09 July 2011

Day 5 = Laundry & Tiring of the Squatty-Potties

Ah, yes...it is at this point in the journey where the culture shock begins to make its presence known as the smog of all things unique, interesting, and exciting dissipates to reveal reality. Meal times are definitely a ritual in Chinese daily life, but eating has become exhausting. Would you consider encountering a Thanksgiving-style spread for each meal over the course of a week? Granted, I'm sure there are people out there who are willing to partake in Italian night at the 'Old Country Buffet' or 'Souplantation' every day for the remainder of their natural lives, but I have begun to miss the conveniences of preparing my own food and eating in a time frame less than 1.5 to 2 hours. The dishes are numerous, and the options endless as you spin the lazy-susan-wheel-of-food-fortune to find a chopstick-full of whatever delight has been presented. The pace is slow, and it is difficult to ascertain the portion size of each meal when you are placing 2-3 bites of food on your dish at a time, and the wheel just keeps on spinning, with dishes being added over the course of the one to two hours that are allotted for the meal. Last night, I took a break from this cacophony of culinary creations and just had a bite of bok choy, two pieces of spicy tofu...and millet wine, called Baiju (白酒bái jiǔ). However, this does not imply a lack of appreciation or enjoyment of the local food. We've encountered several regional cuisines, since Beijing is such an epicenter for various Chinese emigrants and immigrants from Southeast Asia. Korean BBQ was on today's agenda, with four of us at the vegetarian table. We broiled enoki mushrooms, sweet potatoes, daikon, potatoes, tofu and lotus root on a hot plate in the center of our table, cleansing our palates with lettuce leaves that arrived at our table in a basket.
This morning, I dug into the depths of my backpack for the pouch (I should write another entry just on how I have purposed many a pouch for this journey) containing my flax-seed oatmeal and yerba mate tea bags. I savored this ideal little breakfast with a spoon. It's the little, familiar items and moments that can make such a difference in keeping spirits positive and tummies in cooperative.
Speaking of familiarity, I made a selfish pact with myself that I could 'hold it' if I really needed to 'go' while on our visit to the Temple of Heaven this afternoon. This, of course, was warranted since I had courageously ventured into squatty-potty (i.e. 'hole in the floor for your business') land with the confidence of Bear Grylls, earlier this week. Why not? Full disclosure permitting, as a hiker/camper/backpacker/traveler for many years, I have made anywhere from the back-woods of the Mackinaw river to the peccary dens of the Amazon my potty. Ah, yes...to be one with nature, when nature calls. A hole in the floor? Surely this is a luxury compared to a dusty rock off a narrow path in the Andes or a port-a-potty at the starting line for a half-marathon in August! The first time, as most first encounters tend to be, was a novelty. "Would you look at that, Angela! There's even a pedal to flush and two impressions of feet, with anti-skid tape, marked so that you can be perfectly aligned. This is even better than you imagined. How difficult can this be?" At this moment, I realized that a skirt may have been a better choice, so I held it just in case...well, you get the idea. There are a few 'hazards' involved with said potties, and it certainly takes a few tries to get the hang of it. Each attempt has the potential for consequences that could not easily be hidden from the group, so I've just strategized my timing of water/tea intake and bathroom availability. I think this is perhaps one of the ways that traveling with a group has allowed me to be a bit less daring with even minor encounters such as these. This is almost like being potty-trained all over again. At this moment, I am empathizing with all of the toddlers waddling around in their plastic-creaking Pull-Ups, wondering the best way to mount/dismount the towering porcelain chair and hear the monumental drips that indicate that they have successfully completed this new right of passage that enables them to function along with the masses.
Finally, laundry! Here is a brief introduction to hand-washing your packed wardrobe:
Materials required:
1) Bag: I like to reuse a plastic bag (i.e. 'GAP') that can be disposed of at the end of the journey. This bag serves the purpose of the large, roomy hamper you may have in your home. This, however, tends to gather all of your garments in a multi-colored, fragrant wad until you are nearly out of underwear and rapidly approaching the 'it had better dry before the flight!' deadline. The timing of removing the items from the bag may also relate to the 'ripeness' of said clothing, and whether or not you catch a lil' whiff as you open the drawstrings to drop in the day's soiled socks.
2) Liquid Detergent - travel-sized: Woe to those who choose the powdered variety, as it just adds to the 'itch and crunch' factor which I will touch on later.
3) Water - preferably clean, although definitively not at the end of your first scrub.
4) Sink/Bucket
5) Clothesline/hangers/chairs - for draping
1) Plug the sink, and squeeze the liquid detergent into the sink.
2) Fill the sink with water, using your hands to swish the blue goo around as if you were the paddles of your Whirpool machine, enjoying its deserved vacation back at home.
3) Suds now arising, pat your hands on a little towel and gracefully open the drawstring of your hamper bag.
4) Whoops, forgot to mention that you should have plugged your nose prior to step three. No matter, you may now fish each item from the bag and place it in the soapy water, reminiscing of bygone days when this was the norm...or when you should have hand-washed that cardigan instead of shrugging your shoulders and dumping it in with the jeans because you couldn't have been bothered.
5) Agitate said garments a bit, your eyebrows raise as the water turns a delicate shade of puce - from the perspiration or smog, you're unsure, but you increase the pace of said agitation in order to remove all particles from your old t-shirts and undergarments.
6) Empty the sink, repeat processes above.
7) Wring out each item, placing them haphazardly on the plastic bag, and re-fill the sink with clean water for a rinse.
8) Channel the functionality of the washer, and create your own rinse cycle with appropriate amount of humming (if desired).
9) Drain the sink once more, and wring out each garment, placing them on the clothesline your hotel had the foresight to provide since you did not remember to bring yours from home.
10) Curse a bit under your breath when your unmentionables take up the entire clothesline, and four shirts still stare at you in their pile of sorrow from the sink, wondering how you will find a way to hang them up efficiently with only two hangers available.
11) Drape a shirt over the shower rod, then hear your mother's voice in your head, "Oh, Angela! Didn't you check first to see if it was dusty?" Check. It's indeed dusty.
12) Swear a bit under your breath, return said shirt to sink for a re-rinse.
13) Dust the rod, then drape three shirts over it and hang up the other two.
14) Tidy the bathroom so your roommate will be none the wiser.
15) Take the empty bag back into the main room, and spy your jacket on the bed. This is the same jacket that you had spilled a bowl of stinky tofu and noodles on two nights prior to this one, at the street market. Same jacket that was left for hotel staff to launder as it would take additional time to dry.
16) Curse a bit more under your breath. Shrug your shoulders, put it into the hamper bag, and vow to greet the front desk staff with its stinky splendour in the morning. Meanwhile, consider how to properly pronounce in Mandarin, "This stinks to high heaven, because I'm a clumsy tourist; please wash it for room 556 before Monday. Thanks!"
17) Repeat until you are willing to a) pay for your items to be laundered or b) dispose of items to make way for souvenirs and reduce future laundry episodes.DSCN2145

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