Monday, February 1, 2010

Hang them out to dry

I hate laundry. I hate it so much that I own more than a month's worth of underwear just so I don't absolutely have to do it so often.

Yes. I consider underwear the one thing that cannot be worn more than once between washings. Everything else passes a sniff/stain test.

Call me gross, but I guarantee that I get to relax way more often than you do as you shuttle back and forth to the washing machine with your basket full of almost clean jeans.

Much like everything else in life, Singaporeans do laundry a little different than we do.

You see those poles of damp clothes hanging out of the window of the HDB flats?

That's the Singaporean equivalent of a dryer. Most of the country's residents cannot afford a dryer (and sometimes a washer) and have to tackle laundry the "old-fashioned" way. However, since nobody has a yard to put a clothesline up, they have to attach poles under their window and hang the clothes to dry that way.

So naturally, this rose up all sorts of questions inside of me. Big shocker there, right?

I asked the girls at work my random, crazy, American girl questions:

Me: So what if your clothes fall off the pole?
Them: Why would they? You attach them with clips or loop the sleeves through, lah. It rarely happens.

Me: Doesn't it take forever to have to wait for it to dry before you hang more up?
Them: No lah! You do a little everyday only so that it doesn't take so much time all at once.

Me: Will you ever buy a dryer? It's quicker, isn't it?
Them: They're very expensive here. Plus, the electricity bill would be to the roof. (Electricity in Singapore is about five times more expensive than it is in Kansas. That's also the reason most people don't have air conditioning.)

Me: Don't birds poop on it?
Them: No, crazy girl! That never happens. What I don't like is when the people above me hang their dripping wet sheets over my clothes that are almost dry. Ai-yo! I get so mad.

I actually could probably handle this part of Singapore life. I tend to hang dry most of my clothes on a clothes rack even though I have a dryer. I find the clothes don't shrink, lose their shape and generally last a lot longer that way.

I could not live without a washing machine though. When I do finally do laundry, I want to spend as little time as possible on it. I have no patience for soaking, scrubbing and wringing bedsheets.

I don't even think I have the muscles required for that kind of work.


Brad Farless said...

I seriously miss having a dryer. A load of laundry used to be a 2 hour affair. Now it's a 2 day affair. I hate doing laundry now because it's just so time consuming.

You're definitely right about the electricity bills here. It seems like with even the most basic, light usage of the electricity the bill would be sky high. That's one reason why we don't use a microwave anymore and only watch TV rarely. We also don't use lights anymore until it's almost too dark to see in the house. We also only run the a/c between around 10 PM to 8 AM. Even with that, the bill is what would be considered high in the US.

Deidre said...

I only use my dryer for washing my sheets - because I only have one pair and what do you sleep on while your sheets are drying?

But I do air dry the rest of my clothes...I hate laundry like you and even though some of my undies have holes in them I still won't throw them away because um - then I wouldn't have enough to last a LONG time between laundry days.

Anonymous said...

do you know if electricity is subsidized in usa? price differential of 5 times is a lot!

Megan said...

Deidre, I too own underwear that I'd be horribly embarrassed to admit how long I've had them. :)

Anon, I don't believe it is. I'm sure there are programs for people who are struggling, but I was never on one. To illustrate electricity prices in Kansas, I'll lay out what I paid my senior year in college:

During the hottest months of summer (July, August), my three roommates and I each never paid above $80 a month (so $240 altogether). Now this was for a 102 square meter, two story apartment. We had a microwave, central air conditioning, a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, and electric stove/oven. Also, three girls who were afraid of the dark and flat hair lived there. We had every light on at all times, constantly used hair dryers, flat irons and curling irons. We used a lot of electricity.

It cooler months, we would only pay around $35-$50 a piece.

So when I hear about prices here in Singapore, I'm utterly astounded.

On a side note, this was in Kansas, where utilities tend to be lower in price. I'm sure NYC or LA charge a lot more for these types of things.

Brad Farless said...

@Anon: I think the reason it's cheaper is because there are more electricity plants available to create power compared to Singapore. I also think there's government regulation to maintain low prices. Electricity is important in the US, especially in areas where it gets really hot and really cold. Even so, older people with low incomes sometimes can't afford it and die every year due to heat or cold exposure in their homes.

Another thing I've considered is that Singapore electricity might be higher priced because they put more effort into maintaining and upgrading the infrastructure.

michelle | bleeding espresso said...

I actually just wrote a post and mentioned something along these lines...I've been an expat in Italy for almost seven years and recently went back to the US for the first time in six. Same deal here with dryers (and in most of Europe from what I understand)--*way* too expensive for the electricity so everyone line dries; then I found out when I went to the US that I actually don't like dryers any more for the reasons you stated.

But for the record, every now and again, I do find some bird poop on a sheet (always a sheet for some reason!) so you wash it again. A pain, but there's really no other choice. Not having a dryer does mean that I wash more frequently--but so does the size of my washer! They're not nearly as ginormous like those in the average US house :)

I could not, however, live without a washing machine. Washing clothes by hand would get old *very* fast for me...I'd sacrifice food to pay for *that* electricity!

Love the photo!

My Three Sons said...

I know people here in MO that prefer to hang thier clothes because they say they smell more fresh than the dryer. My grandmother was the same way. She always left the dryer alone and hung hers. The only time I saw the clothes go in the dryer were if it was snowing or raining.

Yi Lin said...

Hi! I chanced upon your blog upon returning home to SG after 10 months of touring the Americas. It certainly is an interesting peek into an expat's mind.

Re owning a dryer: it is not that Singaporeans cannot afford a dryer. It is simply an unnecessary appliance in a sunny tropical country where a huge daily dose of good ol' sunshine is free of charge. Ditto for every single country in South East Asia. And there are thousands of people who live on landed property here - and yes, we do hang laundry up in the yard.

