have been engaged in a standoff with some partying young people who live in my residential compound for over a year. For the first time, I seem to have the upper hand.
First, I should say that even though my community is pretty near some of the glitziest parts of Beijing, it bears no relationship to some of its (very) upscale neighbors. Once you get inside, you realize that you might be living in a sort of dystopia, with gangs of people wandering around scavenging through people’s garbage to find things they can defeat the infected zombies with. I go into communities where my friends live and marvel at the manicured lawns, and the garbage stations where people know how to separate their trash and put it in the right bins.
From early spring, the season of house renovation starts. There is never any warning. The first you know something is happening is when suddenly, at 10 seconds past 8am, you are rudely awakened, in shock, because someone is using a pneumatic drill right above your head – of the sort that is usually used to dig up roads.
For some reason I’ve never been able to understand, when an apartment is sold in China, an extreme form of home makeover takes place. This is not just decorating and new kitchen units, but extends to drilling up the concrete floor. And then they lay the floor again. Then you have to suffer the sound of a cement mixer. It is a rule that they only do the noisiest stuff at the earliest time. That’s OK – they stop their drilling and hammering right around the time my neighbor, who is learning the piano, starts practising. The only song they know is the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) anthem “The East Is Red.”
All the innards of the apartment are dumped by the doors to the buildings, along with furnishings, clothing, fish tanks, sinks and toilets. So many dumped toilets adorn the roads in Beijing that I’m surprised people don’t use them. Sometimes a truck turns up to take the stuff away, other times it’s taken over to the far side of the garden where there is an informal garbage recycling center.
It’s been there about two years, and gradually, it has colonized more and more of the garden, with huge bundles of empty cooking oil bottles tied together, polystyrene boxes, old woks and other sundry objects. Next to it is the official recycling place, where you can take old electronics and other items, and you may receive a small cash payment. There are often enough sofas, chairs, rugs and cupboards here to furnish several apartments.
The old gardener disappeared a couple of years ago. He was quite creaky and rheumatic, and had all but stopped doing any actual gardening. Mostly he went around collecting cardboard boxes to sell to the ever-increasing recycling dumps.
Eventually, someone realized that he’d allowed all the grass to die, and that he’d dug a lot of deep holes around the garden – deep enough to swallow most of the young children who were allowed out to play – for the autumn leaves, which the building management was too stingy to pay someone to take away. But he never put the leaves in the holes, and he never covered them up. There’s a new, slightly younger gardener now. He did fill up the holes, but has fought a losing battle against ever getting any grass to grow again.
I complained to the security guards about the expanding waste dump – in between going round and trying to pick up discarded plastic and glass, scared my dogs would tread on it. But they are too busy recycling. They once tried to raise some ducklings and chicks in the car park. One was squished early on – the others, I never dared inquire.
Recently, as soon as the first leaves started sprouting in spring, I saw an elderly lady stripping some lower tree branches bare. “Good to eat,” she said. Later, one of the security guards was seen balanced precariously as high as he could go, systematically robbing the poor tree of as many of its leaves as he could get.
But back to the youngsters. They work at a supermarket chain in Beijing, known for selling foreign goods, and the staff all comes from the owner’s home village. Many of them live in my compound, packed like sardines in apartments – up to 40 in one, I’m told. Of course, it’s highly illegal.
The youngsters come to the garden on hot summer nights to drink beer, and then, for reasons unknown, like to smash the glass bottles all over the place – at least once a week for over a year. It’s hardly surprising – so many people throw their trash on the ground, they must think it’s normal. And I don’t begrudge them some fun.
But now, other residents have started complaining as well, so they’ve been banned from partying in the garden. Sometimes, they try – and then they see me approaching, walking the dog. They look at me sadly like I’m the anti-fun police. They pick up their crate of beer, and disappear.