Forty years ago, Monty Python and the Holy Grail debuted in theaters. And two generations of Python-quoting fans have kept the film in the public consciousness ever since. From the Black Knight with his “tis but a scratch!” to the Bridgekeeper with his questions three to the French Soldier prepared to taunt you a second time, the film is eminently quotable.
Here in Changchun, every morning starting around 5am, and frankly all day long after that, I am reminded of a less-popular scene involving The Dead Collector and The Dead Body That Claims It Isn’t. For every morning, starting around 5am, the sound of a megaphone echoes through the neighborhood.
Not speaking Mandarin, I’m still not certain exactly what he’s saying. But if you squint just right and have drunk enough Tsingtao Beer the night before, it almost sounds like “bring out yer dead”. And that is exactly what’s he’s doing. No, not dead bodies. This isn’t the Middle Ages and no one is dying of the Black Death. He’s actually collecting recycling material.
Recycling isn’t accomplished here in the same way as in the U.S. There are no brightly colored bins set out at the street. No giant labeled dumpsters marked for cardboard, or refuse, or mixed recyclables. In our neighborhood there are no dumpsters at all. Residents just leave bags of trash against the wall of the building and someone magically arrives and picks it up. There are trash receptacles in the nearby parks. But in the rows of apartment buildings with retail on the first floor in our neighborhood, there are none. Leave your trash as politely as you can out of people’s way, and it will be gone shortly.
For small recyclables, such as plastic beverage bottles, there is no deposit to be paid and redeemed. But in an effort to make it easier on those who eke out a living by gathering recyclables and turning them in, we separate them into bags and leave them next to the trash.
But what about big recyclables, you ask? Well I am glad you asked, because otherwise I really would have nowhere to go with this post, now would I? For big recyclables, that’s where the guy with the megaphone comes in. Much like the Dead Collector of Python fame, he and his competitors cruise around the city on flatbed bicycle carts collecting everything from broken metal chairs to appliances to window screens to scraps of pipe. I say competitors because I am fairly certain I have heard two or three different collectors outside, all competing for the same business.
Where are they taking these items? A logical answer would be there is a scrapyard nearby that pays for the material. But I suspect they might be collecting the missing pieces of Optimus Prime to rebuild the Transformers’ leader and save humanity from extinction.
Yeah… Scrapyard is probably the answer.