Natalie Garro, 129 TCCS
I’m thinking about laundry. More specifically, I’m thinking about how giddy I felt when I learned the machine at the hotel would wash AND rinse all my clothes automatically, so I didn’t need to manually drain and refill the machine to rinse my clothes. I’m thinking about how bourgeois I felt doing my laundry in this fancy machine and then returning to my AIR CONDITIONED hotel room to hang my clothes out to dry (on every single available surface, because the hotel was out of extra hangers and dryers aren’t a thing in Thailand). I’m thinking about how comfortable I felt doing all of this.
I’m thinking about how backpacking across Thailand – riding the bus to Bangkok and taking the train to Kanchanaburi – for a work trip felt totally normal and (finally) relatively painless. I’m thinking about how the hot air on the train rushed in through the open windows, the breeze cooling the damp fabric hugging our sweaty bodies. I’m thinking about the extra weight two-weeks worth of business attire and running clothes added to my backpack. I’m thinking about how I brought my running shoes anyway.
I’m thinking about how, 6 months ago, this whole process would have made me very uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not a delicate individual. I’ve spent my fair amount of time trekking through forests and deserts, sleeping on dirt – beneath the stars – and carrying everything on my back. I still love to be comfortable. I like to make things as easy for myself as possible. I’ll spend a little extra for a seat (2nd class) on the train, for A/C on the bus, to save myself a long walk in the city. Back home, I’d always pack an extra blanket on outdoor trips, always pack a cooler full of beer, always spend a little more for the right wine, always indulge when I was able.
I’m thinking about how, back home, I would let my laundry pile up for nearly a month before washing anything. I’m thinking about how I’ve always found laundry day incredibly relaxing. I’m thinking about how I’d spend a whole day doing laundry (on a weekend when I finally got around to it), curled up under a blanket on the couch, surfing Netflix with the fire going, binge-eating cereal, pizza, leftover pasta, ice cream… whatever was in the house. I’m thinking about how it wasn’t a huge deal if I forgot a load in the wash overnight; Colorado was so dry, mildew was never a problem.
I’m thinking about how leaving my clothes damp in the wash – even for a couple of hours – here in Thailand, is a sure-fire way to smell like mold for the next month; and how I spend the entire day doing laundry if I only do laundry once a week. I’m thinking about how I occupy my time between loads with mopping frog and lizard poop off my floors, scrubbing away mold and rust from various household objects, boiling salt in my rice cooker to kill the fire ant infestation, endlessly sweeping floors that’ll need another sweeping within 36 hours.
I’m thinking about how my washing machine drains directly onto my bathroom floor, and if I let the whole thing drain at once, my bathroom floods; and how I now know the exact sound the drain makes just before it backs up so I can rush in and plug the machine before it floods my bathroom, how I go back 10 minutes later to let a bit more water drain.
I’m thinking about how I’ve found a perfect system for drying my clothes inside during rainy season (when I’m not able to leave my clothes outside on the line). I’m thinking about how most of my underwear now has holes in it, because I was too lazy to wash it by hand, and my rough machine pulled and ripped and frayed the fabric. I’m thinking about how nervous I was to wash my whites at my house for the first few weeks because the water I wash my clothes in is slightly brown.
I’m thinking about how all of this seems completely normal now. Barely a hassle.
I’m thinking about how most of my friends here – both Thai people and American Peace Corps volunteers – don’t have washing machines, and they do all their laundry by hand in large plastic tubs. I know it takes them most of the day, but they don’t get to clean the rest of their house between loads.
I’m thinking about how I eat some of the plants my soapy washing machine water drains into.
I’m thinking about adaptation and what “easy” really means, and how “easy” changes, and how so many of the things that seemed impossibly difficult when I first got here have become normal parts of my life… like doing laundry. Like living without toilet paper. Like speaking Thai. Like explaining why my skin isn’t white. Like explaining that I am originally from America. Like expressing my personality and values using a limited vocabulary in a foreign tongue. Like going weeks, even months, without a single conversation with the people I love back home because they’re always asleep when I finally have a moment to call. Like finding the people I can be myself around – and call friends – here in Thailand. Like learning to navigate the cultural differences I’ve encountered here – such as female independence, the concept of Face, power dynamics, and social hierarchy, and the prevalence corporal punishment. Like teaching. Like biking in 100 + degree heat to go to the market. Like buying food. Like existing as me in such a different society. Like being comfortable existing here.
I’m thinking about how I never had to think about any of this before coming to Thailand.
And I’m thinking I’ll probably be happy to get back to doing laundry the American way in 2-years time. Most likely. But then again, who knows?
Yes, I remember it would take me a whole day, too — usually Saturdays. The local children would often come and stare as I sat on my little plastic stool leaning over a wide round plastic basin scrubbing, squeezing, and twisting while beads of sweat would drip from my face into the wash water. Then, about six months later, karma kicked in: 2 doors down from me, a laundry opened! For a paltry (by US standards) 250Baht per month they would wash, dry, iron, and fold all my laundry. Yes, this even included socks and underwear. Hanging items to dry onto the ubiquitous barbed wire was, fortunately, not something they practiced. I would arrive home and moments later the laundry lady would be at my front door calling out to me to ‘Gehp pah!’. The contrast between the fresh clothes and me having just cycled 5 miles must have been stark. They would even wash my blankets on occasion. All of this with a smile… except for one near miss: once my laundry lady questioned whey there were different colored bit of yarn tied to the labels on the clothes than the colors I used. The look on her face was stern. I explained that this was because I had them laundered when I was in Bangkok. The smile then returned as being over a thousand km away in Narathiwat, she could rest assured that she did not need to worry about a local competitor.