Never Walk Away From a Boiling Pot

Boiling, boiling, don’t walk away! (Photo: Gigaom)

GOOD sense tells me that I should check the pockets of my pants or shorts or uniform skirt before throwing them into the wash. Alas, good sense seems to elude me on occasion. Some mornings, when I can’t find my bus card, I’d invariably find it in the pocket of my uniform sitting in the pile of clean laundry. On more disastrous occasions, I realize too late that I have left balls of used tissue in the pocket. And then, I’d end up with an entire load of laundry snowed over with tissue flakes.

These are some of the common mistakes that grace my life. The tissue drama has proven that I have not quite learned from my mistake, even though my mother has advised me to check my pockets. My grandmother too. They are transmitting a hard-won lesson from their very own experience, but it hasn’t worked. Neither have the repeated mistakes that have come biting at me.

I guess the tissue dandruff problem hasn’t had a catastrophic effect on me just yet, or I would long have come face to face with that proverbial new leaf moment. I’ve continued to be sloppy, forgetful, and an utter disappointment. It’s not as if I’m deaf to the wisdom of my mother or grandmother, or even the lessons from my very own mistakes. It’s just that the valuable lessons in life can only be learned if we set our minds to it. Or when somehow, heat and pain are involved.

Once, while alone at home, I chose to iron without a shirt on. Going topless made sense given that it was a hot day, but it immediately didn’t the moment the edge of the iron nicked my belly just right of the belly button. I never go shirtless on ironing days anymore.

My other heat and pain story has to do with boiling liquid—pain not of the scalding physical kind, but one of dread when I realize all too late I have a gunky, boiled-over mess to deal with. Clear, colorless, and non-staining H2O boiling over is never too big a drama, but picture this: soup base for my Korean ramen filled with chili powder and vegetable flakes. Or worse: Japanese curry with chunks of vegetables.

In both instances, they had boiled over in my absence, while I was doodling with something else. The curry was particularly awful given its viscosity. By the time I had realized my folly, the curry had crusted on the side of the pot, flecked with a tiny square of carrot here and a potato there, and the bits at the base of the pot had charred. Not a pretty sight, including the stove.

Surely, I didn’t need my mother, or my grandmother, or all the nagging aunties I have, to tell me that what I did is the height of culinary silliness. They have regaled their own stories of burnt pots and charred stoves. I was listening, though not registering—until the day it all happened to me. 

Mistakes are no fun, but they are beautiful. Thomas Edison would agree. He has glorified every single one of his mistake, all the “ten thousand ways that won’t work.” And in the world of cooking, what I have learned about making pasta is this: never ever put a lid over the pot of semi-boiled water as soon as your pasta goes in. Of course, I did, and once again, I walked away, off to fiddle with my phone, my Instagram, my whatnot.

With my pasta, I was silly two times over and learned two important lessons: one, I should have let the water come to a rolling boil before tossing in my pasta; two, I should never have walked away, not least because I’m just an inexperienced girl in the kitchen, with so many lessons yet to learn, and a million more mistakes to make.

(654 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #2:
Do you agree that we can learn from the mistakes of others, or do we need to learn from our own experiences? 

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv


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