Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My kitchen - a photo essay

My new kitchen is a big improvement on my last-but-one (and the last-but-two; and my last one, in fact, although that wasn't too bad; my first apartment in China didn't really have a kitchen at all). But it's still less-than-wonderful in a number of ways.

It's quite long, yes, which gives me much more counter space than you usually find in Chinese kitchens. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of worthwhile storage space, so the counter soon gets cluttered up with your rice-cooker, blender, coffee-maker, etc.

The kitchen is long, but narrow. Very wide-hipped people would have to move up and down it sideways (particularly now that I've brought in some bookshelves for food storage on the wall opposite the counter). In fact, very wide-hipped people probably can't even enter, since the fridge-freezer prevents the door from opening more than half-way. [It's quite common in China for a fridge to be placed in the living room or dining room rather than in the kitchen. Fridges, until recently, haven't been much of a thing here. In the winter - in the northern half of China, at any rate - you can preserve food by leaving it outside, on a balcony or stoop or windowsill. And in summer - well, you can't trust that food has been adequately refrigerated in transport and storage, so it's safer to try to buy the freshest produce you can on a day-by-day basis. There's also a persistent anxiety here about how much electricity fridges consume; the ultra-thrifty Chinese will often switch them off when they're "not using them" - i.e., when they're not at home, or when nobody else is looking. This is one of the most notorious hazards of sharing with a Chinese housemate. It is also one of the biggest drawbacks of shopping in small neighbourhood stores (the lady who runs the one downstairs in my building is so absurdly cost-conscious that she turns the lights off when there are no customers) or eating in cheap restaurants.]

So, my first gripe: there's not enough room for the fridge-freezer... or for any general cat-swinging, elbow-waggling activities (I can touch both walls at the same time, without getting anywhere near to a full extension of my arms).

Chinese gas-fired water-heaters are a source of constant aggravation. At least this one isn't inside a cupboard (like my last two were), but I still have concerns about carbon monoxide emissions - and I try to leave the window open whenever I'm doing a big session of washing up. Actually, it's a pretty good heater; much the best of its kind that I've yet encountered here. But the pilot light does cut out alarmingly frequently, and the electric ignition 'jams' (requiring the electricity to be unplugged in order to 'reset' it). The temperature readout is a work of fiction (this heater can allegedly pump out water at up to 80 degrees Centigrade, even on medium settings); in fact, all of the dials have to be ratcheted up to the max to produce water that is even moderately warm. And there's an odd resonance in the water pipes that sometimes produces a high-pitched whine for several minutes at a time (usually around midnight, when I'm just trying to get to sleep). Oh yes, the real doozie is this: the gas supply is shared with the cooking rings, and the pressure is too feeble to sustain both at the same time. I found during my small New Year's party the other week that every time a guest went to the bathroom (the washbasin taps are fed by the same water-heater), the flame under my pot of pumpkin soup was extinguished. Every time. A right pain in the bottom it is.

One of the reasons I don't have much in the way of wall cupboards is that I've got this instead. It is allegedly a crockery sterilizer. I have no idea how it is supposed to work, and I don't trust it to be all that efficacious - or even safe to operate. The wall-mountings aren't secure enough for me to trust using it even for crockery storage. I imagine this is evidence that my kitchen was equipped round about the time of the SARS outbreak in 2003. This kind of unnecessary - mostly probably bogus - 'safety' appliance became all the rage for a while around then.

At least my extractor hood works - sort of. The fact that the brand name - Shuaikang - is upside down doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the appliance has been correctly installed, but... it does make loud windy noises; and burning smells disappear eventually.

Notice also that this photograph is taken more or less at my eye level. The top of the extractor hood is just below the level of my chin, which makes it a little hard to see what's going on in the pots on the stove. I suffer similar vexations with the kitchen sink. The top of the sink (and the counter work surfaces) are only a few inches above my knees; the bottom of the sink is about level with my knees; the top of the mixer tap (which, of course, only has a few inches clearance above the sink) is well below the level of my waist. I got a stiff back doing the washing up after my party. Chinese kitchens are built for very short people.

And, of course, what might be a moderately nice view looking out over the kitchen sink - my terrace, and the far side of a bustling, low-rise street - is almost completely obscured by all the landlord's junk piled up outside the window. This is China. THIS is a Chinese kitchen.


John said...

Hurrah for the reintroduction of photos! I enjoyed this post a lot because of them, the Chinese never fail to "weird me out" again and again.
I don't know what to make of your plans to leave this nutcase nation. Part of me is relieved for the sake of your sanity but I'll mourn the loss of a reliable insight into the country.
OK, so that's overstating things somewhat I know but as I understand it the things that drew you to China and captured your imagination just aren't doing it for you any more; the lustre has faded somewhat. To be honest my interest in China has also waned over these last few years. I still keep an eye on things but certainly not as much now.
The thing is I'm not sure I'm all that interested in Eastern Europe or South America either or am I? And will I continue to read Froogville is the question. These are certainly the other places in the world where things are also starting to get going as in China (which is why I'm assuming you've chosen them) and I've always have some wonder about these far-flung places. Who's to say that I wouldn't mind learning about these countries? We'll have to see, the architecture is certainly very lovely for one thing!
But I digress, this reply is quickly becoming an outpouring of my musing. This is all some time off yet so I won't be leaving any time soon (if at all).

Froog said...

Well, the plans are still very tentative. Prospects elsewhere seem bleak (bleaker).

And I have a rather tantalising new job prospect to distract me at the moment (will probably come to naught!). And a new romantic temptation as well (ditto!).

Also, quite liking the new apartment. My current thinking is that I'll be here at least another 6 months; and probably 18.

But who knows?

John said...

After reading that I feel a compulsion to give you some moral support Froog. I might be a pessimistic individual but I revel in it personally; you on the other hand very much have a lust for life so I sincerely wish you all the best come what may (what is the difference between the usage of parentheses, brackets and dashes anyway? I've never understood it!)

Carolyn said...

Your story about your kitchen appliances reminds me of a very old Woody Allen skit about appliances. How do you sleep? I'd be worried about an uprising in the kitchen.

Froog said...

I am a benevolent dictator. My appliances all adore me.

Froog said...

It bothers me slightly that the 'idling' temperature for the water-heater (visible in the photo here) is 24 degrees C.

24 is very ill-omened in Chinese numerology, equated to 'sudden death'!