Saturday, January 24, 2015

something far away


The second time I visited Singapore, in 2006, I flew alone the twentysomething hours to meet with my husband who had been there for a week already, working. I had plans for our time together - botanical gardens, night art festival, tour of Christmas lights, visiting an old Catholic convent and Snow City, lots of eating & drinking & taking probiotics. We did all of those things, and they were wonderfully memorable (partly because of how much we sweated through every outing). But like with most vacations, the mundane can become the sublime, too, if you're paying attention. 

I wanted to wash some clothes during our stay and after an hour-long adventure in miscommunications with the hotel staff - plus one confusing trip to a restricted area - I realized there was actually no place in the building where I was allowed to do it on my own, and the hotel service would cost somewhere in the realm of the US national debt. So Stu & I took a cab with our two bags of sweat-soaked garments to the mall and handed them to the old woman at Washy Washy, an even hotter place than the sidewalk outside, where the only area not taken over by clothing was our space at the counter. It felt a little scary considering I had only the outfit I was wearing and maybe one more left in my suitcase at the hotel, but my husband had had good luck here the week before. The old woman smiled & nodded at Stu like they were old friends as she grabbed our bags, pulled at a few items on top, then tossed them to a corner full of other bags, shouting in less-smiley Chinese to a worker.  We had to prepay our 22SGD, which was so significantly cheaper than the hotel rate that I once more doubted I'd see my clothes again. 

We had lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ© (because, Americans) then shopped along the main road. I considered replacing all of the clothing I'd just handed over to Washy Washy but settled on just one Esprit shirt and a cute long denim skirt that ended up being very difficult to walk in. 

I'm pretty sure I slept fitfully that night, worrying about whether I'd get my clothes back, if they'd be wearable (I had a feeling no one was looking at labels about dryer heat recommendations), if I would have to spend my teacher pay on a new wardrobe. But when we returned to the launderer, the old woman smiled & nodded in recognition and went right to our bags. Everything inside was clean and folded with care, nothing was missing or misshapen or shrunken; in my relief, I left an embarrassing tip. 

I tried many times to toss out the receipt for our laundry but something kept it in my wallet. Every time I saw it, I remembered how much I loved Singapore (despite the breathtaking heat) and I felt accomplished somehow. I felt like an adventurer, finding a way to get something done without taking the easier, expensive, tourist way. I realized later no one at Washy Washy had spoken English, yet we did great business together. 

I hope I can go back someday. 

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