Snapshot: Laundry Day in Shanghai

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Hanging laundry out to dry is an everyday chore around the world. The practice is especially common in Asia, where the cost of electricity can be astronomical. Having an electric clothes dryer in Tokyo would be the height of luxury. I was expecting to see clothes fluttering in the breeze when we moved to Shanghai, though not quite in the manner I found. Instead of neat rows of laundry in front of windows, Shanghainese take a more creative approach.

Clotheslines are strung up between telephone poles, tree trunks and across sidewalks with little regard for pedestrian safety. Laundry will be hung from street signs, tree branches and electrical wires. Modesty is also not a concern, with underpants proudly displayed for all the neighbors to see. Unsurprisingly, shoes need washing from time to time, and these get arranged on a variety of flat surfaces and left unattended while they dry. I’m astounded these items don’t get stolen!






This scene looks ripe for an electrocution.






Which snapshot is your favorite? Tell me in the comments!

Heather Hall

Heather Hall

Passionate about travel, food, history and animals, Heather brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along. The Virginia native has lived abroad since 2011, and has visited more than 40 countries. Follow along as she explores the cultures and cuisines of the world on her blog, Ferreting Out the Fun!

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22 thoughts on “Snapshot: Laundry Day in Shanghai

  1. The up-close-and-personal laundry lines are perhaps my most vivid memory of walking the neighborhoods in Shanghai and Xi’an. You sure captured some great shots!

    • Thanks Jan! The randomly hanging laundry will be one of my favorite memories of Shanghai. Looking back on this post will always make me smile!

  2. You have less shame than me which I didn’t believe was possible when it comes to taking photos of other people’s underwear! I’ve never stopped right underneath long johns and leggings though to take a photo for fear of being dripped on so i think that’s my favourite. Great perspective on that photo btw.
    Nancy recently posted…LatelyMy Profile

    • Thanks Nancy! I get weird looks from passers-by when I stop to take photos of laundry, but I just find it so interesting and amusing!

  3. I like the one with the purple underwear. Makes you kind of wonder who wears the clothes.

    • That’s one of my favorites as well. It’s just so funny and unexpected to see underwear hanging from a street sign on a busy road! I love the cavalier attitude.

  4. This is definitely a different approach than I’ve seen in my travels, but I love it. There’s something so fascinating to me about hanging laundry. Even when I hang my own clothes on my clothesline in the back yard, I feel hypnotized by it. People think I’m crazy, but hanging laundry is my favorite chore.
    Juliann recently posted…East or West – Which is Best? You Decide.My Profile

    • I agree! People who see me taking photos of laundry probably think I’m weird, but I just love it πŸ™‚

  5. I love the ones hanging on electrical wires – so nonchalant. We always hang out our clothes to dry too – I really enjoy how sun-dried laundry smells. A lot of the houses here Japan have covered balconies so that people can still hang their clothes to dry even when it’s raining.
    Jessica recently posted…Sunday Snapshot: Park GΓΌellMy Profile

    • Nonchalant is a great way to describe it. The residents seem totally unconcerned about the electrocution risk.

      We have friends in Japan and whenever we go to visit, I always enjoy the scent of the towels which have been drying in the sun!

  6. Good to know that when I make it Shanghai, I can just exchange my clothes. FO FREE! haha. I kid I kid. But these are the reasons we travel- to learn about the little traits of culture. I hope we all look at hanging clothes as an adventure from now on.

    • LOL! I completely agree that one of the reasons we travel is to discover all the ways another culture is different from our own. Those little idiosyncrasies are what make this world so darn interesting!

  7. Hhahaa, this reminds me of home (Indonesia) so much. It peeves me to no end that some apartment buildings here in California do not allow residents to air dry their clothes. Yes, it’s an eyesore but during summer when it’s 100 deg out, it’s such a waste to run dryers (ok, rants off).
    jill recently posted…Ontario, Where the Wild Things AreMy Profile

    • When I lived in the States, every summer our apartment building would send out a notice telling people not to hang their clothes to dry in the window. I never understood until I came here; I think it adds so much color and interest to the city! And you are so right about the waste of electricity!

  8. I expected to see laundry hanging from apartment balconies when I visited Shanghai, but was surprised to see it hanging across the sidewalks. I can’t believe none of it gets stolen. I like the shot of the colored underwear. Trying to imagine the person wearing them. Great photos!

  9. HAHA! What a great post! I love the shoes just chillin’ on the chair. We hung our laundry the first couple times here in Taiwan but our clothes ended up smelling worse than before we washed them, I suppose from the pollution. Not to mention it takes about a week to dry in 98% humidity :-p Now we just load it up on the scooter and take 4 loads to Mr. Bubbles, which is always an adventure. πŸ™‚
    Dan @ A Cruising Couple recently posted…Hiking Teapot Mountain and Mt. Banping – Not Your Average Cup of TeaMy Profile

    • We have friends in Tokyo who also complain about trying to dry clothes outside in the humidity. They sprung for a ginormous drying rack that they keep inside near the air-conditioning unit. It takes up half their living room, but at least they have dry clothes in a day! I can just imagine your adventures on the scooter haha! πŸ™‚

  10. This is too funny. I’m a fan of the purple man undies in one of the middle photos.

    Our neighbors downstairs are from China, although I don’t know if they are from Shanghai. They hang their laundry (undies and all) on their patio, which is right in front of our building’s parking lot. Now I know why!
    Emily McGee recently posted…Happy Fourth of July!My Profile

    • Haha I love that your neighbors are continuing the practice on another continent! I can imagine a lot of eye rolling in the parking lot πŸ™‚

      The young guys here are very metrosexual and I bet a lot of them are sporting purple man undies. The other day I saw a guy wearing hot pink fuzzy sneakers with stuffed poodle heads on the tongues. Anything goes!

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