Thursday, February 21, 2008

A "Gomi" Bandicoot

In my lexicon, “bandicoot” is also a term of endearment.

Like I told you the last time, not all bandicoots are bad and some of them are downright loveable. The one I want to introduce you to today is actually quite a chic and resourceful bandy!

My friend Agathe is French and she lives and works in Paris. She did her doctoral thesis on some esoteric, ancient sanskrit mathematical treatise. I am mega impressed by this fact and love introducing Agathe to my friends and talking about her every chance I get. Agathe has traveled in more countries than anybody else I know. The most recent postcards I have received from her were from China and then Jordan. Yes, Agathe is the kind of person who sends hand-written postcards with exotic stamps on them from exotic places around the globe.

Agathe is a bandicoot. A “bandy” in the sense that she loves junk, rubbish.

Some years ago, Agathe lived in Japan for an extended period of time – not sure what she was doing there. She told me that in Japan, just as in many highly economically developed societies, there are the extreme rich and the very poor. And between these two extremes there is a huge middle-class that is the engine that drives consumerism. Some of the Japanese middle-class are wasteful and gadget fixated. These people simply throw away perfectly good things. That’s right. They systematically buy the latest models of just about everything – televisions, fridges, laptops, vacuum cleaners and what have you. They simply must have the latest model. So, out go all the old televisions and fridges and bicycles and telephones and just about everything else. This section of Japanese society simply discard all their junk or “gomi” as is it called in Japanese. And much of it is perfectly good stuff!

There are designated spaces in each apartment block for leaving the “gomi” and this was the network of Ali Baba’s caves where Agathe rooted for treasure.

She first started off by more or less entirely furnishing her apartment with “gomi”. Word soon spread and her (mainly expatriate) friends started giving her wish-lists of stuff they couldn’t afford or didn’t want to splurge on. Agathe would scour the “gomi” dumps of Kyoto and salvage the stuff that her friends needed. She soon became so adept at “sourcing” stuff that one friend even gave her the exact configuration of a PC that he wanted and Agathe helped him put the machine together!

I’m sure that there is some kind of “reuse, recycle, refurbish etc.,” message in there for all of us, but I’m too lazy to bend my mind around it right now.

Or, even a huge potential in a chain of grey market, second-hand stores. Imagine shipping in containers of practically brand-new Toshiba laptops and selling them for, say, 3000 rupees! And charge the suckers another 3K for English key-boards. LOL. Who knows, the Japanese municipal authorities might even pay you to do it. An all around win-win situation.

Agathe is now back in Paris, working for the government, and she is as ardent a seeker of “gomi” as ever. The last time I visited her, she took me on a delightful crawl of wine bars all over that magnificent city. The theme of the day that she had chosen was “cheese and wine”…..The third or so bar we went to was in a quiet side street and we were lolling around a tiny table on the tiny sidewalk, sipping a nice glass of some chilled white wine. The neighborhood was “comfortable” middle-class. Across the street from us there was a gated apartment block. As we watched some Arab kids crawling right in and out of the gaps in the grills of the locked gates, a lady walked out and carefully placed a lamp-shade and a couple of other things in the huge garbage container. A minute or so later, Agathe uncoiled herself like a plump python and strolled across the street. She examined the garbage container as intently as if she were contemplating a bracelet at a Champs-Elysees shop window , then very deliberately picked up the lamp-shade and strolled triumphantly back to our table. The crawl ended sometime well after midnight and I took turns all evening carrying that piece of “gomi” carefully all over Paris.

1 comment:

  1. Hi handsome Bandicoot!

    So, you bring together the member of your fanclub and talk about your idols in that blog...
    I am part of your readership from now onwards!

    I mentionned your name to a French researcher (a man ;-(, that's all what I have right now) who wants to visit Madras... and I was delighted thinking about that guy being guided by you, "chief madrasi bandicoot", in Madras by night... ha ha...

    Hope to read you soon again!