'Tis the Season?

When you want to see how deep the river is, don't use both feet.

If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.

Fix the pen only after the sheep are gone. 

If you've never done evil, you need not worry about what or who's knocking at your door.

It is easy to dodge a spear that comes from in front of you. Just try to get out of the way of an arrow shot from behind.

Today is Lunar New Year's Eve and I've been looking at Taiwanese sayings. I threw up a few that I agree with or am amused by above. Speaking of the Lunar New Year, which is Asia's version of Christmas, meaning a holiday when families come together, people forget grievances and everyone is full of cheer and goodwill toward his or her fellow man and woman, we had an interesting visit to start the day. This is how it went down.

There was a knocking outside as our doorbell is broken (we've been asking the security company that looks over our building and to which we pay NT$1700 a month to fix such things to fix for the last eight months). Getting the door, I was greeted by an old woman I didn't recognize. Actually, I wasn't greeted. I was simply told to remove my shoe rack from the hallway and to stop leaving our garbage and recycling in the fire exit. The old woman didn't complain about the stroller, however. That was weird. After three and a half years, and hundreds of kilometers, the thing is a battered and filthy eyesore. 

When I went back inside, my wife asked what it was about. "Oh, just the security company. It was the usual nagging about keeping the landing outside neat. She says the fine for not complying is NT$40,000 to NT$200,000."

"If they want it neat, they should try mopping the floor and cleaning the windows once in a while, like we pay them to do." 

"Yeah. And by the way, they were the ones who told us to put our garbage in the emergency exit." You see, after we complained to the city that we were paying NT$1700 a month in building fees but didn't have garbage removal services, the security company came up with this solution: I would pay an old woman that they knew NT$300 a month. She would come and take our stuff away every day. This was their idea. "Let's go talk to them," I said.

When we arrived at the main lobby, my wife, as usual, explained how we were unhappy with paying so much money and receiving very little service in return. She talked about the broken security system and the eight months' time we'd waited to get it fixed. Then things escalated, so much so that I twice had to tell the security guard not to raise his voice to my wife. He was shouting and my wife was cutting him off repeatedly, saying, "I don't want your excuses!" Then something funny happened. He said:

"We are a new security company. We took over October 1st. So, we need time to sort things out." He escorted me to a sign on the wall, with information about the company as well as the chain of command. "See, this is how it is," he said. "And yes, we can't have you putting your garbage and recyclables in the emergency exit." The reason this is funny is the new security company has hired all of the old security guards. The only thing that has changed is the color of their uniforms. They used to be a dull orange. Now, they're white. The same old men remain.

"What is this guy smoking?" I asked my wife. 

"No, he's serious. It's an excuse to start again," she said. "Now we have to complain to the city a second time about how the security company isn't taking out our garbage. Then the city has to call them. Then they have to find the old woman and get her to accept NT$300 to take out our stuff. Plus, they can stall another eight months on fixing the bell and camera. He thinks everything has been reset."

We decided our best course of action was to call the building rep. Ten minutes later, he was on the scene, smiling the usual reasonable and friendly smile. My wife started to explain, but he had the perfect answer: "Let's go over to the building so you can walk me through your grievances. Let's see what's what."

When we showed him how our buzzer, camera and doorbell weren't working, he was just as annoyed as my wife. "This is impossible," he said. "Why don't they fix it? OK, they'll fix it, I promise. Let's go up to the eighth floor to get a better lay of the land." While we were out in the elevator landing, something unexpected happened. The old woman representing the security company, the one that had knocked at my door to complain about the shoe rack, garbage bags and recycling on the emergency exit for a few hours every day until they were picked up, got off the elevator. 

"This is the woman who came to complain this morning," I said, wiping the dust off my fingers from the dirty windows. I'd been showing the building rep how the security company had not been keeping up its part of the deal.

"I'm not from security company," she said. "I'm visiting my son, who is your neighbor." 

"Then what's your problem?" asked the building rep.

"I don't like the shoe rack. Plus when I open the emergency exit, I sometimes see a garbage bag or recyclables." Never mind that it never blocks the stairs. Never mind that there is a second emergency exit about a foot away.

"How about this stroller," I asked, pointing at my daughter Ahleena's worn out stroller. "Why don't you care about it?" The answer was quite simple. My neighbors normally leave their bikes and stroller in the landing, so they were going for the status quo on that count. Unfortunately, none of their stuff was out today. I guess they'd pulled them in before complaining. 

"If you can't understand what I'm getting at, I'll show you," she said. "Nobody else in the building leaves things out." This was dubious. I know because I often go up to look at the scenery from the roof. We're close to the Hsin Tien (新店) River, and I enjoy seeing the sunset as it unfolds across it. There is a bike locked to the railing between the eighth and ninth floor. There's a ghost money burner between the tenth and the roof. I don't know what there is going the other way, as I always take the elevator, but it's unlikely to be completely clear. There's just too much good storage room to be had.

