There have been some pretty big changes around Jun Yue Ho Ting, my home away from home leading me to believe that either someone new acquired the building or that they’ve been reading a book about modern apartment building management. First of all they have seriously upgraded the trash situation. Previously we had a trash can down by the front door and it wasn’t much of one, the type you’d have in typical American pantry although just a bit taller. And of course that wasn’t nearly big enough to serve the needs of the 112 apartments in my tower. It always paid to get your stuff down there early lest it end up having to go on the sidewalk. And in the summer time it was pretty rank.
When I first moved in my relocation consultant stood in my doorway and stared at my hallway and told me that I should just put the trash in the stairwell. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me but sure enough a couple of days later my neighbor had a demure bag of wet garbage sitting on the floor outside their door. So I figured I’d test the system with all the cardboard from my IKEA furniture. I broke it down neatly and left it stacked in the hallway where it remained for several weeks. Finally I became so embarrassed that I started a collection of it behind the exit doorway and there it remained for a longer time, finally disappearing during one of my extended stays in the US. I finally figured out that the garbage dump was down by the entrance and not on my floor.
But there were a couple of problems with this process. First there is the floor in the elevator that becomes quite sticky with the drips from the dozens of garbage bags making the trip downstairs. That and the occasional lettuce leaf or little squashed pile of grape skins tends to downgrade the perceived quality of our domicile. And it makes for a lot of nasty stuff getting tracked into your apartment.
Secondly there is the embarrassment of the garbage itself. Discarding your trash is a highly personal affair, one that should not be shared with your fellow citizens and I always felt weird when I would head out in the morning, dressed for work with my messenger bag over my shoulder and my dripping bag of sink residue in my hand. I always made sure to drop the bag with a flourish and a flick of the wrist when I passed the steaming mound figuring if I showed enough disdain someone might notice and do something about it.
Eventually I went to taking the trash down under the cover of darkness, that change being precipitated by the cases of empty Pellegrino bottles I’d started to acquire. It was just too hard with my work stuff, my leaking bag and a box of glass to pull it off in one short trip
The other morning I was waiting by the elevator with a small bag of wet stuff when one of the cleaning staff took a look at me and came over. She said something to me in Chinese and beckoned me along to the stairwell where I found a brand new bright blue garbage can standing smartly in the corner, softly lit by the morning light – the trash process had been revised! She removed the lid and instructed me on how to drop my bag into the can, which I did. She praised my accurate aim and applauded my effort. We no longer have outside trash making me wonder what the hallway is going to smell like come August.
The second change of interest was the disappearance of the security guards. I’d become pretty good friends with a few of them, discussing the weather and the absurd (in their estimation) length of my bike rides. I’d come down in my spandex and they’d come out and admire my bike and ask me where I was going. When I would tell them, they would shake their heads in disbelief and say something to the effect that I was out of my mind. On Mondays they would give Jiang the whole story, so that he was informed about my weekend even before I got in the car. Their place in the lobby was different, a cheap Formica desk, an ashtray and cot. Often two of them would be sitting at the desk eating Chinese takeout (yes, they do it too) and smoking. One day the lobby was cleaned out and they were gone.
I still saw them once in a while, a hearty smile and a wave from whoever was sitting in the guard shacks out back manning the car gates or when they jogged around the building in the morning before coming on shift. In the latter case I imagine their sergeant didn’t appreciate it when they all broke ranks and waved and yelled. It was nice for me though.
Last night when I came home a makeshift desk was back, this time fortified against the cold with a couple of cardboard boxes and a heat lamp. A new guy was there, decked out in a surplus Red Army winter jacket and a big fur hat. I said hello and he responded but I’m not sure he was one of my buddies. The lights were out and it was hard to tell.
The last of news is my heat. I woke up this morning and my corner unit told me it was a toasty 71 degrees in my flat, a surprise since I had turned it off last night. I immediately ran to the kitchen and thrusting my head under the stove discovered that the water pipes were hot – the heat had been turned on a whole 3 days early! When I got in the car this morning I asked Jiang about it and he said that he still was freezing in his house. He told me that if enough people call up the government and complain, sometimes they turn it on early and I guess my neighbors were a persuasive bunch. I asked him why not everywhere and he said, “new houses first.” Not sure if that was true or just a guess but it didn’t matter, I am no longer walking on a glacier.