Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fighting With the Neighbors

People had barely settled into this newly built neighborhood before the scavengers went trolling.

Scavengers: elderly people who live in a community, whose subsistence depends partially or wholly on collecting, sorting and cashing in recyclables. Any community in China is likely to have any number of scavengers. Any street in China is likely to be patrolled by scavengers. Scavengers roam from neighborhood to neighborhood, day in and day out, every day, all day long. They sort their booty in front of their apartment building, and maybe store it there overnight in order to increase their haul the next day.

As you might guess, scavenging is a competitive sport. Therefore hauls not immediately cashed in must be secured, lest someone avail themselves to an already declared stash. 

Since the building I live in filled up, the foyer has been plagued with alternately growing and shrinking piles of scavenger loot. Not only recyclables but other broken-down items that perhaps might be repurposed. Depending on what time of day it is, entering the building itself could be an iffy proposition, as several scavengers live in my stairwell, and they all seem to sort their stuff in front of the building's entrance at the same time. If it is raining, they argue about who should use the foyer first: there is not room enough for everyone AND their loot, and heaven forbid a stray bottle should roll into someone else's pile!

Living on the ground floor is a mixed blessing. I cannot park my bike in the foyer; upstairs neighbors have claimed what little space there is left among the various piles of detritus. I lug my bike into my apartment. That works out well. What is not so great is hearing the scavengers mutter to themselves while sorting, or listening to them fight, just outside my front door.

The foyer is not the only place loot gets stored: my balcony and directly below are also prime spots because that area is hidden from view by the lobby entrance, which juts out about 4 feet from the building's facade.

Over the years I've had stuffed animals, shoes, clothing and assorted trinkets: phone covers, a Hello Kitty tin, broken hair bands, keychains and the like placed on my balcony. Below it I've found a chair, a half a suitcase – literally!, a whole suitcase, a shoe cabinet, a giant pile of styrofoam, some clothes, and a host of other things. If left unchecked, my balcony and immediate vicinity would be buried under such piles.

To set the record straight:

1.      I firmly believe in recycling.
2.      It breaks my heart to see senior citizens picking through garbage cans.

To that end, I sort recyclables in my house and set them outside, by the communal the trashcan when I have a bagful, to spare community elders the indignity of picking through the trash with their bare hands in the off-chance that there might be something of value.

I do not use my balcony for anything. Until about six months ago, I really didn't care whether there was anything stored either on my balcony or in front of it. But I had been getting tired of seeing piles all over the place.

Now I'm fed up with it.

Two things happened simultaneously to change my mind about piles on/in front of my balcony, one of them being my demanding teaching schedule. With 2 and 3 classes per day, it would be aggravating to carry my bike into the house only to carry it back out to ride to my next class – while stepping over whatever piles were in the foyer, or waiting until a path could be cleared. I needed someplace to park my bike. In front of my balcony was the logical choice: I could chain it up to the railing and keep an eye on it while I do lunch.  

The second was a vomit-soaked sheet. One of the building scavengers had apparently found a pile of discarded bedding, saw value in it and hauled it away. However, instead of carrying it up to her apartment, she flung the whole stinking pile on the ground in front of my balcony. As the weather was unseasonably warm, I had the balcony door open. Soon that savory aroma wafted throughout my house.

I couldn't figure out where the smell was coming from. Had I inadvertently left food to spoil in the crockpot? Did I perchance have some rotting vegetables (or, did my scavengers leave rotting veggies in the foyer?)

The smell lasted through the weekend and on Monday morning, while I ate my breakfast. It was only upon returning home from class, mid-morning, and looking to secure my bike to my balcony railing that I discovered the fragrant deposit. And an entire trove of kitsch, stored on the balcony itself. Disgusted, I kicked it all away and secured my bike as planned, making sure I left nothing on it that could be stolen or vandalized in retribution.

And that's how the fight started.

Not a loud fight. In fact, I'm not saying a word. Three days. That's all they get. I will permit storing something in front or on my balcony for three days. If it is still there after that, I will move it. I reason: we are already overrun with garbage in the foyer and by their sorting in front of the entrance. If they want whatever they scavenge, let them take it into their home. If they don't see it as valuable enough to cart upstairs or otherwise dispose of in three days, then obviously it is just trash and I will throw it away. 

I told Sam about my resolve, just in case someone complains about me removing their stuff.

The woman cussed loudly at finding her booty scattered all over the lawn but she did pick it up and take it away. That afternoon, when I came home from class, there was something else in front of my balcony. It too got moved after three days.

And so on, and so on. For a couple of weeks I thought the message had sunk in because nothing had been stashed on/under the balcony during that time. Later I found out that was only because nothing of 'value' had been found. Intermittently, something will be put there. After three days, it is gone – invariably by my hand, not theirs.

Today, it was a baby stroller and a shoe. They first made their appearance over the weekend. Gary saw them when he drove me back from Metro on Saturday. At that time, I removed the shoe from my balcony and placed it in the stroller. The next day, the shoe was back on my balcony. And now, they are both in the dumpster.

The next morning, they were back, looking dismal in the falling rain. They have now been there a week. What do I have to do to convince people to keep the area neat? I am so tired of looking at garbage!  

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