woensdag 15 februari 2012

The washer people of Singapore have gone underground

As many people have assured me over the years my brain works in mysterious ways. "Spaghetti-phrasing", the professor charged with the thankless task of keeping my thesis within reasonable boundaries, used to call it. He meant that thoughts and sentences would seamlessly morph into other thoughts and sentences, circle back, wander off, pick some strawberries on the way and as often as not come to sensible conclusion.

I like to call it "associative thinking", or "the fountain of all creativity".

All this is to explain why, when mighty media woman S. asked about doing laundry in Singapore (this itself a tangent of her own frustrations with the effects Guatemalan washing had on her wardrobe), I suddenly started wondering about the naming of MRT-stations in Singapore. (MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transport, the Singaporean equivalent of the London Underground or the New York Subway.) I was associating.

At walking distance from our house on the edge of Little India stands Dhoby Ghaut MRT-station, built in 1987 to service the North-South or red line, the very first in Singapore. Now it's the largest station on the island, interconnecting the North-South line with the North-East or purple (also "our") line and the Circle or yellow line. Dhoby Ghaut is a hindi term, meaning "place of the washermen".

In Mumbai there is also a (very famous) dhoby ghat:

It is the place where washermen work and live. All hotels in Mumbai get their laundry done here, as do most of the millions of middle class and up Mumbaikers. Apparently the dhobi whallas have such an intricate way of signing the clothing in order to get it all back to the original owner on time, that murder investigations have been solved by detecting the laundry tag. In the middle you see the cement basins in which they do the laundry and the sound they make while slapping sheets and other textile items until they're dry would definitely answer mighty media woman S.'s enquiries into the how and why of the speedy deterioriation of her unique fashion investment pieces.

However, that is not what Dhoby Ghaut in Singapore looks like:

Obviously, on top of Dhoby Ghaut is a mall (Singapura Plaza to be exact). Not only that, but Dhoby Ghaut is built at the very start of Orchard Road, the shopping Mecca of the Far East (although sources tell me that if you want cheap or trendy stuff, you really should head over to Hong Kong). Just to be completely clear on this: there was no laundromat, washerperson or any type of textile cleaning in sight.

So I wondered: why is this MRT station called after an Indian laundry ghetto? I called the Land Transport Authority, where a very nice woman answered the phone and directed me onwards to the superb National Archives. (I am In Love. Expect much more on Singaporean history forthwith.)(Also, expect my use of idiosyncratic and quite possibly often wrong use of outdated English words to upsweep.) 

Long, long ago, which means at least a few decades, there used to be stream next to Little India, where the Singaporean Indians live. Next to this stream, which now has been properly regulated into Stamford Canal, there was a grassy bank. The next bit you've probably already guessed: this is where the Indians would do their washing - hence this area was known as dhoby ghaut, the place where the washing gets done. 

Times have changed. Every morning a woman comes by our apartment, asking for our laundry. Out the front door a truck awaits the arrival of the laundry bags to take it to high tech laundromats (or so I imagine, since there isn't enough space on this island to wash and dry our daily sheets - yes you read that correctly, daily - by hand). However, this truck does not receive our clothing, because we'd have to pay per item for the laundering and we are Very Cheap. So we do our own laundry:

Sometimes, if I'm not paying enough attention and E. has been playing around, we boil our clothing. Surprisingly, there have been no ill effects so far. Also, sometimes we use the dryer, thereby lengthening the laundering process by a couple of hours. E. enjoys this tumbling motion very much. However, she also enjoys helping me by spreading the clean laundry about the house, thus innovating my boring, old-fashioned ways of simply hanging the stuff:

This is the view from our bed. Huh, so where do you keep your bicycle then?

1 opmerking:

  1. http://darcela.blogspot.in/2012/09/st-regis-singapore.html?showComment=1375535031134#c9057839445843727242