Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A fine kettle that was put out to pasture

LAST week, when my house's mains tripped each time I powered up my electric kettle, I knew it was time to get a new one. Never mind if it was only a week past its one-year warranty. The last one I had, also of the same brand, lasted 13 months.

When I took it back to the shop, the salesman told me water had gone into the switch where the cord was plugged into the kettle. To get it repaired, I would have to pay as the warranty period had expired. Since the cost would be about half the price of a new kettle, he advised me to get a new one instead.

With two kettles breaking down just past their warranty periods, I was beginning to have doubts on the quality of the brand.

What about the Japanese brand that produce a wide range of kitchen appliances?, I asked. The man laughed and said the company was now into home entertainment products and no longer produced kettles. Just pick any one, he urged. The only differences would be in the aesthetics and how much electricity each would consume. There would not be much diferrence in terms of durability.

I remember the brass kettle we had when I was a kid. It lasted years before water started to leak from the joint between the spout and the body. We fixed that by stuffing a few grains of cooked rice into the pinhole and rubbing soot into it. It was then left to dry.

When we next used it, the combination of heat, moisture and soot turned the rice into a plug that sealed the joint. The kettle served us for another decade.

Of course, back then it was a long wait for the water to boil over the firewood stove. Starting a fire on moist firewood in the morning was an exercise in patience, too. Cleaning the kettle was also a dirty experience. You scrubbed it with wet ash to remove soot from the body and by the time you were done, you would think twice before calling the kettle black.

To remove stubborn soot -- stains made worse by cooking oil drips -- wet river sand could do the job but the shine would only last two days at most if you used a firewood stove, and twice that period if you used a dapur arang (charcoal stove).

When my father brought home an electric kettle of a British make one day in the '80s, we retired Old Brassy. We could now do other things while the water was coming to a boil. We did not have to keep feeding firewood into the stove or fanning the flame so that the water would boil faster.

With the electric kettle came the electric iron, the electric rice cooker and the gas stove.

In those days, modern appliances were a luxury. Expensive by the day's standards but the products were also made to last. Usually you did not have to buy new ones unless they were beyond repair. There were also many repair shops back then.

Today, salvaging faulty household appliances is a different kettle of fish. Unless you are able to do it yourself, you would think twice about sending damaged ones for repair. Not only is it cheaper to get a replacement, you would be lucky to find a repair shop that will do the job without overcharging you.

Technology has brought with it the conveniences of living but the economies of scale have also made some things so cheap that you can afford to use and discard them like paper tissues. It makes you wonder if that has not contributed to your wasteful ways at times.

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