One of the things about living here in China is the frequent epiphanies. Now I am not talking about anything that will make you famous or rich, but I have moments quite frequently where something just happens and that little cartoon light bulb over my head comes on as I look at the routine that is China. These are the kinds of moments where I realize that I learned or discovered something; the crazy thing is I know I have seen the same thing several times already and I am just now noticing it.
Take Laundry day for example. Laundry day has a whole new meaning here or more appropriately a very old meaning. I am amazed that in this country, that my countrymen worry themselves sick about, that I still see the most ancient of methods for cleaning clothes. Yes, I still see people cleaning their clothes by pounding them on rocks and washing them in the local streams.
The first time I saw a woman washing her clothes in the river I wasn’t even really willing to believe that it was something that was routine. I just imagined that this was someone that was being thrifty. It didn’t take me very long to realize however, that this is one of the most routine methods from the greater majority of the people that live in China outside of the “city” (there might be some debate as to what constitutes a city here but that is the subject of a blog I haven’t written yet).
So think about this, clothes were washed in this manner for millenniums until the invention of the Scrub Board in 1797. Advances have come fast and often since then and we are all better off because of those advances. In 1836 we got the first wringer, 1858 we go the first rotary washing machine, 1874 was the first machine that removed the water “automatically”. In 1904 we got the first electric washer, by the 1930s most washers were enclosed in a cabinet. The front load washer was introduced in 1947. It wasn’t until 1953 that the automatic washer sales exceeded the wringer washers. The washing machine now is so advanced that some of them can be both washer and dryer.
I am really not that old, not even 50 years old yet; yet, I remember my Mother using a wringer washer. I remember the wringer washer for a lot of reasons but the one comes to my mind first has to do with being scared of it. Now, the washer wasn’t scary but the wringer was. The winger washer we had, had an electric motor than ran the wringer. I must have been told many, many times not to let my hand get caught in the wringer. I actually can’t specifically remember hearing those words but my subconscious tells me I heard it a lot.
The process for how this thing worked comes down to pressure. The two rollers (some kind of rubber on a steel bar) run together and the operator would feed the clothes through the rollers and the rollers would press the clothes into a thin pancake. The rollers were on some kind of spring because they would expand a little to let the clothes go through them. They did keep a lot of pressure on the rollers and the danger was that you would get something caught in them and it would go through the rollers. The user would take the clothes out of the tub and feed them through the wringer.
Now the wringer was pretty cool to the little boy I used to be. I do remember even if it is vague that was the job that I always wanted to do, feed the wringer. I am certain that I didn’t get to do it unsupervised very often but know it must have happened. Considering that I have 9 younger brothers I am certain that the older boys got to do this with at least a little unsupervised time. I do remember that my younger brother (he is 15 months younger than I am) did get his arm caught in it. I am not too scarred from that experience so he survived it without too much wear, he did have some kind of abrasion on his arm around the elbow where the machine just kind of peeled out because it couldn’t get past that point. Mom had to stop the machine and take the mechanism apart to get him out. I would also bet that the wringer washer was replaced shortly after that because I don’t remember it when we moved to the new house and that had to be about 1968 or 1969.
I am certain that this kind of wringer is the part of the saying related to being in trouble. You may have heard something about a wringer and a female part, think an “abusive mammogram” and you get the point. I would suspect that getting out of that predicament took some determination; once they awoke from the coma induced by the pain inflicted by the wringer. We can only guess that it must have happened more than once given the prevalence of the saying.
I know that laundry has never been a favorite task for generations of people (mostly women I would guess). I have a new appreciation of what it “USED” to be like having seen how it was done for the better part of the history of man. I sure do appreciate that little 7kg front load washer sitting in my apartment a lot more. It sits inside my apartment and washes my clothes when it is cold and snowing just as easily as it does them in the heat and warmth of summer.
I appreciate the full size washer I have in America even more too. I don’t think I should ever complain about doing laundry anymore. But then I am sure I will find something to complain about if I want to. Like Ironing.