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.