doing laundry in China

I’ve never seen anyone use a clothes dryer in China. While most of us have washing machines in our apartment units (which is a pretty big luxury, actually), no one has a dryer. As far as I’m concerned, they do not exist anywhere in this country.

This means that our laundry always has to be air-dried. On our balcony,  there is a long pole along the top, and we can use special hooked sticks to hang our clothes up there. In the picture, you can see my dad demonstrating this very special skill during his visit in December. (I’ve never done this myself, because I’m always afraid that my clothes will get blown away in the wind.)  Many Chinese townies and campus employees hang their laundry — blankets, underwear, baby clothes — outdoors on playground monkeybars, trees, and traffic barriers and wherever they can drape and hang stuff. I sure love the sight of a tighty whitey hanging on a tree branch. It looks so… innocent.

Anyway, I never thought too hard about why Chinese people don’t have dryers until recently, when I came across this fascinating story in the Washington Post about why clothes dryers received such a tepid welcome in this country. According to the article, it’s partly because apartments are small and dryers and electricity are expensive. But more important reason seems to be that Chinese consumers don’t trust dryers because they’re not as natural as drying in the sun: “Sunlight, most Chinese will tell you, leaves clothes cleaner and healthier to wear, and is better for the fabric, than a machine.”

I wonder how many other Asian cultures feel this way about sunlight, because my mom (who is Korean and lives in Seoul) has always said the same thing about drying clothes in the sun. And as far as I know, most Korean homes, despite the country’s eagerness to adopt just about any other form of technology, don’t have dryers, either. But I think Koreans seem to be able to avoid hanging their undies all over town because apartments are built with fairly spacious, enclosed balconies that many families use as their laundry room of sorts.

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