Friday, October 26, 2012

Our China-fabulous Kitchen

Our kitchen (the really nice cabinet on the right was one we added)
The other day our counter broke.  It wasn't the most secure structure - a couple of wooden cutting boards balanced on a thin metal frame, so we weren't super surprised.  We discovered the back of the frame was held up by an old (now bent) cardboard fireworks shell.  Kevin found some old mop handles to wedge against the frame and now our counter is once again fully operational.

Most of the rooms in our house, other than our bathroom which I already described, are pretty much like your average American room.  Sure, the outer windows in Juliana's room are actually made from heavy plastic, window frames, and a bunch of packing tape.  And some of the tiles in our bedroom are loose.  All the outlet boxes in the house are broken and falling out of the walls - but hidden behind furniture so Juliana can't get at them.  And when I sit in one spot on the living room couch, I smell the neighbor's cigarette smoke, even though there are no vents, holes, or windows nearby (It's not just in my head; Kevin smelled it too.  It really is a mystery.)
Our nice view from the kitchen window
But otherwise, our house is pretty “normal” until you get to the kitchen.  The kitchen is separated from the living room by a large sliding glass door and window.  The door is a little small, resulting in a number of banged head and elbows, but I'm still glad it's there.  During the wintertime we keep it closed all the time, since the kitchen is at least 10* colder than the living room.

The outer wall of the kitchen is all windows - from the sixth floor we have a great view out over the campus and most of the year we see the nearby mountains.  In wintertime the coal dust haze blocks our mountain view, but we couldn't see them anyway because our kitchen windows always freeze over.  On the inside.  Instead of a beautiful view we have beautiful new ice patterns every morning!
The inside of our icy windows

Probably the most interesting part of our kitchen is the stove area.  A small box of thin metal has been attached to the outside of the house to hold the single gas burner.  It is closed off by small sliding windows, useful in the winter since the temperature inside the stove attachment is about 10* colder than the rest of the kitchen.  We have the stove burner propped up on an overturned basin and an extra piece of tile so that you can actually reach the stove.  A small hole in the wall connects the burner to the large gas tank under the aforementioned rudely constructed counter.
The stove alcove when we moved in.  We have since propped up the stove and removed the newspaper that is so wisely surrounding the gas burner!

Chinese kitchens aren't equipped in quite the same way as American kitchens.  We have a one burner stove.  The sink and counter are about six inches shorter than you'd like, unless you are Juliana reaching for a cookie left out to cool.  The sink has no hot water.  Most Chinese cooking has no need for an oven, but we have a small one we brought from Weinan.  It is conveinently just big enough for a 9x13" pan.  Unfortunately even though I set it about 50* lower than directed, it still burns the top of anything I don't remember to cover.  We have a blender, a hand mixer, a crockpot, a rice cooker, and a toaster (that was hard to find!), and my little french-press mug, so we're pretty set.  We also have a refrigerator, it just doesn't fit in the kitchen so it's in the living room instead.

I think the green fabric (covering the gas tank and open storage area) makes the kitchen look kind of pretty!  And the cutting board counter tops don't really look too bad.

One thing we were very surprised to see in our kitchen was what appeared to be a dishwasher.  Who ever heard of a dishwasher in China?  Unfortunately it was only large enough for one meal worth of dishes, and more importantly, it was covered in mold.  It was quickly replaced by a dish drying rack.  Much more useful.

I have to laugh when I see magazines or tv shows about kitchen remodels.  The “before” kitchen always looks pretty darn nice - is it really necessary to spend thousands of dollars to "fix" it?  I have to laugh too, thinking, “What if we lived in America and taped plastic on our windows or fixed our counter with an old mop handle?  We would seem so trashy!”  But here, it just makes sense.  We congratulate our friends for their ingenious repairs.

Sure, we have a bare light bulb hanging from our ceiling and some of the wall tiles are missing.  It would be nice if the kitchen were warmer or a little bigger, but it's really not a big deal. A second burner would be handy, but I'm so used to having one that I'd probably have trouble using two at once.  I still think Kitchen-Aid mixers are beautiful, but a little hand mixer serves me just fine, and you'd be amazed what you can do with a spoon!  I'm glad we don't have room for more pans or gadgets or a whole knife collection (one large cleaver is as good as 6 fancy knives) - if we had the room, no doubt we'd find a way to fill it.

I certainly like American kitchens.  They are so pretty and large and functional.  When I first came to China I struggled with not having the standard I was used to and unknowingly expected.  But now I like my kitchen.  It reminds me of what is not necessary.  It reminds me that I have everything I need and then some.

When I was younger I wanted to be an interior designer and planned to marry an architect so we could have a really beautiful house.  Until a few years ago my big dream was to own a home.  When we decided to stay in China, I realized that might never happen.  And recently I've also realized I’m just fine with that.  I've got some bigger dreams now.


Mallary said...

Great post. Partly because I can relate, but mostly because what you said is true. We can live with a lot less than we have.

Melissa said...

I also have a refrigerator in the living room.

Jane @ The Borrowed Abode said...

When I read this, I thought "Melissa has her fridge in the living room, too. . . must run in the family" ;)

I love the point you've made about filling a larger kitchen with more stuff. That really does seem to happen, and I've been trying to keep our cabinets partially empty for that reason. I have to admit your kitchen situation sounds challenging and uncomfortable, but I do believe we're much more adaptable than we realize. I'm glad you guys have made it work for you.