Is it Dirt?
It is dirty!!!
I remember when I first mentioned to my elderly mother that I might go to China to teach, she was aghast. She said - "It is so dirty!!!". Having been here for many months now over a 3 year period, I have some thoughts on this.
I am inspired to write this because of my "challenges" on this day, May 22st, 2010. This "Spring" has been difficult. The winter continued longer than normal and it was only a couple of weeks ago that we were comfortable enough with the weather to discard our heavy winter gear. In fact we had done so previously, but the cold weather unexpectedly returned and the rain came with it. It almost feels like we haven't had a sunny day for along time, but that's not true. Though sunshine and clear weather has been rare.
Carrying an umbrella here is almost mandatory - if it is not to keep the rain off, it is to keep the sun from damaging one's face, but as I ride an e-bike around campus, I must don something that looks like an over sized version of a Batman cape, and then the rain flies in my face, and as I don't have windscreen wipers on my eye glasses I am often blinded by the water on the lenses.
Still life goes on.
Today is Saturday. I'm going nowhere. For a change I am staying in my apartment. I will have a few visitors, but essentially it is a day to catch up on housework and some lesson planning, and just "veg out". The past few weekends have been full of visits here and there, and I'm rather exhausted.
I had the bathroom, kitchen, my bedroom and the room that doubles as a dining room (if I had guests) and lounge room (if I had a lounge suite), and TV room (if the TV worked well! In any case it is like the vestibule - every door opens into our out of the "loungeroom" and I needed to do the floor.
So first of all I swept everywhere and picked up as much "fluff" as I could. Then I used a damp mop to mop up all the remains. Then I used a dry mop in a futile effort to dry the floor. You see, the humidity is so high, that the floor will not dry. It cannot. I opened the balcony door in the hope that a breeze might help reduce the moisture clutching to my floor, but to no avail.
I wrapped a towel around a dry mop and tried again. Still it failed.
When I went into the bathroom and kitchen I noticed the dampness on the walls. They were wet. Very wet. I understand the bathroom might not have recovered from my shower earlier, but there were pools of water in some places.
Ah ha! This is what they call "the walls are crying". This is the time to Spring Clean. Now my walls have had several sob session, but I understand the meaning of the Chinese saying now. I know it is time to clean.
Try as I might I can't get anything to dry. Walls, floors etc. The washing was OK, as it was outside and there was (between rainshowers) some breezes. Though the washing is damp. As is everything.
True, it is hard to keep things clean here. Being so close to thousands of textile fabrics, the air is always full of fine particles of dust. You can dust your house/apartment and within hours the dust has returned. When I mop the floor of my balcony, so "wonderfully" tiled with white tiles that show up every tiny bit of dirt, I also note that there is sediment in the bottom of the bucket. Metal filings maybe? Or fine dust from the many rocks and bricks that are being processed all around us?
I've never seen so much cleaning action and so little result. Even on remote roads it is common to see someone decked out in safety gear with a hand made stick broom, sweeping the debris from the road - leaves, sticks, and humans' rubbish. They have a full time job just sweeping the roads. Now there are mechanical road sweepers here, but the logistics of getting a mechanical road sweeper in to do all the roads would be a nightmare. Human sweepers are probably far more efficient in more ways that one, but still with such a high population there is always dust and rubbish.
But it is the factories that are to blame for much of it.
Previous visits I have had a cleaner - someone to come in weekly and "clean" my apartment. This time I didn't bother. Really it is just as easy to do it myself, and anyway, I was never happy with the job. They don't do it like we do, and as her English was non-existent, it was difficult to change. I used to say "lick and a promise" cleaning. I must add that I was required to pay her very little for her toil anyway, and if I left more Yuan in the hope that it might inspire her to do a better job, she did not take it.
In any case, the cleaning is difficult. The mould is common. I have flushed bleached around with little result. It is as if the mould lives here and is not going to go.
In the school we have cleaners all the time, though not IN the classrooms. Sadly that task is left to students who don't know how to clean anyway. Sometimes the classrooms leave a lot to be desired! But the corridors and toilets are washed/cleaned several times a day - but again the humidity is an issue and the floors (all polished tiles of course) seldom seem to dry.
It can be an obstacle course.
The old cement rendered excuse for houses in the old narrow houtong time villages, are almost impossible to keep clean. Mould clings to the surface and it is common to see huge patches of black mould, and as the cement rendering is not always of good quality, the mould appears to pull the cement off the walls.
So to me it appears that those whose duty it is have given up in frustration. If you have a little shop, it is impossible to keep it clean. Some restaurants are spotless, while others are not so inviting, so one walks on. But it is hard to maintain the standard that we like in the west.
Clothes are often washed in the canals - with water that is so unclean we would not give it to our animals, let along do the household washing in it.
White never stays white - the "off white" of the coats of the doctors and nurses here at the school clinic are awful.
Along with the pollution, it is a big challenge for the Chinese people. I think mostly they try - but it is very difficult and unlike my generation they would not have been taught "domestic science" at school, and they would not have been taught.
It was reported recently that wealthy people in Shanghai are finding was to use Filipino cleaners - some people are able to do so - because they are better at cleaning.
With all the destruction and construction going on the dust from these sites is enormous and almost everyone lives near a construction site.
I washed all the windows (as best I could as they have security bars on the outside), but I noted with much disgust that after the next rainshower there was no evidence that the windows had been recently cleaned.
Vacuum cleaners are not used much - as few people have carpets. They'd soak up the dirt too much if you did have them, so the polished stone tiles are probably best.
When will it all end?
Reminds me of the story in one of the text books of the little boy explaining "water" to his teacher. It is a liquid that has no colour until I wash my hands and it turns black."