As for owning a washer (or washing machine, as we call it): everybody I know owns one. Given how much Singaporeans love shopping and the need to launder our clothes frequently due to the hot humid weather, it is impossible not to have one. We only handwash clothes at the instruction of the washing label on selected clothing items.

Re your US$566 electricity bill Tweet & @Brad: saving electricity by not using the microwave and walking around in near-darkness seems rather extreme. Our utilities bill (gas, water, electricity) per month for a 110sqm apartment housing 5 adults comes to US$160. Even if we were to use air-conditioning nightly, our expenses are nowhere near a hair-raising US$500. I agree that utilities charges in SG are not low, but perhaps you could track your energy usage at home to figure out what's really causing your bill to skyrocket, for e.g. extra bar refrigerators, wine-cooling cabinets, large plasma TVs, etc.

Megan said...

Yi Lin,

Thank you for your insight.

As for the electricity bill, I think you missed our point. The point was to show how much it costs to maintain our American lifestyle (i.e. numerous freezers, constant air con, microwaves, dishwasher, dryer, washer, etc.) here in Singapore. Yes, I can definitely find ways to lower it, but it would require going without a lot of the "comforts of home" that Americans are used to. I'm sure your electric bill is much lower than mine. Then again, I'm sure you don't have air con running all day or two freezers. I'm not saying the American way of life is better or worse, I'm just showing how it's different and how it's near impossible to maintain certain customs in other parts of the world.

As for not being able to afford a dryer, I must disagree. I know several Singaporeans who specifically told me that they do not own a dryer because they simply can't afford to either buy or maintain the costs to have one. I'm sure a lot of Singaporeans choose not to, and that's great! The greener, the better! However, there are many that cannot afford it.

Brad Farless said...

Ya, Yi Lin. I agree with Megan's response to your comment.

Also, what 566 USD bill are you talking about?

If I lived in Singapore like I did in the US I might have a 566 USD per month electricity bill, but since I'm not able to pay that much monthly just for electricity I've adapted to the local way of living. No choice. I miss the American way of doing things though.

Also, electricity is more expensive here on average, so I think the lack of dryer use is less because of Singapore being a sunny country and more because people need to live within their means and they can get away with not having one.

Oh, and we call it a washing machine too. "Washer" is just the short version so we don't have to say the whole word all the time.

Anonymous said...

American way of doing perhaps that's why the US is ranked no. 2 in the world in terms of CO2 emissions? In this respect, it's a good thing that you're not living the way you were in the US.

Brad Farless said...

Your assessment isn't really fair since it's just a flat rate that doesn't take population into account. Per capita, the US ranks #9.

Anonymous said...

what a load of rubbish about singaporeans not being able to afford dryers. Singaporeans in general give oodles back to their economy through their spending habits...i hardly think a dryer would be seen as a prohibitive expense. It is just a utility that they can do without when they can dry their clothes in an hour on a pole. Save money on dryer, got more money to spend on clothes! Singaporeans are practical in this regard. HDB utilities are also much lower than those in condos.

Megan said...

No one is knocking anyone's way of life here and I think people are getting a little sore here.

In Kansas (where I'm from), you absolutely must have a dryer, otherwise, you'd never be able to get clothes dry in the winter months. It's not like clothes will dry when there's snow on the line and things freeze the moment you step outside! So it's not fair to say that our ways are environmentally irresponsible. Sometimes they're necessary for our way of live.

Just as pole drying is the way of life in Singapore.

I hope people remember that the purpose of my blog is to simply point out the differences and highlight the challenges my family faces as we adjust our way of life in an entirely different culture. I don't believe either way is wrong or right. I do believe that each way is necessary for the people in the respective cultures to function.

Anonymous said...

my opinion?? too much generalisations above...

having a dryer in sunny Singapore would be like having an AC with a heater function... in context of the local lifestyle of course...

and dun take the literal explanation by Singaporeans as gospel... many things here are measured in terms of material costs against intangible gains...

as such, since a dryer, to Singaporeans, is not going to improve their lifestyles by leaps and bounds, and it's not dirt cheap to begin with, most would deem the possession of such an item excessive and hence, expensive...

now compare that to car ownership and you'll realise that cars here are easily twice as expensive as in the States but Singaporeans just love their cars... depite the small land size and various taxes and levies too...

which brings me to the cost of fuel (which directly affects cost of electricity)... since Singapore does not produce oil, petrol and electricity prices will never be anywhere close to that in the States... period. Just the number of refineries in CA alone would probably outnumber what you'll find in Singapore.

I believe no one here is trying to say who or what is better than the other... just that we should note that what we see, hear, observe and interpret in a foreign land should not be taken as the absolute truth until it is indeed proven so...

Anonymous said...
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lance said...

you have got to be kidding when you say that most people don't have airconditioning, sheesh.

Brad Farless said...

Lance, most people do have air conditioning but it's not central a/c the way we're used to it in the US. The air conditioning only works in the bedrooms generally and the electricity is so expensive that you can only have them on at night for short periods.

If you stay at home you spend most of your day sitting in the heat. Most people get around that by spending their days in malls, cafes or libraries where they can still surf the net via free, gov't provided wi-fi, and enjoy a/c.

Beau Lotus said...

Hi, I've lived in the States and loved your big dryers - but then it's really not very friendly to the environment, is it? It's interesting to note the general obsession with having things as big as you can have them.

Could afford dryers and air conditioners and have them all - but will always hang my clothes out when the sun is shining. Because we believe that it's healthier. Even my European Hub believes in it, he gets upset when I try to use the dryer. Says the smell of the sun on the clothes is amazing.

Electricity in Sgp is cheap - try living here in Italy.