In college, I took an International Relations class. I don't remember much about it except for my professor's affection for commenting on certain elements of history (most memorably, Rasputin) by saying, "Strrrrrranger than fiction!" And yes, he extended the "r" sound just like that. Ever since that class, I've heard my old professor's voice narrating moments of my life with those words: "Strrrranger than fiction!" Especially this past week in my kitchen.
Last night, as I was making dinner, I heard a loud "bang!" from very close to me, similar to a balloon popping, but bigger. Bolder. I thought it was weird, since I hadn't seen any balloons in the kitchen. As I poked around, I realized here was a very pungent odor filling the kitchen, and that's when it all made sense. I remembered the bag of kimchi I'd bought over a month ago and mostly forgotten about. Last week I'd come across it again, the bag hugely bloated, and thought, Huh! I guess this is what fermentation does! and also, I'd better eat this soon! but mentally set it aside again. It had actually exploded, though it was in another bag, so the mess was easy to clean up.
Exploding bags of kimchi, however, are by far not the strangest thing to happen in my kitchen this past week.
Ever since I moved in, my oven has caused me trouble. I'd turn it on, wait for it to heat, turn back to put the food inside and find it had switched off. Or another time, I erroneously left it on for 18 hours (!!!) because even though I had put the dial back to the "off" position, for some reason, it stayed on. After turning off, it was always very hard to get it back on. The kitchen would fill with the smell of gas as I tried time and time again to get it restarted. I'd pray, intercede... consider calling an exorcist. Finally, it would turn on again, and then (usually), stay on.
But Matt used it once, and it behaved in its normal psychotic way, and I told him nonchalantly, "Oh yeah,, it does that."
"Yup. Every. Single. Time."
Apparently, this isn't normal. Apparently, in fact, it's dangerous. So last week, I put in a call to our property manager. He sent out a repairman, who deeming it beyond his skill level, sent for a manufacturer's technician. This guy messed with it a little then said to me, "This oven... discontinued since ten years. No parts. But if no use, is okay. 15,000 won please."
Ummmmm, no. I wasn't going to pay a penny, let alone roughly $15, to have someone tell me that if I didn't use my oven, it would be okay. I called the property manager. He and the technician had a rather impassioned conversation, then the man left hurriedly as I was informed that the property manager would talk to the landlord, but getting the landlord to replace the oven... "It's very difficult." My heart sank. In my six months here, I've learned these are the Korenglish words for no.
But on Saturday, he called me back. The landlord had, as expected, refused to replace the faulty oven, but good news! The property manager would himself pay to put in a new one!
While leaving the old one in.
I was a little puzzled. "Where will you put it?" I asked. My galley kitchen has just over three feet between the counters. Wellllllll... He and another technician would come look at it in the afternoon.
I didn't have a good feeling about this.
My bad feeling got worse as the two men stood in front of my current oven, examining, stepping back, crouching down, moving their arms around them to form a square.
"Okay," the property manager finally said, "we put oven here." He indicated the space directly in front of my current oven.
"In the middle of the floor?!" He nodded. "Like, right here?" More nodding. "But... how do I move around it?" With his friend standing in for the oven, arms square, he showed how I could move around it, shimmying sideways with tummy sucked in and thinking skinny thoughts. "But... how do I open the door?" His friend (a.k.a. "the oven") showed how even if I opened the door there might still be an inch or two to spare.
"OR! We put door this way!" He indicated opening it at an angle perpendicular to its current one.
"Toward the dishwasher?" He nodded. "But then how do I open the dishwasher?"
He looked at me for a moment, and I could actually see pity in his eyes for my feeble mind. He sighed and mimed me cooking and putting something in the oven, then into the dishwasher. "Only have one open at a time. No need cook and wash dishes together." Well, obviously. I was just saying tto make a point.
"What about my young children? My baby? Is it safe? Oven is hot, and in the middle of the kitchen." Here, finally, there was some more discussion, some reluctant shrugging, but he still maintained, "Safe. Is safe."
Matt was in Seoul for the day, and I couldn't get ahold of him. Everything in me was saying "No", but somehow, the strangest thing had happened. I had started to think I was the one taking crazy pills for thinking it was dumb to put a working oven in the middle of my kitchen in front of the broken one. And so it was that I found myself agreeing to a time early in the week to have the new oven installed.
As soon as the men left, though, I came to and thought, Wait, what?! Did I really just agree to that? It was just like Jafar with the sultan in Aladdin. I'm pretty sure my eyes had gone swirly and everything. I texted a couple of my close friends here, basically saying, "Does this sound completely ridiculous?!" and suggested maybe I didn't need an oven after all.
Both affirmed that the idea (not me) was completely whacked, and one suggested I get an air oven. Have you seen these? This actually seems like a great plan. The other came back with the words, "Okay. So obviously you COULD survive [without an oven]. You could eat sandwiches and stovetop meals and miserably dream of your oven churning out enchiladas and brownies and lasagna and cookies, etc. Or you could embrace the absurdity of the working oven shoved in front of the broken one." Then she wrote, "This could be a great metaphor... definitely a future blog post!!!"
She was right on both accounts. I mean, well... voila! Blog post! And, I can think of at least a couple metaphors.
1) Sometimes in life, we pretend we are perfect, shoving things that look right in front of the messy and broken things, and even if it's ridiculous, we try to call it good. And really, where does that get us?
2) Sometimes in life, we're presented with two options, and neither one is particularly good. Then it's up to us, with prayers for serenity and grace, to make the most of one of them.
But thankfully, after a series of texts to the property manager, he agreed!That's right! I stood by my guns and insisted I wasn't completely crazy, and today I'm happy to report that there is a brand new working oven where the old, broken one was! (See picture at top of post) What I was told wasn't possible actually, somehow, became possible.
Strrrrrrrrrranger than fiction!