Author’s note: this guest post is brought to you by Dave – he’s lived in Korea for a total of 12 years now. He has been married to his Korean wife for 20 years, and they have one son. His family lives in Uijeongbu, where he is semi-retired and addicted to X-box golf. He recently wrote a guest post on traveling Europe with a Korean tour group and Korea being a driver’s paradise – hope you enjoy!

I’m doing my part, I truly am. It’s not just a passing fad, it’s a lifestyle. And the best part is, my partner is all the motivation I need. Of course, we are not just recycling furniture. We separate just about every known manmade or natural element into specific containers, according to our industrious and ever-vigilant apartment Management Associates (hereafter known as ‘Redcaps’), but it helps to be able to complete the office or bedroom with the occasional piece, thanks to our thoughtful neighbors.

I guess it started when I bought some golf trinkets from her and she pointed out that there were a few items on sale if I wanted a really good bargain. That told me all I needed to know. After all, could I have died and gone to Hacker Heaven…where all the best equipment and golf necessities were on sale and I would always have enough rent and utility money to spend (waste)on them? And not to mention the loveliest young Korean missus with a perfectly languorous and sultry golf swing to guide me through the purchases? Really now, this was beyond getting a good deal, this was fun, and pleasurable (in a sexy way), and it just might turn into something really great if I could ‘swing’ it…

So a few decades later, and we are some serious bargain hunters. Yeah, you can say we’re cheap, and you can call us trash diggers, and you can scoff at our acquisitions, but it just never gets dull, and the price is always right. We are pickers, and we pick for ourselves, for no one else. There’s some sort of attitude here in Korea about one’s leftover stuff, and once it gets tossed, no one would ever dare touch it, much less reclaim it, or, shame of shames, re-USE it. But we being the frugal and anally retentive ‘savers’ that we are, as long as it’s in good condition, we see no reason not to re-use it – as long as we need it. Of course it requires the keen and discerning eye of the Korean connoisseur (hereafter known as Beautiful Bride), she who is not persuaded by Mr. Practical (we really NEED this…) and Mr. Measurement ( yep, it’s just the right size, it’ll fit…), and of course Mr. Sure-I-Can-Fix-It (even though the top, bottom AND back are rotten and peeling away crust-ily). The BB has never been overruled, and I do not expect this to ever change. This has led to quite a few ‘classics’ and must-haves languishing away in the pile. I suppose it is a good thing to have only a finite amount of space, lest one would cram good upon better upon best into each and every square meter (keeping with local spacing code, you see) of uncluttered living space.

In part, I lay responsibility for the bargain and value-finder genes in us at the feet our parents. Who knew that nearly 7,000 miles apart and two completely different cultures away that two families were obsessed with getting a better deal on some clothes for the kids, hunting around just a little bit more for some furniture for both the living room AND the dining room, etc., etc. You know, this was not my nor BB’s idea in the first place. So dammit, I can’t help it, and neither can she. It’s a universal thing – I bet they do the same thing in Brazil or Norway. But, back to the ‘store’…

We are obligated, under penalty of recycle shame, to use the nifty system of separating ALL of our trash into the proper pile, bag, bucket, and/or place. Redcap protocol won’t allow it any other way. I have seen their spy camera surveillance rack – and it rivals the bank of video used to nail OBL, seriously. There ain’t a casino cheater-cam anywhere in Las Vegas that would give any more angles to what is going on in the collection zone (hereafter known as the ‘Green Zone’).  But I gotta hand it to the ‘Caps, they are fastidious, what with their constant shuffling, sifting, sweeping, and overall smoothing out the mess. Being the crafty and secondary motive kind-of-guy that I just might be known to be, I know the Caps and they know me. Buds, friends, Green Zone groupies.  And I am sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am the only Caucasian, taller than everyone in the complex, and am rummaging for riches just about every third or fourth day, on average. That is, unless there is someone moving – in or out – doesn’t matter. The goodies pile up fast, and we all know the bali bali psyche.  When this happens, I alert BB and we drop even the most urgent matters, such as a new episode of whatever TV drama has her captivated, and I, Mr. Go-and See-What-There-Is, make a beeline for ground zero, aka GZ.

So I bring down a casual load of folded paper cartons and a bag full of daily mini yogurt bottles and shuffle into the zone. Well, well, we might have a winner, Alex. The answer is: lovely and seemingly perfect condition chest of drawers and bookshelf. For approximately, say…$350.00, the question is: what do you think you might find in the recycle area of your apartment complex at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening? And there, you see, is the beautiful and harmonious synchronicity of the apartment universe, offering a balance, an equilibrium of matter, in which the zone of garbage does a little providing, giving, and supporting, and in which we do a little lifting, cleaning, and receiving. Ah yes, it took a few trips, and there was snow on the ground, and each and every peg and screw got a re-tighten, and I went through a full packet of anti-bacterial wipes in order to pre-emptively squelch BB’s penchant for uncannily knowing whether I had scrubbed every last inch of the new property, but in the end, I prevailed and presented a good-as-new 5-drawer cabinet that now sits proudly in our bedroom, next to its twin chest of drawers that serendipitously appeared two days later. Ditto for the shelving unit. Total price: three evenings making the 9-floor elevator rides to the furniture store and back home, three days scraping, scrubbing, and screwing the pieces back together, and no time whatsoever convincing the Redcap Officer-in-Charge that the silly American was going to clean up the old stuff and put it in his own apartment. Same thing goes for small tables, gorgeous planters, folding patio chairs, mirrors, computer desks, bedside stands, vanity, floor heating pads, and even houseplants.

Now, I thought that I might be the only one around who had this enterprising spirit, but was I sorely mistaken. Not to be outdone, Mrs. BB never ceases to impress me and make my little heart glow. It’s kind of like paying dues, or putting some expensive item on layaway. You just have to be patient and the payoff will eventually come. And yes, it surely does. Apparently, the money saved by spending next to nothing on all these items has resulted in a bit of a surplus in the old budget. So we’ll be off on a trip to Taipei in a few weeks, and I like to think we earned it, the new, old fashioned way – we just recycled it.

Oh, something I just learned about the discarded items? Seems that local rules dictate that your apartment be empty when you vacate, and you can’t just leave it all behind or you’ll face some money penalties. So that’s why the furniture had these stickers on them, because the tenants had paid a small fee to put the goods in the trash. Oops, we were we Green Zone thieves? AHHnee-yo. BB greased the skids with the Redcaps and the yin and the yang remain in balance.



Chris Backe is the main writer here at One Weird Globe. He's written over 25 books and itineraries, and is the founder of Entro Games and Blog Tuneup. He's lived in Korea, Thailand, Colombia, and has traveled across Europe.