In Hsinchu, twice a day, a trash truck drives down the alley behind our building; if we have trash, we run down to meet it and throw the bags in the back of the truck. It announces its arrival with a ditty similar to that of an ice cream truck, so when we hear the tinny song on the loudspeakers, we grab our bags and bolt seven floors down and around the corner.

Since Gretchen and I enjoy cooking, we often throw scraps of food in the trash. Sometimes it’s a few unusable parts of vegetables, or it can be three whole chicken breasts that I didn’t cook soon enough after buying (oops). Whatever the case, we’ll often tie a bag and place it in the outside atrium area so it doesn’t stink up the apartment. The atrium is a three-by-seven-foot open-air space where our washing machine is, and is only accessible to someone in our apartment, so it doesn’t bother our neighbors that we put our garbage there.

Often we’ll have more than one bag outside and make one trip to the truck with a few bags in tow. Gretchen and I (and sometimes Juan) will each grab a couple of bags and race downstairs. If we’ve been lazy and haven’t taken the trash out for a while, we’ll take a few bags down one day and take the remaining garbage the following day. It’s all very common sense.

Common sense, however, would dictate a person should take the bags down before they leak putrid juice over each other and smell so bad that someone (in our case, me), nearly falls over as she recoils from the stench. I think I managed to give myself whiplash, and my reaction was so intense that Gretchen looked at me in terror from the kitchen. “It’s that bad?” As she came over to help me, her gagging confirmed the answer.

The bags were wet from juices leaking out of holes and the stench was overwhelming. We yelled at one another to hurry up, don’t put them down on the floor, hold your breath. I gasped that I would run down the stairs so we wouldn’t be trapped in our tiny, slow elevator with the stinkiest of the bags, but Gretchen refused that idea, saying it would be fine, and we stepped into the confines of the elevator.

Twenty seconds is not a long time. Even smokers can hold their breath for twenty seconds without giving the action a second thought. We had no excuse. Gretchen repeatedly gagged and nearly dry heaved, and I would laugh at her and then take in a stomach-churning breath through my shirt. Halfway through the ride we were shouting at each other, reminding the other person how horrible the smell was. It was not only the most rotten smelling elevator ride of my life, but also the stupidest; why we didn’t shut up so we could hold our breath is beyond me.

Freedom: we launched ourselves out of the Tiny Room of Stench and outside. The truck’s music was loud, so we knew it was close, and we broke into an awkward, lurching run, the bags swaying and threatening to brush against our clothing. As we rounded the corner and bounded into the street my new jeans wiggled their way down my hips, and I shouted back to Gretchen to warn me if my pants were exposing anything indecent. “No,” she grunted, “but that’s really not a good look.”

We reached the alley and saw the truck at the end of the short street; shoving the bags onto the street, we both took a few steps away, shaking our heads and spitting out every synonym for “disgusting” or “stinky” that we could think of.

As we stood and waited for the truck, other residents were coming out to deposit their trash. They carried small Wal-Mart-sized bags neatly knotted at the top, and they quietly awaited the arrival of the truck. “Yeah, we’re obviously foreigners,” Gretchen snorted. Taiwanese eyes were surveying our garbage and, I’m sure, wondering how we managed to create such disgusting things in such large quantities. Little did they know, we’d only brought down the four worst bags. Three more were sitting in the atrium.

We thought we were safe, but then a breeze passed through the alley. As the stench washed over us, Gretchen grabbed two of the bags and began running down the street toward the truck; I followed her lead and cursed my jeans as they traveled south once again. Finally, after depositing the bags in the back of the truck and hoisting my pants back up to my hips, I rejoined Gretchen and walked back to our building’s front door. The elevator ride back up was stink-free since none of the juices transferred to the floor or walls, and we reentered our apartment to a slightly less toxic smell. We’d left the atrium door open in our haste, and a bag had leaked onto our floor before we realized it was wet. Gretchen washed her hands and continued cooking dinner as I cleaned up the mess near the atrium.

The entire ordeal lasted no longer than five minutes, but when something smells so terrible you’re digging your nose into your shoulder to breathe and wondering if you’ll need some kind of sterilizing injection after handling the offending materials, those five minutes take forever. Taiwan definitely doesn’t smell very good; the open sewers, abundance of cigarette smokers, exhaust from thousands of scooters, and other factors don’t allow it to smell like a tropical paradise. Taiwan and its people have nothing on a couple of girls from Texas, though.