How does one find warmth in a city of strangers? The building are too tall to be reachable, the neon lights are too bright to be welcoming and the pedestrians are moving at immense speed that it is impossible to stop and say ‘hello”.
Working late is such a common occurence in this city. Here I am the office at almost 8 pm ( not really late by local standards I have been told); needing to leave, not because I have finished my work but I am getting hungry and perhaps a little lonely. Tonight I am the only one left here, most colleagues are still off because of the festive season.
I take the minibus to the nearby shopping centre as usual. I get off the bus and walk in the bustling street of Kwai Fong near the MTR station. Kwai Fong is not an upper class area, in fact a rather grass root district. To signify this status, it even has a local tea restaurant ‘cha charng teng’ called Grassroot Tea Restaurant. I walked into Kwai Chung Plaza, this is a fascinating little place. Inside you have a whole mixture of electronic shops, fashion shops, clothes alteration services, copying services, food stores etc etc etc. What is so great about this little gem is, this shopping center has not yet been invaded by the usual local and international brand stores that seem to have conquered most shopping areas of Hong Kong, creating a scary homogeniety that makes me feel every place is a deja vu.
I walked to the other end of the Kwai Chung Plaza where there is a restaurant called “Let’s Relax”. It is a shop with a green sign without any English name. It is a great place to sit down for a quick bite. It sells a lot of snacks which are more commonly sold in the street stalls of Hong Kong like fish ball, fish siu mai, fried wontons, etc. But here you can sit and relax and eat these stuff and avoid standing in the cold on the street trying to eat your food from a skimpy wooden skewer and keep a watchful eye that the curry sauce from the fish ball is not going to fall on your crisp white shirt or your latest LV bag.
Lets Relax is a shop where you would find your ability to communicate in Chinese very helpful. I gladly put my primary school level Chinese into some useful application; i.e. reading the menu and ordering food ( Sorry my Chinese does not go far beyond that however I sound so fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin that locals would never pick up that I am in fact a ‘banana’ :P). The menu consists of the usual street stall snacks as well as cantonese style soup noodles, shanghainese style wontons and shanghainese style veggie rice with fried pork chop or chicken wings etc. Really it is a pretty comprehensive menu they have.
In a cold winter evening I opted for my favourite treat called Yu Yuk Woon Tsai Chi. This liittle treat always give me the warmth I need on a cold day. Woon Tsai Chi literally means “little bowl of Fin soup” and Yu Yuk means fish meat. Now before you start preaching me how bad it is to eat shark fin, that how many poor sharks are being killed to fulfill the Chinese palate for this eccentric delicacy, let me tell you; I am a bit of an “environmentalist” myself and I have given up eating shark fin for over 10 years. Woon Tsai Chi is just the name and it is a synonym to fake shark fin soup. There is not a trace of shark or any thing remotely related to shark in it. Instead of shark fin, it contains vermicelli in a thick broth with sliced mushrooms and chicken meat. No it doesn’t even contain “imitation shark fin”, just vermicelli. The broth is brown and thickened with cornflour and it does look like some low budget shark fin soup that you see served in some Chinese weddings. To eat it, put some red vinegar; pepper and just a tiny bit of sesame oil for added fragrance. Order it with fish meat would make it more filling.
This single girl worked too late again and needs something in between before reaching home, finds comfort in this familiar soup and a cheap delicacy that one can always afford ( even if you just overspent at Lane Crawford). Like an old friend this soup is always there to fill my stomach and keep me warm. I think to myself, perhaps one day, Prince Charming may come along and fill my life with love and warmth and I won’t need this cheap little bowl of soup any more. But until I find this 42 inch chest that I can lean on, this little bowl of soup will have to do for the moment 🙁
The truth is, even when true love is found there will always be occassions where this little bowl of soup would still seem satisfying in its own peculiar way.