Thank You for Buying an LG Fully Automated Washing Machine
By Clement Yue
1. Removing Packaging
It is recommended that this be done with either a pair of scissors or any object with a sharp edge. The delivery man with the cloth gloves used a company-issued penknife spotted with rust to slice open the layers of duct tape. The glove on his right hand had a worn patch where the pinkness of his index finger shone through.
I've never really considered my fingers when I stand in the mirror. There isn't a prevailing beauty standard when it comes to digits, and few people outside of niche occupations, like surgeons, pianists or the strange male characters in Murakami novels, carefully consider the aesthetic of the finger. I always try to use my fingers first, to open letters, to eat pizza, to try and hold someone's hand. We want to show that we are physically capable. Having strong hands and, by extension, fingers, shows the virility of our bodies, a key indicator of health and wholeness in a potential mate. This is manifested in the backhanded remarks judging our ability to reach for the cereal on the highest shelves or opening Heinz ketchup bottles. I would hesitate to call it part of an identity, but then how would you explain the expectation to be called out of the background to open Heinz ketchup bottles with bare hands or, at most, with the aid of the cloth of my shirt?
I had a teacher once who had six fingers. The extra finger wasn't a useful appendage, it existed as a small fleshy lump just below the pinky finger on his left hand. We didn't dare make fun of it; we just stared in rapt silence at the broken symmetry of his hand. Polydactyly happens to one in every 500 children on average. It is difficult to know if someone has an extra finger without staring and counting the fingers. It is impolite to stare at someone's hands.
Hands are elusive, hands are difficult to draw. You can read a man through his hands, how rough the callouses, how soft the palm. You can tell a man's future by the way his palm creases. I know my parents have five fingers on each hand, but they have not held mine in years. They keep their hands mostly out of sight behind backs and in pockets. I don't know if they still wear their wedding bands. The deliveryman had five-fingered gloves on as he hauled the old washing machine out backwards on his box cart, and they hid the secrets of his hands from searching eyes.
2. Removing Transit Bolts
Remove the three bolts with the spanner supplied by LG. LG is a chaebol, or a multinational corporation based in South Korea. LG stands for Life's Good. South Korea has the 10th highest suicide rate in the world. I once tried to counsel a friend with depression by pretending to be depressed myself. The transit bolts are there to prevent internal damage to the washing machine. This mimicry of her pain resulted in a lengthy text asking to be left alone and for her space to be respected and I replied with a Bible verse. It is no wonder we didn't talk for three years afterwards.
We reconnected recently and cautiously, by the poolside of her condo on beach chairs. I asked her if she had beer, but she had spent the last week decorating her bedroom floor with a whole crate of empty Corona bottles and had sworn off alcohol since. She talked about how she spent a few months living off the land with sporadic cell and Internet access as part of a Jewish-American kibbutz, a small commune some two hours by bus and train north from Tel Aviv. The weed they smoked as they farmed their hydroponic vegetables was delivered by a helmeted boy on a cheap Yamaha motorcycle. The boy would ride along the outskirts of the farm and throw a bag of the stuff over the fence and into the bushes as he sped away. They worked and smoked in the sun and rain, and the dog would always be nearby, scrabbling around on the stony soil surrounding the property. It had grown fond of her and would burrow into the blankets with her as she slept. She found out recently through a Facebook message that the dog had died while fighting a poisonous snake.
We nursed grape-flavoured Fantas and our fingers were dusted orange from a packet of cheese Twisties. The sticky night air was punctuated by the sound of motorcycles gunning their engines down the steep slope of Jalan Jurong Kechil.
She told me I had changed, I was different. I asked her if the change was good or bad. Neither, she replied. Just different.
If the bolts are not removed, it may cause heavy vibration, noise and malfunctions.
3. Installing Your Washing Machine
The cupboard next to the washing machine is infested with termites. We're not sure how it happened; it's not quite conceivable how termites spread to a house on the 16th floor. It seems ridiculous for an insect associated with the subterranean, with darkened cellars, with swarming masses under the flaky bark of dead trees lying on the forest floor, to scale a height comparable to us climbing into low Earth orbit.
We seem to get an awful lot of insects especially after it rains. Like the chafer beetles with the burnished gold carapaces that always make clinking noises when they bump into light fixtures. And hordes of flying ants that die in the fixtures and whose dried-out bodies form silhouettes against the light to resemble sunspots. More recently and more distressingly, the interlopers have been termites.
There are three types of termites found in Singapore: drywood, dampwood and subterranean. I'm certain we've got drywood termites because I find their shed wings strewn and wandering across the kitchen floor like tumbleweeds.
Termite colonies are monarchial, and instead of a fight for succession, the prospective kings and queens launch into the air on wings so unairworthy they fall off after the first flight. The ruling elite are fragile, and they are programmed to wait for the right conditions – humidity, mood lighting – before they emerge to mate, leaving the house littered with dead nobility, much to the annoyance of my mother.
