Amazing Thailand – The Bin Man


The Bin Men

Some jobs in the world are much harder than others but it is not just mentally or physically that differentiates easy or hard. The weather can turn a relatively easy task into a much more difficult or uncomfortable one. Thailand’s oppressive heat and high humidity make the work of the bin men a much more toilsome chore.

Village dustbinThe high temperatures make the smell from the bins rancid long before the refuse man arrives and the steamy humidity makes the heavy work a tiring and backbreaking day. The rubber bins are manufactured from recycled tyres and the one pictured on the left is a common sight outside village homes in Thailand.

The stench that emanates from the bins during the very hot summer months make a good reason for any new home to be constructed as far back from the road as possible. It’s not only golfers that wish for a longer drive. In the village where I spend part of my Thailand holidays the yellow garbage truck often arrives with its back doors wide open and inside is one of the bin men.

A three man team operates the bin round with one driving, another collecting and I guess the newest or junior member of the team in the rear shovelling the garbage to the front. His protection is gloves and a thin paper mask. A cooling shower at the end of each working day must be bliss and the bin man’s monthly water bill must be higher than that of many others. This all brings me on to the purpose of writing this post because I have a dustbin story of my own.

Thailand mapThe year was 1999 and I was on my second or third ever trip to Thailand, which one I can’t remember. My story centres around a village whose name my memory once again cannot recall but it was in Chachoengsao Province, about one and a half hours drive from Pattaya. I had attached myself to a Pattaya bar girl named Duan and she asked me if I’d like to visit her village. Fascinated at the prospect I immediately agreed.

Being relatively new to Thailand I looked forward to the trip and we agreed to stay at her sister’s house for three nights. On our arrival I was greeted by her family like a long lost brother who had returned from war adorned with every medal that could possibly be won. I quickly learned not to openly show my wallet.

The house itself was brick built and very basic. Having lived all my life on an English council estate I could do basic but what I saw was pushing even my standards to the upper limits. It was the bathroom that got me, I thought my hotel bathroom wasn’t up to much but this was bad. I think even the spiders had left. There was a squat toilet and I had a history of cruciate ligament damage to my left knee. Nothing too spicy please.

Taking a shower involved dipping a small bowl into a large container of icy cold water and then pouring it over yourself. If they’d seen me in the bathroom nervously contemplating the initial pour they would have stripped me of all my medals. It was the nearest I have ever come to death. Even now I swear to god you could threaten to mug someone with a bowlful of that stuff.

LitterMy days were spent relaxing and having a few beers, I really was enjoying myself apart from one thing that continually annoyed me. The front garden didn’t have a fence but you could reasonably make out the boundaries of the small plot of land. I would sit there for hours drinking beer and couldn’t help notice the litter that was strewn about everywhere. That’s what annoyed me. If you bought one of the kids some sweets or an ice cream they would eat the goodies and then just drop the wrapper where they were stood. Enough was enough.

I had decided to extend my stay for a couple more weeks and one day we took a trip into Chachoengsao. We returned later that day with me carrying a brand new plastic dustbin. It was education time. Over the course of the next day I paid a few of the local kids to tidy the litter in the garden by putting it in the bin. I also got through to them that any wrappers, coke cans etc. had to be discarded into the amazing plastic thing. I can still remember now sitting in the front garden one hot afternoon drinking beer and admiring how clean the garden looked. Even the weeds had a much sharper tint.

Temple dogEach following morning that I woke and went outside the bin was on its side with the contents scattered about everywhere. The Soi (street) dogs were getting at the bin in the night. No problem. From then on before retiring to bed each night (posh way of saying bladdered and needing a kip) I would place the bin inside the front door, safely away from the dogs.

A few days later I got up one morning and the smell in the house was awesome. The bin was full and stank like crazy. I called Duan over and explained the next part of the education program. The bin needed to be emptied.

Duan called over her sister and the two of them picked up the dustbin, carried it past the closed front door and put it down by the wood shuttered front window. They each opened one of the wood shutters, picked up the dustbin, placed it on the open window frame and emptied it onto the garden. Amazing Thailand.

Credits

Photograph Litter Lout   by Smabs Sputzer

Photograph Temple dog by Akuppa

photograph Thailand Map by Wikipedia

© 2009 – 2011, Martyn. All rights reserved.

17 thoughts on “Amazing Thailand – The Bin Man

  1. Hi Martyn-well thats has brightened an otherwise drab Sunday afternoon (yes its raining).

    I must share this one with you regarding bins:

    I was the first person on the street to get a bin (recycled tyres) available free at the local Amphur office and 30 Baht a month to empty weekly. I just fetched it and arranged for weekly collections. Easy.

    Of course my neighbours being Thai clearly thought I was providing a service for them all since the bin was always full by Tuesday (emptied on Monday).

    I eventually solved this by re-visiting the Amphur office and ordering bins for all my neighbours.
    The rubbish cart dropped them off and now charges them 30 Baht a month.

    I am fairly certain they do not know that I arranged their bins!
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Bangkok Airport-Crackdown Fails to Stop Gangs. =-.

  2. i bet when they emptied the bin into the garden you must have just thought f-uk me you dirty ba-tards
    even coming from a council estate that’s a bit rich
    one thing about Thailand i can never get used to is the amount of plastic flying around
    to be honest i have picked up a empty bag of the street and used it myself when out shopping as there is just so much of it about i did look around to see if anybody was watching first you could call me a champion for recycling our just a Yorkshire tight arse
    i don’t know what the rate for emptying your bins in the uk is but the council tax is 95 pounds a month about 5500 baht and a massive fine if you leave the top of your bin amazing England not
    .-= John´s last blog ..my expat plan udon thani issan part 1 =-.

