Apr 5, 2012

Your China Collection Is Lovely

This is a traditional Chinese dinner table. A plate for a whole fish is essential!
The other weekend my boyfriend and I finally made our trip to Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn to get some things for the house. We even rented a car because we knew we had to get some big items that would be a pain to lug around on the free Ikea bus. We’ve been planning to go for many weekends but between my freelance day time job in advertising, my night time burlesque show schedule, and his photography travel schedule and long days on set and on location, we have compiled a running list of items to get.

One of the key items high on the list was more plates and bowls to accommodate family members who will be visiting us. When we moved in together two years ago I volunteered to throw away my shabby dishes and utensils because he owned nicer things. Most of my kitchen stuff I had found on the sidewalk in Park Slope where people often threw away boxes of dishes (this was pre-bed bug epidemic). Nothing I owned in the kitchen matched. It was all a mish-mash of things. The only “set” I owned that matched were a set of brown plates and bowls that had strawberries on them. They looked like they were from the 70s, chipped corners and all. This set I held on through college and through all my apartments in NYC (7 in total!) for sentimental reasons. It was the first set my parents bought in the States when we first immigrated here from Bolivia, South America. They bought it at a grungy flea market in Tampa, Florida.

Western style plate collection. Lots and lots of plates.
So I kept it. But I appropriately retired it to the lower shelves in the kitchen where it remained hidden out of sight away from all the nicer, matching things when we finally settled into cohabitation. I honestly do like his set more. I marvel at his dedication to symmetry. There are four of everything. Everything is the same size so they stack together nicely and not at all a twisting spiraling Tower of Pisa like what I’ve grown up accustomed to seeing at home. Everything is also the same color - white. White dinner plates. White serving plates. White bowls. White larger bowls. White smaller plates. White useless oval plate to put a cup on for no reason. By the way I don’t know my china terms for different sizes and things. I marvel at this Western tradition of china collection!

I haven’t thought about my brown strawberry plates from the 70’s until that weekend at Ikea when we stood amidst the Houseware section trying to decide about plates. He had very specific ideas, and he was also very adamant that everything had to be a set of four in the same color. I suppose it gives dudes a sense of order to have these domestic design rules. I didn’t care what plates he got or whether they matched or in a complete set. I wanted to go eat some meat balls! I just didn’t see why it was so important to have matching sets of things like this. Left to my own I would have gotten whatever struck my fancy. A couple of the gorgeous rich plum-colored plates, maybe two of the Tiffany Blue colored-bowls, and just for the hell of it, some fun plastic ones. But I didn’t. Part of me think it’s not very grown-up to have mismatched plates in your house. Another part of me think it’s very Chinese (and thus VERY charming) to have a potpourri style of plates and bowls.

This table doesn't look fun to eat at to me.
I am reminded of the time when my older brother got married ten years ago. It was a big to do because he was marrying a non-Chinese. In the Chinese tradition the bride’s family pays for the wedding, and since she’s not Chinese, my parents had to follow the Western tradition of paying for the wedding and the rehearsal dinner. All I remember was the arguing and fighting over CHINA! My mom being the one who likes to play nice more than my dad felt that we had to buy new sets of everything from crystal to china.  There were many trips made to both high end homeware stores to Wal-Mart looking at the variety. We would need at least two sets of everything if we were going to entertain our side of the family and hers for the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to host it at our home and have the food catered by one of the many Chinese friends of my parents who owned amazing restaurants nearby. Then I mentioned that for the kind of food we wanted to serve, we would only need the big plates and bowls. We wouldn’t need the other size plate, the bowls, certainly not the butter container nor the gravy boat. The total amount was climbing at an alarming rate. Also I don’t know where the hell my parents were going to store all this “fine china” and crystals because no Chinese homes I’ve ever been to have fancy plates or a “china cabinet” to store and display one’s collection.

A fancy china cabinet. I hope I never have to own one of these...
 My mom argued that it was critical for us to make this humongous purchase to show the other family that we could...hang (so to speak) with the Western ways. My dad disagreed fervently. He said we shouldn’t to change the way we were just to “blend in” even if it was as mundane as having sets of matching china to serve dinner guests. I absolutely agreed with him as usual. I hated the idea of playing someone else, or as I imagined it, sitting around all prim and proper with napkins folded over on our laps, drinking tea (not even Green Tea but Earl Grey!) with our pinkies up or saying “ching, ching daaaahlin” to each other. I hated the idea of pretending to be “white” for their sake. So what if our cupboard isn’t an immaculate sea of matching china? So what if our cutlery is a mish mash of things that don’t match? Who cares? The food - and its DAMN delicious Chinese food that my Mom spend days in advance to prepare and hours to cook means way more than what it’s served out of.

We left the matching sets at the store that day, and my parents decided to have the rehearsal dinner at a friend’s Chinese restaurant where everything does match - in a Chinese way. As for our kitchen there is now four plum-colored plates nestled among the white ones in alternating colors, of course, so it looks intentional.

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