"No need," explained the building rep. "You don't live here, so it doesn't concern you." But I was already worked up. After moving the shoe rack and stroller inside, I said:

"If I ever see your stuff out here, I'll photograph it and file a complaint. Get rid of that doormat too," I demanded, pointing at a red plastic thing they have in front of their door." To kind of comply, the woman moved it about ten centimeters. 

"No, get rid of it," said the building rep.

The outcome is that we'll be chucking out the stroller. Sorry, Ahleena. But you're a big girl. And we can ditch it on a city-sanctioned garbage pile during the holiday. If we keep it, it's for another year. As the shoe rack was a gift from my mother-in-law, we'll be keeping it, to clutter up our entrance hall.

I shouldn't be surprised by my neighbors. I'm sure that it just doesn't occur to them that they should be neighborly, especially during the holiday season. My wife and I already had a pretty good feel on the kind of people they are, namely, a tired man and his tired wife, plodding through the steps of a life they imagine has to be exhausting and bland. The old woman is an extension of that feeling. We tolerated the endless noise coming from their apartment when they were renovating, including jackhammers late into the evenings and on weekends, because we figured they were our neighbors and we'd have to face them. More importantly, it seemed like the neighborly thing to do. When they didn't come over to apologize for the inconvenience, or clean up the mounds of dust this left in the landing, we excused them, thinking they were busy people. I have on numerous times tried to reach out to them. But they simply avoid me. They are the kind of people who, upon coming out and seeing me (or the neighbors, I suppose) waiting for the elevator, will pretend they have forgotten something and flee back into their apartment. They are the kind of people who, upon seeing another neighbor, a kind elderly lady for example who has fallen and broken open her forehead and a hip bone, will simply bang on my door and say, "Look at that," before scurrying off for work. They obviously want to be anonymous, to grind it out alone and expect Taipei will serve this purpose and leave them alone. Okay, that's their right. Nonetheless, I will be bringing the community that is our building to their attention, and them to it, the moment they leave a thing, even a pair of shoes.

Or, hopefully, things won't have to be this way. We'll see. 


Anonymous said...

You have to tell the building officials all about what your neighbor is doing. Also, you have to inform the other people building to get involved. After I had problems in my apartment building, I got tired. Then I became the building representative. This was very helpful.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Then I became the building representative."

I actually want to do this. I put up a complaint letter, but the security company took it down. All notices hung in our building have to be okayed by the security company first. They hang their notices / threats up all the time. But they censor the rest of us from responding. Things really need to change.

Last night, a guy was shouting at his girlfriend or wife in our courtyard. The guards did nothing, so I am assuming they were either a) asleep b) cowering.

Marc said...

Life in a "vertical" community can so easily create these poor relationships. Many of my friends here long to return to small towns where the "horizontal" lifestyle allows for more civility and less turmoil.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"any of my friends here long to return to small towns where the "horizontal" lifestyle allows for more civility and less turmoil."

I would love that and of course agree with what you're saying. My wife won't go for it though as we live a couple of blocks from her parents.

Okami said...

"Life in a "vertical" community can so easily create these poor relationships. Many of my friends here long to return to small towns where the "horizontal" lifestyle allows for more civility and less turmoil."

I live in a horizontal community and while I admit it's better than a vertical one, you still deal with a lot of annoying stuff that you are unable to do anything about. I live across from a lottery shop whose customers feel that they can park anywhere. It's not uncommon for someone's car alarm to go on and on for 15+ minutes. One night we had a car alarm go on for 1-2 hours starting at 2am in the morning. People walking in the shop next door often feel the need to toss their trash on my porch. It's just something about the anonymous nature of it all that Taiwanese take advantage of and if you pushed them on it, they'd completely refuse to acknowledge that they would be just as pissed if it was their place getting trashed and their parking spots getting blocked in.

The Taipei Kid said...

With all this talk about horizontal and vertical living, I think I feel a song coming on:

I took you to an intimate restaurant
Then to a suggestive movie
There's nothing left to talk about
Unless it's horizontally

Let's get physical, physical
I wanna get physical
Let's get into physical
Let me hear your body talk, your body talk
Let me hear your body talk

Patrick Cowsill said...

"With all this talk about horizontal and vertical living, I think I feel a song coming on..."

LOL, the Taipei Kid is back in action. It's been a long time.

Anonymous said...

NT$40,000 to NT$200,000 fine by what authority? In fact, that's the exact amount I fine people for bothering me.

Patrick Cowsill said...

By nobody's authority. The neighbor is harassing us. They even took our recycling box. I'm supposing it's the son getting muscular. I've been trying to reach them; they steal my box but they refuse to answer their door. I'm pretty sure I'll be catching up with them on the weekend.