Holding hands, they walked past me into the restaurant as I hesitated outside to look at the sign twice and confirm that Google maps lead me in the right direction. The woman smiled and looked at the ground. A kind smile of laughter and pity for the wandering blonde.
Inside was a room of energy. When I pushed open the grungy glass door, a round Chinese woman came to the front and looked at me impatiently. I held up one finger to indicate that I needed a spot just for me and she shrugged and led me to a long metal table.
In Chinese culture, most celebrations, traditions, business and many other parts of life center around food. (As do a lot of cultures around the world). So it’s no surprise that Dim Sum is a popular activity in Hong Kong. Dim Sum is a style of eating where you order multiple dishes by checking them off of a small paper sheet. Normally, Dim Sum is a shared meal, not a solo activity.
The woman wore a red apron matching the other women that swarmed the shop carrying steaming hot dishes and pots of tea. She led me to a long metal table and placed me right next to the couple who had walked in before me.
I studied the menu, contemplating the best strategy to eat Dim Sum alone while the couple traded sideways glances at me. Tim Ho Wan, arguably one of the best Dim Sum spots in Hong Kong, is known for their Pork Buns. I decided to place a tick in that box and one more in steamed dumplings and then placed the paper back down and waited.
Five minutes later, the couple had already received their first dish and my paper still hadn’t been picked up. The woman took it and handed it to the waitress, smiling at me but saying nothing. She and her husband spoke in Cantonese before pushing one of their dumplings towards me.
“Try. You Try.”
Refusing food in some cultures can be extremely rude, so I smiled gratefully and tried the dumpling, unsure of what was inside. They watched me, waiting for my reaction. I looked at them both with my mouth full and gave a thumbs up. In hindsight, I don’t think the thumbs up is a universal symbol so probably not the best choice to show appreciation. Yet, they seemed happy that I was happy. With each dish that came, they made me try it. And when mine came, I made them share it as well.
“Where you from?” the man forced out broken syllables.
The small plates were empty and the man hesitantly tried his English. He spoke about Orlando. His uncle had moved there years ago and they wanted to visit. With each sentence, and nod of encouragement from me and his wife, his English became more confident and pride grew on his face.
“I’m Policeman here. But I have to retire soon. When you make certain age, they have you retire.”
His wife nodded but said only a few words. She didn’t work, and I wondered what her day consisted of but couldn’t put the question into words. They smiled at me and then at each other, and left as quickly as they came. Few words, full stomachs.