I have a confession to make. I love washing dishes.
There’s something soothing about it – the sedate scrubbing of soap, the suds, the careful swirling of the sponge all around the surface of the plate or bowl to make sure you cover everything, and then the ultimate orgasmic thrill: the washing away of all that soap and grease and nastiness, to emerge with something shiny and citrus smelling, before its crowning moment of glory on a dish rack.
Ooh yeah, baby.
My landlady says she hates doing the dishes, and for the past few months we have become used to the luxury of a dishwasher in our last two temporary flats.
Well, more like I stick dishes in there, but I still haven’t a clue how it works. To me a dishwasher is magical. I wonder why they don’t have these things in Malaysia! How marvellous it would be to just shove the dishes into some machine and press a button.
When we were kids, there used to be brief tussles between my brother and I as to who would do the dishes, after we’ve decimated dinner. My brother Mart, the rat, would try and squirm out of dishwashing duties as much as possible. But when he does land the job, the whole house from the kitchen would reverberate with his voice.
Because that bastard could sing. And for some reason, my bro would sing Harry Bellafonte or Beach Boys songs.
Come! Mr Tally Mon! Tally me banana!
Daylight come and he wan’ go hoooome!
Everybody’s gone surfin’!
Ahh, the memories.
Perhaps the lack of a dishwasher in Malaysia has something to do with the fact that it was traditional, even Confucian, to just have at it with soap and a calloused pair of hands. I have visions of men and women all over China, South East Asia even, squatting on some roadside in the most unsanitary of conditions to…I think I’m losing my point here.
Oh, right. My point is I don’t abhor the dishes, see? Although I am beginning to revise my opinion based on what happened last night.
I Know What You Did Last…
Did I mention I have my restaurant job back? Not as a waitress, but on kitchen duty. Hey, money was money, as far as I was concerned. And I might be wrong, but I had a sneaking suspicion my parents thought it was at least better than prostitution.
So anyway for weeks when I was working the waitressing job in July, taking orders, cleaning bathrooms, I sensed puzzled looks from the Chinese restaurant staff. Because they knew I could “write stuff”, and had done copywriting and “some university course”. So their thinking was: What the heck was I doing there? Couldn’t I, like, get a better job?
Well, yes and no. For months it’s been tough on the UK job market, and little do they realise, but when the Auntie hired me in July, it was the first time anyone had paid me on a regular basis since I resigned from my journalist job. Application after application, failed interview after interview, I was beginning to have doubts I would ever be employable.
And then the restaurant job came along.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” one of the restaurant girls said dubiously to me.
“Sure, why not!” I said. It builds character, it gets me off my arse, teaches me something I’ve never experienced before, and it’s fuel for the imagination. Besides, all authors had to start somewhere, and they still need to make a living. I can do dishes. Dishes are my friends.
Oh Lord they’re going to fire me
Last night was only the second time I did dishwashing for the restaurant, and the first doing it at this branch.
Here you have two sinks, one of the cooks briskly said.
One sink you fill with hot water, one you put only a LITTLE amount of water. Don’t waste water! Squirt in the dishwashing liquid. Put in the dirty dishes, scrub, dunk it into the clean hot water, then rinse it on two racks.
“And do it fast,” the cook said before turning away.
Behind me was a sea of plates and bowls in a staggering amount of shapes and sizes. Right. I pulled on the rubber gloves (way too big for me), tied on an apron, and got to work.
I washed dishes for four hours straight. Or rather, I was frantically filling sinks with water, dunking, drying, waddling to the shelves with an armful of plates while people piped up every once in a while, “Faster, faster, faster!”
(Back during my two-month bookshop job, my manager once expressed concern that I was “not taking my designated breaks”. I wasn’t sure whether to blink or laugh. In Malaysia, most employers expect you to work your ass off for free!)
The only time I stopped washing dishes was when the restaurant manager asked me if I wanted a drink, and I remembered it would be heavenly to have a drink of water. Then it was back to work. At one point it got crazy. I decided to wash the small mountain of chopsticks, Chinese spoons and cutlery. Before I knew it, the plates multiplied.
“Don’t wash the chopsticks!” one cook said in passing. “We need plates!”
“You’re using too much water!” another said.
“You don’t have to drain it so many times!”
“I need to change the water for this sink,” I cried.
“What for? The water is still clean!” I stared at the orange and grayish water in the sink while that cook scuttled off. When their backs were turned, I took a huge bowl and drained some of that goop before adding fresh hot water. Once upon a time, no rack of mine would touch a greasy plate. Now I was forced to squelch visions of clean dish nirvana as I compromised and tried to work faster, faster, faster.
Oh god. I stared at the three fat shards, then set it aside on the floor because those bastard plates were piling up. And for the first time, it hit me. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to get fired from a damn dishwashing job.
Now this was a point of pride for me, and to be exiled and scorned and laughed from the kitchen was, well, humiliating.
I broke another tiny bowl, and this time, it was completely shattered into a thousand pieces inside the sink. The British people have a lovely phrase they use here – they say the phrase “I’m shattered” to mean how exhausted and frazzled they are.
I felt like that bowl.
I carefully scraped up the shards from the sink and tossed it into a bin.
The Uncle was kind enough to remind me it was approaching the end of my 11pm shift, but I couldn’t get all the washing done. That same cook – who had ticked me off the most – ended up doing the rest of it, and he didn’t exactly look like a happy camper when I staggered out. I’d even forgotten to tell the Uncle about the broken plate.
It turned out that that Friday night at the restaurant was particularly busy, so I didn’t suck as bad as I thought. No one was firing me yet, and I suppose that is a good thing.
When I got home, I ate my takeaway dinner and passed out.
But guess what?
Before I left for my kitchen job, I somehow managed to do not only my NaNoWriMo word count, but write 2,000 words of my Malaysian Dark novel too!
I don’t know how I did it – I do recall typing like a speed demon – but I did it! Yeah, novels, who your daddy? Who your daddy?
6825 / 50000 words. 14% done!