My mother has always been lukewarm towards insects, but she knew that jumping spiders love the underside of the leaves of the ixora, whose hard, woody stems and red button flowers ring the playgrounds of the neighbourhood we live in. I caught my spiders in the plastic takeaway containers that came with the fish soup my father would bring back for lunch on Sundays when our helper had her day off. They were always iridescent and inquisitive; they spun no webs and actively prowled the walls and the floor of the container in search of prey. Occasionally I would place flying ants in with them to see what they would do with them. Their empty bodies rattled when I shook the container. The ethics of this are hazy at best, but I guess it can be no worse than feeding live frogs to an arowana.
I used to have a neighbour, a cantankerous, middle-aged man called Sam, whose wardrobe seemed to only consist of thin, white, almost translucent singlets. He lived with his wife Kelly in the flat next to us. They had an arowana with overlapping scales like medieval chainmail in a large, spartan tank, devoid of anything but the fish itself. Sam would sit spellbound, looking at it swim in dumb, menacing circles, made pitiful by a small tank that caused life to be an endless U-turn.
My brothers and I would go over to theirs to use their computer to play pinball. We stopped going over when we got cable for the first time. We didn't like how the yellow stucco walls, flecked with black, looked and smelled like ash. When they suddenly upped sticks and left, my mother whispered to me that she had heard Kelly had cancer.
I now have new neighbours living next to me. I've never learnt their names. I only know that they have an incontinent dog who wears diapers and smells like badly dried clothing, and that one of their daughters has curly hair and carries a skateboard around. I have never seen her use it. I talk to the father sometimes when we share the same lift. He always asks the same questions about what I'm doing now, and he is surprised the way older adults always are when you tell them you are still in school.
When I return home at night, the lights in their house are warm and orange, and their dining table is positioned where Sam used to smoke his cigarettes and watch his arowana swallow frogs whole. I wonder if the colour of light affects how insects are attracted to it. Maybe the termites have eaten their cupboards hollow and have started colonising to increase their sphere of influence – like the British drilling concrete holes into the hills to cement their position on this island, a thousand miles away from their own.
The discovery of termites left my mother in tears at the rotten luck of it all. She had to call the pest control herself because my father retreated to his armchair in the corner of his room and refused to do anything about it. Now we have a man who comes around every week to see if his poison is working. He grumbles because he has to squeeze next to the washing machine and we're suspicious that he's not doing a thorough job, maybe in the misguided hope that we'll keep him on retainer, like Al Capone's lawyer.
He looks unsure, but he says he thinks termites can't chew through wire, he's never seen it happen before. Still, it's a risk we have to take. There is no other place for the washing machine; this is where it has always been.
Concerning the Power Cord
- Do not use an extension cord or double adapter.
4. How To Use The Washer
4a. Sorting Laundry
The tags on the back of shirts are a mini manual to the proper care for the garment. Handwash only, cold water, no dryer, no bleach. I used to cut them off because they made the back of my neck itch. My mother would tsk and chide me for actively causing the sudden depreciation of the shirt. How then do we distinguish this Oshkosh B'gosh T-shirt that my father bought from a work trip to Connecticut, from the paper-thin shirts with plagiarised cartoon characters printed on and sold at the bimonthly pasar malam? This obsession with branding and the inherent value of brands slowly manifested into an era when I was a walking billboard. It didn't matter if it was in good taste or not, as long as the world could see me strut around in a Reebok Dri-Fit shirt; even if it was one size too small, even if it had the word "TENNIS" emblazoned across my chest in chartreuse, I was proud.
I used to fantasise about aliens swooping down and vaporising anyone not wearing say, Puma shorts, and behold, I am the only one left standing in a mall filled a moment ago with people not wearing Puma shorts.
My parents have this tunnel vision when it comes to buying things for us. If we show an interest in it, it means we want it all the time, even when the interest is merely polite. There is a dim sum place near the wet market my parents go to every weekend and I once asked my father for a bite of his fried yam ball. I've been eating yam balls every weekend since. They show their love through their irresistible urge to gift, stemming from childhoods that ended too early as they pulled their families out of poverty by the hair.
My father ate instant noodles and frozen meatballs thawed in the MSG-laced instant noodle soup for four years because my grandma had no money to fund his university education. My mother would share a Filet-O-Fish with her sister for lunch as she worked at McDonald's when she was 14. It comes as a shock then, that we would reject the yam balls and the Filet-O-Fishes from the cornucopia of their sacrifice. My parents forbade us from working in restaurants and cafes because they deemed the industry demeaning and below us. I suspect they live vicariously through us.
I've taken to buying and wearing second-hand clothing. My mother views this as an act of treason. Why must buy second-hand? Later got lice and bedbugs, I tell you. They equate new to good, in a society that eschews the old and the sentimental. Old is taboo, old must be hidden away in nursing homes whose driveways are lined with spider lilies, hibiscus, to distract visitors from the sagging bodies inside.
