By no-one’s special request, here is the inside of a typical kitchen in a Hong Kong village house.
Most days of the week the dishwashing is done by our helper. On Sundays – MaryJane’s day off – Joel and I feel quite overwhelmed by the responsibilities of actually running our own household on our own, so we second the kids into doing any domestic tasks which arise. Three adults to two children is an ideal ratio but when it has to be two:two, if we all pitch in, we can make sure we have clean bowls to eat out of at least. Naturally we’re eating reheated Lean Cuisines and instant mac&cheese from a box, but THE BOWLS ARE CLEAN.
These photos show about half the kitchen. Roomy, isn’t it. There’s also a washing machine/dryer in there because village houses don’t have laundries. Houses in the Western enclaves do, but not village houses because the locals still prefer to get their washing done in town at one of the many Chinese laundries, or else they do it outside themselves in a bucket. Our house has three full bathrooms (each with a full-size tub, and in the case of our ensuite, a corner spa) – but no freaking laundry. Again, doing the washing is in MaryJane’s remit so it doesn’t really actually affect me, but it’s just the PRINCIPLE of it! Does anyone really need three toilets and three baths in their joint.
There’s no oven, so I guess that saves some room. Chinese cuisine doesn’t call for much baking. We have a convection oven about the size of a microwave that we pull out of the cupboard when we
need to bake somethingask MaryJane to bake something for us.
The layout is appalling. Everything is around the outside walls, and installed awkwardly so there’s lots of useless space. There’s a gas cooker with two rings along one wall; you can barely reach the left burner because of the way it’s built into the bench. There’s a fridge, obviously. There’s the sink and the drying rack (no dishwasher). We have a cupboard where we store our crockery in drawers, because there’s nowhere else. Really inconvenient. On top of this cupboard (which is like a wooden dresser), we have a rice cooker and a microwave that take up most of the available bench space. There’s just room in one corner for a chopping board, and that’s it. Preparation is done by moving the dish drying rack into the sink and using that small space where it usually stands.
There’s one small window looking into the “backyard”, but of course it’s situated using the random local building style, so you can’t stand in front of the window because the gas cooker is in the way. There’s another window that looks directly at the side door of the house next door, which is actually the front door of the people who live on the top level of that house. I’m often caught in our kitchen late at night wearing a terrible nightie when our neighbours come home. We’re still not used to living so very close to other people.
There’s no town gas here and the gas man has to fight his way down the narrow sideway to replace the gas bottle when it runs out. He comes in a blue truck and pushes the gas bottles on one of those ubiquitous metal trolleys, unless there’s too many steps – which is nearly everywhere – and then he has to carry it around on his shoulder. WORST JOB EVER. But he’s Rufus’s hero. He asks me all the time, “Mama, when I’m a man, can I be the gas man?” It’s not the most illustrious occupation but I’m not going to crush his dreams with my jaded preconceptions about “backbreaking labour” and “minimum wage”.
Someone has built a very small platform into one of the corners, about the size of a regular paperback, and we store our soy sauces and cooking oil up there. Then we have a single long shelf above our microwave and that’s where we store stuff we use all the time like medicines, teabags, and cereal (above Rufus’s head). There’s no pantry. Anything we can’t fit on that shelf, we store in drawers in the dresser where we keep our plates and bowls. The draws are shallow and you can’t stand jars upright. These kitchens just aren’t built for our way of shopping and cooking and eating. The locals shop every single day in the wet market and the produce market, so they don’t need any sort of pantry. We, on the other hand, have groceries stashed anywhere there’s a spare pocket of space. We have our fruit basket on top of the washing machine and we have to remember to move it every time we do washing so bananas, oranges and apples don’t bounce all over the room. Not that I’ve done that before, of course!
It’s entirely tiled – walls, floor and benchtops – and eternally slippery. There’s decades worth of grease on the wall behind the gas cooker from the innumerable Chinese meals that have been cooked here. And some of the wall tiles are those really bad ’80s ones with decals on them of pitchers of olive oil and stuff.
Anything that can be hung gets hung on the wall – the colander, tongs, wooden spoons etc. You can see we even hang our entire glass/mug collection on the sink above Zadie’s head.
This past Sunday, Zadie did the washing and I rewashed it before passing it to Rufus to dry. Then I redryed it, and Rufus put it away, and then I reput it away. It took an hour. Nothing should take an hour in a room this small.
Sometimes I miss our beautiful kitchen in Yarraville, with its vast expanse of wooden benchtops, concertina window overlooking the deck and the backyard, room to have all the appliances on the bench, and, you know, PLACES TO STORE FOOD. But not often. I don’t do any cooking, so I don’t have to miss that element – having room to spread out and create. If you’re not a great cook, and you have young kids, a kitchen can be a depressing place regardless of how nice, spacious and well-appointed it is. You’re always in there getting the sponge to wipe something up, or finding filthy fingerprints all over the drawers, or forever unloading groceries, or getting up in the middle of the night to reheat milk, or repacking the Tupperware cupboard. Day after day after day of making the same little sandwiches and squirting citric acid in your eyes as you cut up round after round after round of orange segments.
Here, the locals go out for most meals to one of the yum cha places, which all open at 6am to cater for breakfast. They love food and have lots of rituals surrounding it, but being in the kitchen preparing all day definitely isn’t what it’s about. They make quick food, and they get the hell out of that pokey little room. It’s not too bad when you think about it.
Before we moved here, when we used to come and visit dad, I couldn’t imagine having a kitchen like this. But it doesn’t drive me crazy. You can definitely get used to living below certain standards that, before, you would have clung to determinedly.
I don’t think a laundry is too much to ask for though.