By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
The other day, in the middle of washing dishes, I started thinking about how my ancestors, a thousand years ago, must have had to do the same tedious chores I was in the midst of doing. I sometimes think of things like that, partly because I’m fascinated with how some things never change no matter how life moves along, but mostly because I’d rather be thinking of anything other than the fact that I’m washing dishes.
I know my parents had to wash loads and loads of dishes. My grandparents, on the other hand, likely skipped a generation of washing dishes since my grandfather was a wealthy warlord in China and could afford servants to handle such things.
I can somewhat relate to my grandparents. We also often have people to wash our dishes. Back in the day, you would call them “servants”. Nowadays, my wife and I call them “children.”
The truth is that we live in an era of amazing convenience. Modern advances have come a long way to make our daily living more manageable. At a moment’s notice, you can heat up food in seconds with the touch of a button.
You can keep food fresh for weeks at a time without having to pay someone for a daily delivery of ice to your door. And of course, the only time we really need to cook food over an open fire nowadays is when we’re trying to show off our new barbeque grill to the neighbors.
But then there’s the curious case of the dishwasher. Let me just say — I just don’t get it.
Oh sure, if you confine your cooking to meals of only clear broth and a glass of water, the dishwasher does a dandy job of cleaning your dishes in no time. But anything more than that and a dishwasher is a complete step backwards.
You don’t believe me? Let me explain.
Whenever we cook at home, I often do the dishes. When my wife Maya is cooking (and she’s a great cook), somehow she manages to use every pot, pan, utensil, and dish in the house in order to cook a one-pot meal. She uses so many items in the kitchen to cook one dish I sometimes wonder if she’s secretly cooking other dishes for her other family she’s hiding in our basement — until I remember that we don’t have a basement.
But I digress.
Inevitably, in the mountain of dishes in the sink that I have to clean, there is always a pan or a serving plate with some ingredient seared on to it, and this substance is so stiff and thick that if I could manage to pry it off in one piece, I could use it to patch holes in dry wall.
As I begin hand washing the dishes, Maya always says, “Why don’t you use the dishwasher? It’s faster!” Oh really?
So, upon seeing the first dish with the drywall patch on it, I begin to place it in the dishwash…oh no! You can’t put something like that in a dishwasher! Before you put it in your dishwasher, you have to wash it – by hand!
The dishwasher instructions call this step “Pre-washing”. This is the step where you wash the dish but not quite all the way so that the dishwasher has something to do.
My definition for “Pre-washing” is:
Pre-washing: the act of washing a dish without the satisfaction of actually completing the process.
In fact, I’d argue that pre-washing is harder than just washing completely by hand because with pre-washing, you constantly have to monitor when you’ve reached the tipping point of being able to confidently turn over the washing process to the dishwasher.
Next, I grab a plastic cup and put it in the dishwash…oh no! You can’t put plastic cups in the dishwasher!
They’ll melt! Let me correct that – some plastic cups and dishes can go into the dishwasher, but you have to check. So now I have to look at the bottom of each plastic cup or dish and attempt to decipher whether there’s anything printed on it confirming that it’s “dishwasher safe.” Now I’m not just a dish washer, I’m a plastic housewares archaeologist.
After washing the pots and pans, I begin washing the plates. The kids hand me their plates, with whatever bones or vegetable bits on them, and I quickly place them into the dishwash…oh no! You can’t leave all that stuff on the dishes! They’ll clog the dishwasher! You have to scrape all that stuff off, rinse them and THEN put them in the dishwasher.
If you ask me, any dishwasher really worth it’s salt would allow me to have a big barbeque dinner, leave all the rib bones on the plate, put them in the dishwasher without throwing out the bones first, and when the dishwasher finished it’s cycle, the dishes would all be sparkling clean and I’d have a beautiful set of ivory figurines I could display on our mantle.
On next week’s show: the microwave – magical cooking device or metal hating radiation monster? (end)
Wayne Chan can be reached at email@example.com.