The Last BC Pill in all of Taiwan

Before I can tell you, our Western friends and family, about how and why I ended up in a giant walk-in refrigerator at 1:00 am tonight digging through mountains of garbage bags and sifting through cat litter, you need to know some basics about garbage collection in Taipei.

Garbage collection for most people in our neighbourhood goes something like this: The street and sidewalks are full of the usual afternoon urban hustle and bustle. A man on a scooter ringing a large hand-bell drives down the busy street. People appear on the side of the street, holding plastic bags full of garbage. Soon, a garbage truck blaring an Ice-Cream-Man-inspired version of Fur Elise appears, following the scooter’s route. The people either toss their garbage onto the truck as it drives past or wait for it to stop at an intersection.

We are privileged, because our rather upscale apartment complex has a location on the ground for recycling and garbage. We just take our stuff down there, where there are dedicated bins for different materials and a big walk-in refrigerator for the garbage. This afternoon we cleaned the apartment because people were coming over, and I took down maybe four or five bags of garbage. At the time, there wasn’t much in the refrigerator.

Fast-forward to 12:45am. Our friends have come and gone. Jessica is getting ready for bed. She looks on top of the microwave, which I’d cleaned off earlier. It had been piled with dead leaves, receipts, old empty pill packs, burned out candles, junk.

“Where’d you put the pills?”

Shoot. The only pills I remember were two empty (they were both empty, weren’t they?) pill packs that I’d tossed in the garbage. Which garbage, I don’t remember.

“Um…” After 10 minutes of searching our tidy and recently cleaned apartment, the only possible place left was the garbage bags I’d taken down 8 hours earlier. What to do?

Now, there are two important exceptional, intensifying factors here. First, what was once a plentiful, over-the-counter drug at local pharmacies (no prescription required!) has suddenly disappeared from pharmacy shelves in Taiwan. We were told it was discontinued in Taiwan. She can’t just start the next pack – the missing one is our only pack, the pack that was buying us time until we can track down some more.

The second factor is Thailand. Starting Feb. 9th, we begin two weeks in Chiang-mai that are required by the NGO – first at a hotel, and then at some sort of resort. We’ve been planning to make the most of it, and resorting to back-up is not my idea of making the most of it.

It wasn’t a hard decision: I’ve got to find those garbage bags. How much garbage could have accumulated in 8 hours in one of the most densely populated places in the world?

I couldn’t see the floor. I couldn’t even see most of the garbage cans. It was like there was a garbage-making contest no one had told us about. I vaguely remembered which cans I’d tossed the bags into (back when they were uncovered). I started tossing bags. Miraculously, at the bottom of the second can I’d exhumed, I found one of our bags. It was the extra big bag, the one I’d dumped the cat litter into. And there I was, alone save for one black alley cat, sifting garbage like some kind of crime scene investigator (or mangy alley cat).

I found three pill packs in that garbage bag. Two were empty. The third had… one pill. One. That’s all we had left in that pack. One last pill, meaning my foray into forensics was pretty much pointless, even though this is possibly the last pill in all of Taiwan.

But there’s still hope. Some friends are checking into some things for us, and we’re visiting a giant mega-pharmacy tomorrow morning. That should be my last garbage adventure for a while.

Just had an earthquake

We just had an earthquake… literally 30 seconds ago. I’m at the school and I could see the Christmas ornaments on the tree swinging, but only two of the four of us in the room could feel it.



It was 6.2, the red star is the epicenter. We’re in the north in Taipei county. Earthquake #5 for this year.

A day in the life… (12 of 12 Jan ’07)

Bowing to peer pressure (everybody’s doing it), we bring you our first 12 of 12: 12 pictures from our life on the 12th of the month. Click Neil to show/hide the day’s photos.

1. Squeegeeing the bathroom floor after my (Joel) morning shower (10:15am). In Chinese bathrooms the sink/shower/toilet all share the same floor and there’s no shower curtain, so when you shower water gets more places. We introduced a shower curtain and squeegee in an attempt to not get wet footprints all over the apartment, since we haven’t learned how to take showers properly yet (welcome to cross-cultural living! =). Fire Chicken (火雞 – named for the weekend she was rescued from the street) “helps,” every morning.


2. Waking up my bride (10:25am). Chòu-chòu (臭臭 – we got her the week we first tried stinky dofu) likes to help.


3. Hanging up laundry that I forgot about and left in the washer for two days (10:30). Jessica does the dishes and cooks dinner on our days off, I do the laundry and take care of the cats.


4. Breakfast, our one Western meal every day: oatmeal with cranberries and cinnamon, fruit, and green tea (11am). Also check e-mail. Cats broke the teapot lid.


5. The 3 minute walk to work, literally down the street (12:10pm). Look at the people: older guy out for a stroll with a mask on, moms on scooters and bikes picking up their kids from school . 20 minutes earlier all the area left of the yellow box was packed solid with moms on scooters picking up the kids pouring out of the local public school.


6. Kiki (a Level 3 student) and Yang Mama (our surrogate mother in Taiwan, our boss’ actual mother) greet us at the door of Pacific English Institute, where we teach ages 6-16 and help develop curriculum.


7. Lunch at PEI with Neil and Kiki, who arrive earlier than the others every day (12:30pm). Today it’s 便當 aka “Taiwanese lunchbox” – fastfood Taiwan style. These things can vary, but today’s is classic: fried pork, fried dofu cube, boiled egg, cabbage and greens on rice. Neil’s having a good time. I bet hundreds of thousands of these are consumed every lunchtime in Taiwan.


8. Sharing some rum-soaked homemade fruitcake from Canada (baked and sent over by my mom) with our friends/co-workers at PEI (2:30pm?). It got mixed reviews: some liked it, one’s first words were, “肉桂!” (cinnamon). Traditionally, Taiwanese don’t like cinnamon. I think Yang Mama liked it though.


9. Teaching (6:15pm) – what we do at work when we’re not typing lesson plans, grading, or tutoring. Jessica had some of our youngest students today. They always love storytime with her.


10. Seeing the kids off (6:45pm). I’m pretty sure her dad doesn’t let her drive yet.


11. Dinner at work (7pm). Tonight it’s 鍋貼 (fried dumplings). Got two older kids coming for tutoring any minute.


12. Stopping to chat with Lao Zhao on the way home from work (9:20pm). He’s a blast to talk to, and he also teaches us how to play mahjong. His wife, who’s really sweet, is in the foreground.


BONUS. Relaxing at home on the couch (10pm), not doing any grad school work, with some hot eggnog and Christmas baking sent over from Canada (yay mom! =).


 Edited to add: Here’s the growing list of others who did 12 of 12 today.