Food and money

Written by Jon Van Wyk, our guest blogger , a Hong Kong based writer and teacher who has been living in Hong Kong for 14 years. He divides up his time between teaching and writing.

Years of wandering the streets of Hong Kong have hardened my lungs, strengthened my resolve, and made me almost immune to the vagaries of Hong Kong behaviour that I encounter daily.

After all, it’s so easy to be drawn into a comforting routine; home from work, shave, shower, then back down to the street to find somewhere to eat, walking amongst the ubiquitous stench of fried stinky tofu and preserved meat.  There are hundreds of food stalls everywhere, but it’s impossible to ignore the siren call of my cafe of choice.

The owner scowls when he looks up and sees me enter, mutters under his breath and shows me a bench.  He is obviously pleased to see me back again.  Customary, watered-down tea, is slopped down on my table by a waiter who obviously thinks that customer service means turning up for work on time.  He is covered in sweat, which darkens an apron that may have once been white, but is now a shade of ‘Hong Kong grey.

Looking down, I see a menu which is shabby and dirty, covered with the grease of years of hungry fingers.  So is the cafe.

Without hesitation, I choose my usual dish; receive a grunt in return and a bill for the food is slapped on the table even before my meal arrives.

Within minutes, the fragrant smell of beef and flat rice noodles can be smelt from the kitchen as my food arrives on a chipped white plastic plate, accompanied by awful condensed milk tea, served in an orange cup.

Without even bothering to take a sip of the disgusting tea, and oblivious to the dirt and grime everywhere, I begin eating.  Years of hot sesame oil and a seasoned wok produce a smoky beef taste that sends me to a higher plane of existence.  For a moment, it’s just the noodles and me; a sublime experience like nothing else.

Too soon my plate is empty.  I go to the counter to pay for my meal.  shriveled old woman with piercing eyes checks my tab and watches hawk like, as I remove some money from my wallet.  Before I can count it, she snatches the notes out of my hands.  For a brief moment, my meal is soured by this reminder of the fundamental lust for money that underpins so much in Hong Kong, but then the correct change is thrust into my hand, and as usual my polite thanks are totally ignored as I exit back on the street, blissfully satiated.

I’ll be back next week.…

 -Jon Van Wyk

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