My grandmother's glaucoma is getting worse, the opacity within the cornea hardening like a diamond. Her vision is slipping away in percentages, 30%, 20%, 10%, as her optic nerves wither and die. My father sits by her side, holding her hand and whispering in Cantonese. As he announces our presence, she goes through the motions of seeing and acknowledging.
On a road trip to Malacca when I was 12, I had complained loudly about sharing the backseat with her because of her "old person smell". Years later, lying on a hospital bed after the removal of kidney stones the size of marbles, she told my father that I was her favourite grandchild. I cannot speak Cantonese to her; the words, the phrases I've memorised always get caught in the folds of my throat. She had stopped eating solid food, a tube directed milk into her nose. My father came back from a visit one evening and stood facing the TV running football highlights on mute and his back to me. He told me that she was weary and tired and hurting so much that she was ready. A pastor who was also a family friend sprinkled tap water on her head in a hurried and muted baptism. My parents were relieved. My grandmother recovered. Her nursing home is Methodist, and she looks tiny, shrivelled and fragile in her gown, a pale pink that looks leached from unsorted laundry, reds bleeding into whites. They highlight her veins, a startling turquoise.
4b. Select a Program
Amsterdam was a city of firsts. It was the first time I had to wash my clothes with a washing machine by myself. There wasn't a mother or SMARTDIAGNOSISTM to tell me which buttons to press or mode to select. It's almost as if washing machine manufacturers list down a whole smorgasbord of settings, each with a difference too small to measure, to give the illusion of choice.
I was part of a Christian cell group that I silently swore to leave when I departed. The week before my flight, the leader of the cell group looked me in the eye and told me gravely that I had to be careful, for I was going to the City of Sin. They laid their hands on me and took turns praying that I would not be led astray. They had a hyperactive terrier that kept trying to make love to our legs as we were praying. After I arrived in Amsterdam, my mother called me every week to ask if I had found a Christian group yet. I kept saying the only church I knew was in the red-light district and was a museum.
The time that I had freed up not praying and not reading the Bible gave me the capacity to hang out in the kitchen and to learn the washing machine, of which the dials were all labelled in Dutch. The washer and the dryer were in the kitchen, and I had to shout to make small talk with whoever was eating or lying down on the cracked leather of the couch over the terrific whumping of the washer. There was a window that stood above the small alcove where the washing machine was housed. The first few months were grey and windy, and I looked out of it often at the wide piazza of the university village ringed with rows of barren elm and beech, trying desperately to feel the dull pangs of loss and homesickness that never came.
I was groped for the first time in an Australian-themed student bar called Coco's near the city centre on Thorbeckeplein. Wine bottles had been emptied back at the flat, we were buzzing, we were yelling mongrel lyrics to songs; the orange strobe light froze dancers mid-motion and hurt my eyes. People added themselves to the group like stardust being sucked into a black hole. Who needs more drinks? We need more drinks. A crush at the bar, a sale on the Jaegerbombs advertised on the flat screens, a white man, a head taller than me, pinched my ass. I couldn't breathe. Hemmed in on all sides by a pulsating mass of people, someone spilled a green liqueur on my shoe. The line moved. The conga train in the distance picked up more revellers. Remixed Billboard Top 100 songs pumped into the room. Although I felt the vibration of the bass through my shoes, I didn't register the sounds. My heartbeats were loud in my ears, I felt them go red and hot. Out of the corner of my eyes, I detected movement. A second pinch. The wall of people was impenetrable, there was no way but forward. Ejected onto the bar counter, I screamed my order.
When my parents visited me in April, they took me on a trip to a sleepy border town called Venlo, famous for having an outlet mall located 20 minutes away by train. My father's company was headquartered there. It was a small printing firm that made industrial printers the size of rooms. There was only one hotel that all the printermen stayed at and one good restaurant that all the printermen recommended. While waiting for the lamb shanks with seasonal vegetables to arrive, my mother regarded me sternly and asked me if I watched porn. Isn't it a little late to be asking this? She then said she was scared of seeing me walk away from the faith. I let my mother try a bit of lamb. She made a face and said that it was too gamey.
I let them tour the flat before they left for Singapore. They grimaced at the state of the shared kitchen, the cupboard lovingly filled with empty bottles like hunting trophies, the crusty stovetop a viscous brown. My father stood at the centre of the room to take it all in and I warned him against sitting on the chairs in his beige pants. My mother peered at the washing machine and asked me how I washed my clothes if the settings were all in Dutch.
5. Troubleshooting Guide
Symptom: Thumping sound
Symptom: Water leaks
Symptom: Door does not open
Symptom: Washer does not start
6. Terms of Warranty
Two days after we discovered the broken latch on our old washing machine, we have a new one. It is of LG make and is very good at what it does. It will keep working to clean our clothes from the stains and the dirt we accumulate, and we listen to its hum in the background. It is constant until it is not, and the clothes are done. Sometimes I don't open the door immediately, sometimes I stare at the pile of clean clothes through the wet glass and at my own distorted face. For the briefest of moments, I am jealous, and then I check if the colours have run.QLRS Vol. 20 No.1 Jan 2021