Friday, May 17, 2002

The Wok

Too many woks. I have too many. But when I saw this one in the market, I knew I had to have it. The woman selling the wok also knew she had to sell it. So, she came up with a real line. "Aaaah", She said as one wise with years of learning, "This is a very old and special wok, it is from Europe." I suggested that woks were not a European thing and she immediately transported its origins to Japan. In spite of her persuasion, I bought it any way. It was iron, but not too thick, and a smooth surface. When I reached the Gi's house and began to scrub the wok, I realized that it had a hairline crack in it. I put some oil in it and placed it over a flame. It did not leak badly, but it did seep through just a little. Enough to make a greasy spot on the outside of the wok. I couldn't return it. This wasn't Wal-Mart. I decided that I would take the wok to someone who would know just what to do.

The cook at Gi's told me that he knew of someone who would know the solution to this dilemma. With directions received, I took a rickshaw just beyond the bridge past the university. And there he was, a man who specialized in torch welding. He would put a nice smooth seam on the outside of the wok and stop all leaking.

One of the best things about visiting a country where people have so little, is that they know how to maintain the little that they have. Anywhere else, the wok would have been thrown away. But not here. Years ago when a wok in the US fell from its peg on the wall and hit the floor, the man who did welding in Chattanooga told me that if he should attempt welding a cast-iron wok, it would crack from side to side. But here, where people have to rely on experience rather than book knowledge (after all, how many woks did the man in Chattanooga have notched on his welding torch?) it could be done. It was decided by those working in the welding shop by the bridge, and by some who were visiting, and by a passerby or two as well as by my rickshaw driver, that brass was the best metal for repairing the wok. And, I must admit, it looked really spiffy, this black wok with a gold line like lightening across the bottom of it. I watched in fascination as the work progressed.

Maybe it was the fascination that had me so engrossed that the sound made me jump. It was unexpected, this sound. It was a sharp quick sound. How else can one describe the sound of a wok splitting in half. The crack was so fast, and so sure. Where once oil could barely seep through, one could now hold it up and watch a big-screen television on the farther side. This signaled the end of the welders labors. He extinguished his torch and then, almost as if he had been reincarnated as a welder from Southeast Tennessee, he said, "If you weld cast iron, it will crack all the way across. It can't be done." He left the wok lying where it had fallen, split asunder and went to some other task. Neither he, nor any of his advisors looked at me again. I and my two woks had ceased to exist. I picked up the pieces and went back to Gi's in the rickshaw. When I saw the woman from the market and told her what had happened, she asked me, "Why don't you return it? I would have given you your money back." Even I have my limits.


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