An encounter with laundry … and a wall

Chinese Laundry

It’s odd to see the screaming pronouncements “WASH! IRON!” through a sea of laundry along a busy alley. Sunday afternoon meant residents were out in the streets, and hanging every piece of clothing on bamboo poles, wooden pegs, thin string that hung from one house to the next. On a beautiful day, it could almost pass as a quirky art installation.

As I moved closer, the hiss of steamers and thudding of the washing machines grew louder. The shop’s plastic shields used for staving off the cold swayed to a soft ryhthm as the billowing steam bumped gently against it. Poke your head through them and the noise is deafening.

I approached hesitantly and began my inquiries despite her blank expression. Do you get mostly uniforms or civilian laundry? Do you do dry cleaning? Why, when most residents would prefer to save money, would they drop their clothing here? Can you really de-shrink a badly laundered sweater?

Her scowl was unfriendly and persistently silent to my questions. After a flicker at my camera, she stared ahead as if right through me.

Soon, the tumbling stopped, as did the spitting steamers. There was only the backnoise of the alley, and her unwavering wall that said, maybe you should return back to the street.

February 2013

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