Thursday, December 8, 2011

a dryerless existence

Yes, I’m a spoiled American who is accustomed to finishing the clothes-washing process by throwing the load into an electric dryer. Actually, we did hang dry our garments quite often when I was young—probably an economic decision, since, back then, no one used the term “green” to refer to anything other than a color in the rainbow. In fact, I was an expert in washing, drying and folding cloth diapers by the age of seven. But gradually, we employed the dryer more and more, and the clothesline was dismantled to make way for a garden.

Before moving to Hong Kong, I lived the life of an apartment-dwelling student, which meant hoarding quarters and embarking on late-night trips to the laundromat. I amassed a month’s worth of clothing so these treks could be as infrequent as possible.

When I arrived in my Hong Kong flat, I was pleased to discover my very own full-sized American washer and dryer. Yes, they are situated on the roof, which makes the laundry chore problematic in the rainy season. But—apart from one near-death experience in a thunderstorm—I’ve adjusted quite well to this arrangement.

Until the dryer died.

It began making a dreadful pounding noise a few months ago. I altered my washing schedule (which usually took place late at night or in the wee hours of the morning) realizing that my neighbors could be frightened by the racket from the roof. Eventually, though, the pounding stopped and the dryer quit altogether. I am in the process of obtaining a new one, but this is not a straightforward situation, as I am not the owner of my flat or the appliances therein.

In the meantime, I am attempting to join the millions of other Hong Kongers who hang-dry their clothing. In fact—though I’ve never located statistics to validate this statement—I suspect that the majority of the world does not use an electric dryer. Certainly most Hong Kong citizens live without one; they may not own a dryer at all, or they have a washer/dryer combo, which doesn’t remove moisture very effectively.

I began my journey of dryerlessness by utilizing the small portable drying rack that I’ve owned for years. Normally I use it only for a few lightweight items: one or two damp dishcloths, a wet swimsuit, or a hand-washed blouse. Now that it has become my primary place of hanging up laundry though, I’ve learned its limitations. A few wet bath towels and a pair of jeans caused the plastic connectors to break, and the entire rack collapsed in a heap on the floor.

My next foray into laundry hanging involved a search for a clothesline. I went to a nearby market filled with stalls of odds and ends: mostly home repair items and renovation supplies. My hunt was surprisingly difficult; as I walked from stall to stall, miming the act of hanging wet clothes on a line, I encountered head shakes and shrugs. Eventually, though, I located a short cable with plastic hooks on each end. I bought two. Strung together, they stretched nicely across my roof, and I successfully washed and dried a set of sheets a week ago. Freshly laundered linens, flapping in the sunshine and breeze left me with a sense of true satisfaction.

Until yesterday.

It was the first sunny day in awhile, so I decided to “run a load of darks,” to borrow my mother’s terminology. But the darks were heavy. Jeans, several t-shirts, and two pairs of slacks. As I clipped a clothespin on the seventh or eighth item, the line suddenly snapped and fell—that feeble plastic hook couldn’t handle the load. I managed to maneuver the end of the line back into place, only to have the other end jerk free and fall. The darks had fallen on the filthy, smog-laden rooftop twice and couldn’t be salvaged; they had to be sent through the washer again.

Armed with zip-ties, twine and scissors, I repaired the pitiful clothesline and then switched tactics. I hung up all my socks. Footwear takes up less line space, but uses up the clothespin supply prematurely; only half of the line was filled, but I was out of pins. It’s like the eight-count bun package and the ten-count hotdog package—they just don’t match up.

For years, I’ve raised my eyebrows at those who voluntarily display their unmentionables on highly-visible clotheslines all around the city. What are people thinking as they hang their whitey-tighties over a busy highway? Now I’ve become one of them. I gave up on the sock-drying and chose the next smallest clothing item: underwear. They were perfect for my pathetic clothesline: lightweight, could be hung with only one clothespin, and took up just the right amount of line space. Forget pride. I just want dry clothing.

Everything else had to be hung indoors: across chair backs, dangling from door knobs, tossed over the arm of a couch, lined up along the shower curtain rod, draped over the ironing board…and, in one creative instance, from a low-hanging light fixture.
I can’t wait to get a new dryer.