Monday, September 5, 2016

Trash Talk – Erich

As we travel, we realize that English truly is becoming in the international language. There have been a few exceptions: In Osaka, Japan, few people spoke English. In Istanbul, Turkey plenty of English was spoken in Fatih, the old city with the most popular tourist spots. At Dolmabahce Palace, you had to take a tour and tours were offered in Turkish and English. But out in the neighborhoods away from Fatih, hardly anyone spoke English, and those who did had a very limited vocabulary.

Still, in most of the nations we have visited on this adventure, you find many people who do speak some, or quite a lot of, English. Malaysia (we are currently in Penang, Malaysia) is no exception. Malaysia was once a British colony and so English on signage is as common as Malay. Children begin learning English in school at the age of five or six.

This is convenient for us, of course. But I do have to keep one thing in mind. When I say English is widespread and is the international language, in truth, that is British English and not American English. Why the distinction? I'll give you an example, though, in my long-winded way, it will take a few paragraphs to do so.

If you are a tourist and living in a hotel, you don't worry much about garbage. You throw it in a little can and the maid comes the next day and it is gone. But when you are living in a place, living in an apartment (or flat as those speaking British English would say) or in a house you have to throw away your garbage somewhere.

I had never much thought about how trash might be disposed of before departing on this journey. I assumed garbage was handled like it is in the U.S. You bring it to the curb, and garbage collectors take it away. Well, there are variations on that.

In Marrakech, Morocco, we were living in the basement of a private house. We asked our host about where to put the garbage. He told me to take it out the door and turn right. So the first time I had garbage I went out the door and turned right. But this was just the street. No garbage can. No one else had trash here. But I did as I had been told.

The host must have found my trash and thrown it away for me, because I discovered later where it was really supposed to go.

They do have garbage trucks like we do in the U.S. But those garbage trucks do not come into the neighborhoods on the narrow streets. They stick to the arterial roads. What I was supposed to do with my trash was go out the door, turn right, walk to the end of the residential street where I hit the arterial road, turn right again, walk another block, and there I would find a dumpster. All the neighborhood homes brought their trash to this dumpster on the arterial road, and it would be picked up here periodically.

In Lagonisi, Greece, we experienced something similar. You took your trash down the block to a dumpster. Again, this was true in Bistritsa, Bulgaria. In Barnet, United Kingdom, a suburb of London, it was more like home, bringing the trash out to the curb.

Some places that we have stayed in large apartment buildings have had a trash room on our floor. This was true in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Chiang Mai, Thailand. In others, the trash had to be brought to a series of garbage cans on the ground floor. This was the case in Cape Town, South Africa.

Now we are in Penang, Malaysia. Again we are in a large apartment building, and when we checked in, I forgot to ask where the garbage goes.

So Carver and I went hunting. We found no trash room on our floor. We went to the ground floor, but we found no dumpster nor garbage cans. So we asked at the guardhouse.

Calling this guardhouse by that appellation is generous. There is a man inside who theoretically guards the place. But he never stops anyone from coming in or going out. That's not entirely true. There is a bar over the entrance to the parking area. So any cars or trucks would be forced to stop. But anyone walking or (the most common we've seen) driving a motorcycle just goes around the barrier and no one from the guardhouse makes any attempt to communicate.

Still, in this instance, we did communicate. Because I asked the man inside “Where do I put the trash?” And this is where my American English failed. He looked at me curiously and had no idea about what I was speaking.

But I am far enough into this trip that I immediately realized my error. I asked again, but this time rephrased my question. “Where does the rubbish go?”

Now he knew exactly what I was asking. It turns out there is a little shed across from the guardhouse. You open the door to the shed and inside you find garbage cans. Or, to be regionally appropriate, inside you find rubbish bins.

Oh the power of language. It's not just trash talk.

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