Likes And Dislikes

I like that here when it is quiet it is truly quiet. Probably this is unachievable in New York City, but in New Jersey it is common. Still it is not as quiet as in the rural area in the nearby state. That’s dead quiet. At night, one can hear the howling of coyotes from afar.

I like the fact that I don’t have to work with my hands since I have awkward hands and no coordination to speak of. I like the fact that I’ve escaped many life problems that my grandma and my mom suffered, but along the way new problems emerge and have to be dealt with.

There are a lot of likes but I am better at talking about my dislikes, probably because we take our likes for granted and pay more attention to our dislikes. I dislike kitchen appliances with creases, holes, and edges that can’t be easily cleaned. I guess the idea is sticking them in the dishwasher, which will do its job of ablution with high temperature water flow. Well, as a typical Asian immigrant, I don’t use a dishwasher. It’s almost a cliche to say this as it has been pointed out time after time in “Fresh Off The Boat” and those books written by children of immigrants. After so many years, I still can’t get used to the sound of the whirring of the machine and the rushing of the scalding hot water for an hour, just for the minor purpose of cleaning up a pile of dishes. What a waste of electricity and water. I am more comfortable with enslaving myself on dishwashing labor, preferably while listening to an audible book I wouldn’t listen to under other circumstances. Plates are the easiest to wash while a blender poses more challenges–all those little creases a sponge can’t reach. Even a brush won’t do a thorough job to get to all the little food bits stuck there. I only hope that these companies will hire more immigrant women to do their appliance design so that these hard to reach places are minimized.

Dislike #2: Laundry. I watched several episodes of Marie Kondo on Netflix a while ago and it is clear that more than half of the complaints of household chores concern laundry. Organizing the weekly laundry can be a pleasant job only if the closet is as bright and spacious as a living room. This is only possible if one belongs to the upper middle class, which is not achievable for an Asian immigrant if you are not as smart as Einstein, or if you don’t have special business connections with Asia, or if you don’t go to extreme measures to save money for a house beyond your income. For most of us, we deal with inadequacies. Just think about the cramped closet with boxes stacked up, with things hard to be taken out and put back in, with dim light, with impossible corners not cleaned for ages. I don’t want to think about it and I guess nobody wants to think about it if she can help it. So the unpleasant nature of the job is set even before the work starts, even before we add the trouble of allocating time, sorting, moving clothes, and folding up. Here Marie Kondo comes to the rescue, with her typical Japanese aestheticism that can somehow make you believe that gritty work is not really gritty at all, but an idealistic striving for beauty and perfection. I am not going to say I admire the Japanese cleanness and simplicity, because it is so well known and so obvious. I want to talk about their method of creating order and tidiness out of crowded space, their way of maximizing beauty with minimized budget and material. It’s reflected in Kondo’s program. By the way, I think she has relaxed her Japanese strictness when she expands her appeal to a wider market. I used to know two Japanese girls and two Japanese boys, and they have their strict standards for washing dishes and mopping floor, which I would not believe existed if I didn’t hear it myself. Following what I learned from Kondo, my weekly laundry has improved from being unbearable to bearable. I’ve made modifications to her scheme by doing the folding and organizing in chunks. Every two or three hours, I will work on it for ten minutes or so. The unpleasantness is not too long to spoil my mood.

This brings me to the question of how my grandma did it, raising 9 kids with very little money, doing chores all day long, washing clothes of the entire family with hands. I don’t know the answer to this at all. Probably her generation is much stronger. Alternatively I guess it is because she’s living in a place with a community kitchen and community sinks shared by five families. When cooking and washing, women talked, laughed, gossiped, quarreled. Often women had to coordinate their activities so that they didn’t crowd the sink area. Sometimes two women would schedule to wash clothes at the same time since the bigger items needed two people to wring out the water in each rinse. Also I guess she had my aunts for company when doing chores while my aunts were younger. By the time I grew up, my aunts all left home. So I wouldn’t know. I just can’t imagine my grandma living a life of a nuclear family. Somehow she would be uncomfortable or even depressed without the daily contacts with her neighbors. She was hard at hearing and her voice was louder than others; she spoke a language of the fishing village she lived in the first thirty years of her life and nobody in the big city could understand her, but that didn’t stop her from communicating with others. She talked a lot about things one should not do and often these things are applied to women only. What puzzled me was that she talked about these restrictions as if she’s proud of it, as if it’s a badge of honor she wore. This is probably the main reason that I consider her too ancient and out of date and irrelevant. Yet her life is always relevant. I wish I had talked with her more so that I can make more comparisons now.

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