Taking a trip through the household cleaners aisle at a supermarket in Taiwan, be it Carrefour, RT Mart or some other brand of emporium, one finds products in large plastic jugs. Laundry detergent, bleach, fabric softener, window cleaner, toilet cleaner and floor cleaner. Each is labeled not only in large characters, but also, somewhere else, in English, and most importantly, with a representation of what it does. Window cleaners show sparkles, bleach shows whiteness, and fabric softeners fluffy animals. Floor cleaners show mops and shiny floors.
On shelves directly adjacent to where those jugs are on sale, plastic bags of the same liquids are offered at lower prices. You take these home, snip off the corner, and with the help of a steady hand or a funnel (in my case), refill your jug. I thought fondly of those jugs and bags when cleaning the floors in our Michigan home today.
Taiwan is dusty. Our windows were usually open, too. I vacuumed and mopped every Saturday morning. Usually it was needed by then, but if, for some reason like being out of town, I skipped, the floors would be super-needy the next time Saturday came around. My sequence was, “pick up, dust the furniture, vacuum the floors, clean the bathrooms, mop everywhere (I used a string mop and a bucket with a wringer), collapse in a pool of sweat.” Not elegant, but it got the job done in a couple hours.
We don’t need to do the floors nearly so often here, partly because there’s less dust, and partly because no window has been open for 6 months (unless we burned something on the stove.) Besides, we have a thing called a “Swiffer” that, at the touch of a button, sprays a little floor cleaner and then picks up the dust as you “swiff” it across the floor. It’s sure easier than a string mop, but I just don’t feel that it gets things clean.
Today I decided to use a bucket, hot water and a string mop that I bought when we equipped the house. But, I had no floor cleaner (like I would have had in Taiwan). Laundry detergent is too sudsy, and the stuff you squirt into the sink when washing dishes is even sudsier (is that even a word?). Then, like the swiffer, something else we didn’t have in Taiwan came to mind. This house has an automatic dishwasher. Those little pods of non-sudsing chemicals that you throw into it are perfect. One of those in a bucket of hot water yielded a very clean floor and a bucket of murky water down the drain afterward.
Learning substitutions for what had been familiar before we went to live in Taiwan was part of becoming local there. Learning substitutions for those things is what makes the adventure of America new again.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.