March 2024, 3rd: Dim Sum Dispersion

I tried to focus on what Old Uncle was saying but he tended to go off on his many digressions. No one was genuinely interested in what he had to say as it was often bigoted, and he was partially deaf which meant that “conversations” were more like lectures; a one-sided diatribe with no questions until the end, and that is if he could hear them. It was best not to interrupt but rather nod and smile, with the occasional, proportionate expression to convey one was sympathetic to his cause.

It was close to perfect weather outside in the harbour city, but I found myself relegated to yet another family gathering at Golden Dragon. This restaurant was where we gathered for our big celebrations. Today was no exception, it was Grand Aunt Susie’s 70th birthday. A milestone occasion like this called for large round tables draped in white tablecloths, an insatiable diaspora of dim sum piled high on trolleys, and lots of noise. It was mid-morning, and most tables were already occupied with hungry, cantankerous patrons on the hunt with their chopsticks wielding, ready to attack.

Crammed between dependents at either end of life’s spectrum; toddlers to my left and the elderly to my right, I had responsibility for an assortment of walkers tucked away but accessible at a practicable distance, should the need arise. Customarily, I was assigned to this table so that the senior adults could eat in peace whilst a responsible, unmarried, young adult (myself), could be entrusted with their minding responsibilities.

Their commands were incessant: ‘make sure Old Uncle chews and does not choke’, ‘cut up the food into small pieces for your cousins’, ‘don’t let them run around and hurt themselves by waiters carrying hot food’.

The steaming trolleys rumbled towards our table, pushed arduously by heavyset, middle-aged ladies wearing pink aprons. The plates trembled on the metal shelves and chatter raucously amongst themselves as the flimsy wheels trampled over the uneven tiles.

These reverberations were quickly displaced by the aroma of salt and pepper calamari, and other deep-fried treats. Another trolley follows closely behind. This one contained a window box displaying plates of succulent, barbequed meats, including the most desired: roast duck and braised peanuts. It is like a deconstructed Peking Duck dish; the juicy, crispy-skinned meat, laid bare, naked without its pancake sheath, and accompanying hoisin sauce, spring onion and cucumber trimmings.

‘Nǐ yào shénme?’, the trolley-lady motioned me to make my selection.

I turn and signal my interest, interrupting Old Uncle mid-sentence, as he chewed with his mouth opened. I noticed a small, sliver of chive wedged between his denture wire and gum. ‘Sorry, Uncle.’ It was difficult to unsee but with the savoury distractions around me, it was easy to forgive and forget.

In the corner of my eye, I saw Lucas and Lily testing their strength at spinning the lazy susan. The over-filled teapot sat on the edge of its circumference; an unfortunate victim, wetting itself, creating a brown, tea stain on the white tablecloth.

I pressed down on the turntable and gave a death stare to both my cousins. This could have gone two ways; they stop, apologise and go back to eating quietly (the intended outcome) or they stop, look at me, burst out laughing, then carry on the disc-jockeying (the predicted outcome).

With another year of university studies to go, I resolved that next year will be the year I disperse and discover myself in an exotic destination; far away from this city, this family, this cloistered life.

Interrupting my musings, a trolley of bamboo steamers stacked high like wooden pylons rolled in. Each one revealed a variety of tantalising morsels of pork, seafood, vegetables delicately wrapped in wonton or bean curd skin.

This was what I have been waiting for. It was my moment. I pounced and grabbed the steamer containing the pork and shrimp rolls wrapped in bean curd skin. My favourite!

Simultaneously, I saw Old Uncle’s liver-spotted hand tug at the other edge of the steamer. I pulled but he had a determined grip. The trolley-lady read the scene and revealed the remaining steamer covers, and my fear was realised. It was the last one.

Out of respect, I released my grasp and the steamer rebounded slightly into Old Uncle’s hand. I spied his denture-grin of self-satisfaction as he placed it strategically in front of him, and not on the lazy susan. The selfish old man! Unbelievable. I stared at the ceiling, rolled my eyes, and let out a very audible sigh.

As I looked on my plate, a solitary pork and shrimp roll was there to behold. Old Uncle had split his share with me, and life became tolerable for now.

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