Friday, April 15, 2011

Chinese Laundry

I recently watched a talk, given by Hans Rosling at TED, about the luxury of laundry machines in countries outside of the United States. He recounts his first experience with a washing machine and how his parents saved for years before they could afford this luxury and how his grandmother was incredibly fascinated with it. And although his talk mainly focused on the environment and social issues, like poverty and politics, I was able to understand the anecdote he tells in the beginning of the talk about his mother and grandmother. Washing machines, I have learned, are indeed a luxury in countries outside of the United States.

One of the main things my mother warned me about China before I left for the summer was the fact that there will be more times than not I had to hand-wash my clothes.

"Make sure you NEVER leave a big pile of laundry like you do at home! You're going to have to hand-wash your clothes, or at least give them time to line dry outside!" my mother would bellow at me, one point in a list of points she kept on telling me about China.

When I was in Shanghai, I lived with my aunt. I lived in her modest 3-bedroom 2-bathroom apartment in Downtown Puxi, along with 2 cousins and uncle. In the apartment, there was one very modest and small washing machine that was located in the biggest bathroom. It held half the load of the laundry machines I was used to having, and I had to share it with 4 other people. And there was no dryer. The travesty! The feeling of warm and soft clothes fresh out of the dryer had become a luxury to me.

Wet clothes were hung outside on a clothes line, and throughout the city, in almost every apartment building, you were able to see the distinctive line of shirts, pants, underwear, and lingerie all hanging outside for the world to see, billowing in the wind. And what was worse was that in the humidity of Shanghai, clothes did not dry for days. DAYS! And let's not mention the crunchiness of your laundry after they're dry... some clothes miraculously retain the shape of its hanger because the cloth had become stiff while drying.

In Beijing, I stayed with my friend Ella, who lived in a luxurious apartment by Tiananmen Square. Luxurious and also ridiculously expensive. And she had both a washing machine and a dryer in her apartment. Both a luxury in a luxurious apartment--but the instructions to the dryer were in Italian, not Chinese. Although hilarity ensued, this was indicative of the obscurity of something as simple as a dryer was in China. I say "simple" very relatively; to me, it was interesting how something I thought was very basic to life such as a dryer would be such a luxurious. It was also impossible to find dryer sheets. According to Ella, the store owner gave her a really strange look and had to go all the way back into the store room to get dryer sheets.

To sum this all up, one of the lessons I learned in my experience is that the "magical washing machine" is just that. To what seems as something so simple and basic to everyday life in the United states is a magical device that is a luxury in another country.

How about that, huh?