I’ve seen a meme passed around on facebook for a few years that seems like a good idea. It’s a picture of a city street with fruit trees and the words “The trees planted on city sidewalks should be replaced with fruit trees, so the homeless have something to eat in the summer and fall.”
Sounds pretty good eh? Logical, kind, good for the environment. But here’s the thing. I live in a city that DOES plant fruit trees on the street, and it’s a friggin nightmare.
Xiamen is a tropical city in the south, so trees lining the street are VERY important to not die of heat exhaustion as you’re walking. Seriously, there are entire streets and bus stops I avoid in summer purely because there is no trees. And the majority of the trees in my neighborhood are fruit, specifically mango. Yep, we have fresh, delicious juicy mangoes literally falling into our hands we can eat anytime, for free. The city doesn’t stop anyone from picking them and eating them. They are for the public.
But read that sentence again: mangoes literally fall into our hands. But only if our hands are open and our faces turned up looking for the falling fruit. But if we aren’t looking up, if our faces are buried in our phone, or just staring straight ahead as we walk to work, those same mangoes still fall, and they either splat on the ground, or hit us on our head.
The next several weeks is mango season which is a dangerous annoying time that requires city workers to constantly be cleaning up mushy rip mangoes splattered all over the sidewalk (and then smushed into the pavement and spread all over with bikes and foot traffic.) If not cleaned up immediately the sticky, overripe fruit attracts both bugs, flies,bees etc, and rodents that also see it as an easy meal.
Of course humans can eat them, homeless or not. The other day I saw one fall next to a guy at a bus stop and he picked it up, looked it over, deemed it undamaged, peeled and ate it right there all before the bus arrived.
But with hundreds of mangoes on each tree, and dozens of trees, the humans, even in a city of 4 million, can’t keep up. Especially as most people are unwilling to eat a mango that has just fallen on the ground near the bus stop. I personally have never eaten a wild mango despite living here for seven years.
I rarely see homeless in Xiamen, but even if there was a legion on them, they would never be able to pick, much less consume, all the fruit. Local people DO pick the fruit regularly. I wrote about it on my blog a few years ago. They pick it by the bag and basketfuls. Yet there is still plenty to fall and mess up the streets.
And it’s not just mango. There are plenty of other fruit trees and bushes around the city. The other day Azhi and I were walking and came across a giant mess of a sidewalk buzzing with flies and a strong sickly sweet alcoholic smell. The culprit was a bell apple tree, they kind of look like small, twisted apples, and if you’ve ever been to an apple orchard in late fall you know the kind of smell and mess it made. The street would need to be not only swept but hosed down to clean up all the mess.
So while I like the sentiment of that meme, and I like the idea of fruit trees decorating a city, the truth is a far cry from reality. It’s actually kinda gross. But if you are a mango lover, and are willing to get a basket and long pole (or willing to climb trees) then Xiamen is the city for you!