Friday, September 25, 2009

The Singing Trash Trucks of Taoyuan

In the distance you hear the melodious strains of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It grows louder and louder as the source of the sound draws nearer. You begin to hear the neighbors in the street, talking and laughing, doors slamming throughout the neighborhood, finally there are flashing lights and voices. The trash truck has arrived.

The song is used to call the people out to bring their trash to the truck. In Taiwan, the truck slowly drives down the street and people bring their trash out. This happens every night. First the trash truck goes by and right behind it is the recycling truck. All trash must be sorted to be recycled.

You didn’t think I could do a blog without at least one reference to the trash business did you?

I wonder why they use Fur Elise. It seems to be a popular tune here. I have a friend whose car also plays that tune when the doors are open. Why not some Asian tune? Why Beethoven and not Yo Yo Ma? (I may have spelled his name wrong, but you get the point he’s an Asian Cellist.)

This seems like such a distinctly Chinese concept to have musical trash trucks. It’s a part of the Chinese mindset that beauty and function be combined. That same mindset is found in Chinese Characters, my Chinese teacher would always say, “But it’s not beautiful,” when describing my penmanship. When she saw my penmanship in English she would say, “It’s not legible.” So she began to accept my sloppy Chinese characters. This is how easily standards can be eroded. But I’ve gotten off track. The point is that Chinese people try to put an element of beauty into everything…even collecting trash.

I remember as a young route driver that I would sing opera arias on my truck, such as “La Dona Mobile”.

My version:

La Dona Mobile, I shot my dog today
The thieving little hound lies six feet in the ground

The actual version was a lot of Italian words that would have been too hard to learn. Obviously I had no need to include an element of beauty in everything.

The other interesting thing is that there is a social component to trash collection. The neighbors stop and talk and laugh with each other and the trash collectors. When was the last time you stood and talked with your garbage-man as he collected your trash. Most of us don’t even see the garbage-man and their trucks never make any noise more musical than “whirrrr crunch bang bang bang.”

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