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The Luxury of the Mindless Task

rain 78 °F
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Doing laundry for most people is a mindless task. We don’t have to think about what we are doing because we have done it so many times. Some of us make a fuss about it, sorting colors and washing, rinsing and drying at the proper temperatures. Others like me just chuck everything in at the same time, normal cycle, warm. Either way, it’s a routine that doesn’t require any thought. I love a good mindless task. I’m getting something done without having to think.

Here in China though I’ve had to relearn laundry. The washing machine sits unplugged out on the deck. To use it I need to plug it in (can do), put my clothes in, mix up some soap and water in a bucket, choose the correct setting, pour in the soapy water and hit the start button. Choosing the correct setting is a challenge since the writing is all in Chinese characters. I don’t really care what setting I wind up with though. Mixing up soapy water seems pointless. Why not just put the soap into the machine? Why is the washing machine on the deck? Already my normally mindless task is requiring thought.


There’s more. The Chinese do not wash their socks and underwear with the rest of their clothes. So I wash my socks and underwear by hand in the bathroom sink like everyone else. I have my own wash basin to use. There is a special bar of laundry soap and a brush. As I brush skid marks out of my underwear over the bathroom sink I wonder why on earth I have to do this. There is a perfectly good washing machine out on the deck.

But there is no dryer. Everything is hung out on the deck to dry. Depending on the weather and the fabrics in your clothes it will take two hours to a week for everything to dry. The drying contraption is pretty sophisticated though. A couple of metal frames with hangers that can be cranked up out of the way into the deck ceiling adds some pizazz to the whole laundry process. Mounted on these frames are two “sock wheels” that have clips for socks or other small items. The Chinese technology for drying clothes easily outdoes American technology if you don’t count dryers.

I have been in China now for three weeks. I have yet to find a mindless task. Brushing my teeth is normally mindless, but here I have to use bottled water when I do it. Taking a dump? Nope. Can’t flush the TP and there’s a good chance I’m using a squat toilet. Shower? Gotta plug in the water heater and open the valve. I anticipate that in a few months or a year after I have been assigned to my site I will be able to develop and resume a regimen of mindless tasks. In the meantime the time normally spent doing mindless tasks has become time to contemplate Chinese culture.

Posted by dfilipia 09:56 Archived in China Tagged china sichuan peace_corps

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and now you make me think! What you call mindless tasks are the result of conveniences. That is something quite notable in US: how everything is 'convenient'. I, for one, find myself at time puzzled and/or annoyed by the apparent obsession about making a convenience out of any task in our life. Just the other day yet another occurrence of this had me thinking of The little prince by Saint Exupery: when someone was suggesting to take a pill to quench the thirst and save the 42' spent to go to the fountain... and what would you do if you had 42'? "I would walk very slowly to a fountain" [forgive if is not fully accurate I haven't read it in years!] Why would one need to live so much of ones life in a distracted and mindless mode? Isn't it a bit like cooking on a stove or on a campfire? Isn't the campfire so much more fulfilling and fun? We don't need the best-est all the time....I hope you find a good balance between tasks and automatic pilots and take full advantage of a life in which your presence is required. :-) and keep blogging: I love to hear from you!

by Fiammetta Castaldi

I think mindless tasks are not necessarily the result of conveniences. If you had the hardest life in the world I think you still would have mindless tasks. For me they are a source of comfort and this is what I was writing about.

To your point Ftta, I think that if someone's life is nothing but mindless tasks there is a problem there. And yes, a life of comfort (the American lifestyle perhaps) may breed an overabundance of mindless tasks.

You're right. Balance is the key.

by dfilipia

I really enjoyed reading your blog. Keep 'em coming! Sounds like everything is going well.

by Dorothy Lowery

Not a whole lot of mindless activities in Bali, except when it rains, which can be a lot. Nothing a good surf can't cure. I left most of the mindless activities at home in southern California - mindless traffic jams, mindless tv, mindless food...

by Balifornian

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