  3. Mike it seems you solved the bin problem in a roundabout way. Tuesday must have miffed you a bit each week. I have often asked Wilai how much it is for the bin men and each time she’s replied 10 baht a month, perhaps it’s cheaper in Udon. Even at 30 baht it seems too good to be true, in comparison to the UK that is.

    John I didn’t really think anything at all if I can remember rightly then I was just astounded. It taught me that it’s best to do things the Thai way and bring about change very slowly. Down here in Swindon my council tax is about the same but they now empty the bins fortnightly. I expect the locals in Udon are wondering when the plastic bag snatcher is going to turn up again.

  4. At least you got a bin man that comes around. In my girls village in Mukdahan they throw the trash on the side of the house and burn it eventually. Then they go about this odd ritual of digging a big hole out back near the field and fill it with only plastic bags,,,the small clear kind that food comes in.

    On one hand I just shake my head at the trash strewn around the outside of the house…on the other I am thankful that there is usually something close at hand to throw at that damned rooster!
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Bangkok’s Ancient Skyline =-.

  5. Talen thanks for the comment and I love the rooster quote. When I wrote this one I thought some people ain’t gonna believe this but it really did happen and your trash at the side of the house kind of backs me up. When I used to stay at Wi’s mamas house I always got woke up by the rooster early everyday. Nowadays with our house back from the road a bit and two dogs to keep out the chicks the well fitted windows keep out most of the noise. I still get up fairly early make a coffee, light a cigarette and push open the back door and think…Isaan, yes this is where I wanna be.

  6. Martyn, I think the roosters come from everywhere when I am there just to taunt me. There are at least 3 big roosters and quite a few hens and chicks about at all times.

    I’m still trying to figure out the perfectly round hole filled with used plastic bags….I think you’ve inspired a post…and maybe someone can shed a little light on it for me.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Cold Economic Realities … for Some =-.

  7. Talen I know you are planning on setting up home in Thailand next year so why not set up a small business in Mukdahan. How about a fried chicken outlet….Perhaps the slogan could be… ‘Give a boost to your roost and take home some tasty fried free range chicken’….you have all the take away bags on hand as well as a choice of the best meat wandering about and you could stick a ‘Customer Complaints’ sign next to the perfect round hole.

  8. Wait till you see the picture…there are enough take away bags for a year…I could always play dumb falang and tell Mama I go get chicken for dinner and kill all the roosters by accident…
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Cold Economic Realities … for Some =-.

  9. Talen killing the roosters would certainly stir up a few of the locals and land you a small bill. I would like a dollar for every discarded plastic bag in Thailand….it would be retirement time.

  10. ‘They each opened one of the wood shutters, picked up the dustbin, placed it on the open window frame and emptied it onto the garden. Amazing Thailand.’

    This is typical of SE Asia. Same, same.

    I know of a similar experience on Borneo when trying to get the locals to use bin. Only these bins were upended into the bay at the end of the day.

    Some have the opinion that it happens in populations raised on biodegradable materials: Banana peels, corn cobs, coconuts and more.

    Only, plastic bags once dropped on the ground do not rot into the earth. They float, they fly, they wind up in the stomachs of fish and birds. Or they stay around being eyesores.

    One word…

    E D U C A T I O N

    And if that doesn’t work…

    E V E N M O R E E D U C A T I O N
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Free Download: Advanced Thai Reading and Vocabulary Building =-.

  11. The habits they have are from centuries of living with biodegradable materials, so we do need to give them that.

    We were taught in school to use bins, but it took our parents to reinforce the habit. I know, because there were kids in my class who still turfed litter out of car windows regardless (and that with their parents right there).

    So maybe it’ll take a generation before it becomes a the Thai way?

    On the other hand… I’m always amazed when I look closely at the streets of BKK. The sidewalks might be cracked with chunks taken out, but they are swept pristine clean. Daily.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Free Download: Advanced Thai Reading and Vocabulary Building =-.

  12. Catherine that is one helluva interesting comment because I really hadn’t thought too much about the reasons for the lack of education behind it. Before the plastic bag era or should that be error then you are right the biodegradable items you listed would have rotted away into the earth giving it new life from their natural make up. The young are taught by the old and old habits die hard etc. so I guess the waste cycle predicament really should have been an area of education years back. Many of the villagers do collect bottles and cans which they sell to recyclers to gain an extra few precious baht so at least progress if not necessarily so in an educational way is being made. The story happened ten years ago and nowadays in Wilai’s village the bins are used and emptied twice a week, progress is perhaps slowly being made.

  13. Catherine – If the learning curve is to start anywhere then surely Bangkok is the place. Your pristine clean remark may mean that the revolution has started and slowly but surely it will spread.

  14. The bin truck is so funny.
    How can you stand the stinky smell? If it were me, may be I have collapsed.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Airplane Weathervanes =-.

  15. I’ve worked during the summer as a bin man before. It was a good experience but not one that I’d like to build a career out of. I got used to the heat, working outside, the physical aspects, the smell and everything else, and I know it sounds terrible… but it just doesn’t impress anyone when you tell them what you do for a living.

  16. Garden Sheds – I know a few UK bin men and they’re all decent folk who make a steady living out of the bins. It’s a job and someone’s got to do it. I wouldn’t mind doing it myself.

  17. Hoo Don – You’re right, of course, they’re wonderful people and I know the living they make is good money, don’t get me wrong, there is just that stigma around it. Or from what I experienced anyway. Someone has got to do it and my hat goes off to anyone who can stick it out.

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