A few years ago I was living and working as a teacher in the Penghu islands, a small archipelago off the coast of Taiwan. As part of my teaching contract, I had an apartment on the first floor of the school, it was small, yet it offered a great view of the surrounding area from my bedroom window.
From this spot I was able to voyeuristically take in the daily rituals of many. Yet it was the nightly garbage collection that had me perched at the window every night.
I shall explain.
Firstly, garbage collection is a weekly ritual in Australia and somewhat straightforward and boring. In the early hours of a council appointed day, a garbage truck noisily makes its way along the street, emptying the contents of each wheelie bin into its large bowels. There is nothing interesting about the process it is simply what it is – a garbage collection.
In Penghu, it’s different, entertaining and occurs every night around 9pm.
With a similar sound to that of an ice-cream truck, the garbage trucks of Penghu fill the night air with upbeat, happy music to herald their impending arrival.
On hearing the familiar tune, residents rush out of their homes laden with bags, boxes and a variety of other vessels containing their daily waste.
At certain points it stops, and as residents know these points, they uniformly wait in line for the trucks impending arrival, then in a very orderly fashion they deposit their rubbish into the back where it is then churned, crushed or devoured.
From my vantage point, it appears to be a beautifully choreographed show with all players performing their roles with the utmost precision and patience.
And as the music fades and the truck’s lights disappear from view, I watch as some residents return to their homes, whilst others linger: perhaps taking this moment to re-connect and socialise.
This seemingly simple, nightly garbage collection encapsulates what I love about travelling: experiencing a city’s unique and quirky rituals and how they shape the way of life for those who live there.
Penghu travel information: https://guidetotaipei.com/visit/penghu