Across a small street from the trash collection point in Tai Hang, the workers rest in an alley. It’s their break room. They eat lunches there, sometimes shucking their fluorescent yellow vests for a few moments. Underneath the one small tree, they have water, sit on the curb, or listen to music. These folk, whose job is to collect trash from around the neighborhood and bring it, by cart, to this collection point, are critical to Tai Hang’s survival. These men and women serve as the intermediary between the towers full of apartments and the truck that picks up rubbish from the collection point every day or two. This is Hong Kong’s system, replicated all over the city. It allows for smaller streets, denser buildings, and neighborhood collection points. Many of the collection points, like this one in Tai Hang, also have public bathrooms. Well cleaned and maintained, these bathrooms are frequented by locals, tourists, and taxi drivers. In this one, one of two in the tiny Tai Hang neighborhood, the walls are tiled with mosaics. The men’s side with shades of red, the women’s with shades of blue, mirroring the colored signs. Everyone who’s ever visited us, after using them, has commented on how nice they are, and how they wish wherever they are visiting from had public bathrooms like these.
In the alley, on a weekday morning, I often use this bathroom. After four hours of zoom calls I’m confused and a bit tired, and head out of the house to get noodles on a stool in one of these alleys. I often eat at ten or eleven, in time with many of the taxi drivers and the fruit stand staff, folk who work early mornings and then have a mid-morning lull, like myself though unlike. In these off hours, when there are non of the weekend’s lines, we frequent Tai Hang’s famous cha chaan tengs, enjoying the milk tea that will draw crowds on a Sunday. These weekday mornings are part of my love for this neighborhood, part of why I know so many faces, and they me. Sitting in the shade of an awning, on a small stool, we smile and nod at each other over noodles and coffee. It’s a good life, in the alleys.
And so it is that walking back from bathroom to noodle stand on a Tuesday, I pass the trash collector’s break spot, and see one of the men sitting, having tea from a thermos at a small desk they’ve scavenged from the trash pile. The alley has a couple of items like this, office chairs or small shelves, re-possessed by this team for their bags and belongings, for their lunches and rests. The man is facing the wall, relaxing in a posture that speaks to burdens carried. In front of him, on a chair, is a round white clock, five past eleven. And in front of him, carefully held in tiny pots, are two white orchids, their stems crossed as they lean.
In the small shade of this alley, next to his trash cart and surrounded by a few chairs, someone’s laundry, and the miscellanea of discarded life, his table is a moment of peace that I’m glad to see.