Trash­ing the Fun

NewsChina - - ESSAY - By Kath­leen Na­day

I have been en­gaged in a stand­off with some par­ty­ing young peo­ple who live in my res­i­den­tial com­pound for over a year. For the first time, I seem to have the up­per hand.

First, I should say that even though my com­mu­nity is pretty near some of the glitzi­est parts of Bei­jing, it bears no re­la­tion­ship to some of its (very) up­scale neigh­bors. Once you get in­side, you re­al­ize that you might be liv­ing in a sort of dystopia, with gangs of peo­ple wan­der­ing around scav­eng­ing through peo­ple's garbage to find things they can de­feat the in­fected zom­bies with. I go into com­mu­ni­ties where my friends live and marvel at the man­i­cured lawns, and the garbage sta­tions where peo­ple know how to sep­a­rate their trash and put it in the right bins.

From early spring, the sea­son of house ren­o­va­tion starts. There is never any warn­ing. The first you know some­thing is hap­pen­ing is when sud­denly, at 10 sec­onds past 8am, you are rudely awak­ened, in shock, be­cause some­one is us­ing a pneu­matic drill right above your head – of the sort that is usu­ally used to dig up roads. For some rea­son I've never been able to un­der­stand, when an apart­ment is sold in China, an ex­treme form of home makeover takes place. This is not just dec­o­rat­ing and new kitchen units, but ex­tends to drilling up the con­crete floor. And then they lay the floor again. Then you have to suf­fer the sound of a ce­ment mixer. It is a rule that they only do the nois­i­est stuff at the ear­li­est time. That's OK – they stop their drilling and ham­mer­ing right around the time my neigh­bor, who is learn­ing the pi­ano, starts prac­tis­ing. The only song they know is the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion an­them “The East Is Red.”

All the in­nards of the apart­ment are dumped by the doors to the build­ings, along with fur­nish­ings, cloth­ing, fish tanks, sinks and toi­lets. So many dumped toi­lets adorn the roads in Bei­jing that I'm sur­prised peo­ple don't use them. Some­times a truck turns up to take the stuff away, other times it's taken over to the far side of the gar­den where there is an in­for­mal garbage re­cy­cling cen­ter. It's been there about two years, and grad­u­ally, it has col­o­nized more and more of the gar­den, with huge bun­dles of empty cook­ing oil bot­tles tied to­gether, poly­styrene boxes, old woks and other sundry ob­jects. Next to it is the of­fi­cial re­cy­cling place, where you can take old elec­tron­ics and other items, and you may re­ceive a small cash pay­ment. There are of­ten enough so­fas, chairs, rugs and cup­boards here to fur­nish sev­eral apart­ments.

The old gar­dener dis­ap­peared a cou­ple of years ago. He was quite creaky and rheumatic, and had all but stopped do­ing any ac­tual gar­den­ing. Mostly he went around col­lect­ing card­board boxes to sell to the ever-in­creas­ing re­cy­cling dumps. Even­tu­ally, some­one re­al­ized that he'd al­lowed all the grass to die, and that he'd dug a lot of deep holes around the gar­den – deep enough to swal­low most of the young chil­dren who were al­lowed out to play – for the au­tumn leaves, which the build­ing man­age­ment was too stingy to pay some­one to take away. But he never put the leaves in the holes, and he never cov­ered them up. There's a new, slightly younger gar­dener now. He did fill up the holes, but has fought a los­ing bat­tle against ever get­ting any grass to grow again.

I com­plained to the se­cu­rity guards about the ex­pand­ing waste dump – in be­tween go­ing round and try­ing to pick up dis­carded plas­tic and glass, scared my dogs would tread on it. But they are too busy re­cy­cling. They once tried to raise some duck­lings and chicks in the car park. One was squished early on – the oth­ers, I never dared in­quire. Re­cently, as soon as the first leaves started sprout­ing in spring, I saw an el­derly lady strip­ping some lower tree branches bare. “Good to eat,” she said. Later, one of the se­cu­rity guards was seen bal­anced pre­car­i­ously as high as he could go, sys­tem­at­i­cally rob­bing the poor tree of as many of its leaves as he could get.

But back to the young­sters. They work at a su­per­mar­ket chain in Bei­jing, known for sell­ing for­eign goods, and the staff all comes from the owner's home vil­lage. Many of them live in my com­pound, packed like sar­dines in apart­ments – up to 40 in one, I'm told. Of course, it's highly il­le­gal.

The young­sters come to the gar­den on hot sum­mer nights to drink beer, and then, for rea­sons un­known, like to smash the glass bot­tles all over the place – at least once a week for over a year. It's hardly sur­pris­ing – so many peo­ple throw their trash on the ground, they must think it's nor­mal. And I don't be­grudge them some fun. But now, other res­i­dents have started com­plain­ing as well, so they've been banned from par­ty­ing in the gar­den. Some­times, they try – and then they see me ap­proach­ing, walk­ing the dog. They look at me sadly like I'm the anti-fun po­lice. They pick up their crate of beer, and dis­ap­pear.

I com­plained to the se­cu­rity guards about the ex­pand­ing waste dump – in be­tween go­ing round and try­ing to pick up dis­carded plas­tic and glass, scared my dogs would tread on it. But they are too busy re­cy­cling

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