.

jaemon said...


I hope that this doesn't mean you were typing this blog on the toilet. that's just dirty! I like the clapping strategy. I bet that'd work really well here: *clap* another dollar spent on advertising. What is this? a loud percussive noise has drawn my attention to a product I simply cannot live without. Thank you, clapper. Thank you!

Samantha said...

ha ha! it could be worse...when sasha lived in japan she lived next door to the garbage truck depot...and in japan, their garbage trucks really early in the morning you'd hear: OHIO GOZAIMAS!! (which is a phonetic spelling of good morning in japanese) and you'd look out the window and it was the garbage truck wishing you a good morning!