Chinatown makes me laugh
Every time I go to Chinatown, it's a comedy show. It's so ridiculous, it's funny.
Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of my mostly-Chinese heritage.
I am, however, a fourth generation American, so while I'm very accustomed to the ways of Chinese (at least the diaspora that Americans are familiar with - I can't speak to the Millennial, higher class, Mandarin-speaking generation), I usually view life through Western eyes.
For Mom's funeral lunch, I wanted to try a few restaurants. I took my husband with me to have dim sum at Legends in Chinatown.
Legends is great! We love it.
Chinese customer service is very, um, different from Western expectations. Everyone sounds like they're talking at you - not to you, AT you- and at a volume that assumes the receiver has their hearing aid set to low.
Claus and I walk in at noon and ask for a table. They handed us a number and told us to wait outside.
We didn't realize that was a command, so we milled about in the lobby while vetting the room for appropriateness of a funeral lunch. Within about 30 seconds, the other reservationist waved his arm at us with an annoyed face and said, "Can you wait outside?"
After a short wait, we were seated. I sat on the inside against the wall. My blonde husband sat closest to the aisle, but nobody would stop to wait on this gwai lou.
"I think I need to sit on the outside so I can order," I told him, and as soon as I swapped seats, we had our dim sum.
I always joke that he's the token white. Nine out of ten times he's either the only, or one of the only Caucasians in a Chinese restaurant.
"Hold my hand so you don't get lost in the fray," I always warn him.
At this point, I generally code-switch. That means I dispense with pleasantries of tone and word, and simply name the food I want. I say it like I'm ordering my kid to do a chore.
"Siu mai. Hak kau. Char siu bau," I tell the waitress. Chinese value practicality, so I use an economy of words.
She asks me via gesture if I want the other dishes: chicken feet, pork balls. "Gau gau gau," I mutter as I turn my back to her to eat.
As the waitress moves on, there's a little congestion in the aisle, and she accidentally rams the back of her food cart into my chair. Nobody cares. I don't care, and she doesn't acknowledge it.
None of this is rude. It just is.
Claus watches this like he's the studio audience at a TV show taping. When I see him chuckle, it reminds me that this can be seen as really funny.
When we left, I asked him, "Did anybody even make eye contact with you in there?"
"Only when I went to pay the bill. And then she only said to me, 'Tirty dollar 24 cent.'"
We have a good laugh.
Here's another one. I went back to Chinatown to buy lai see envelopes for the funeral at a place, I think, on Maunakea Street.
"How many are in here?" I asked the clerk.
"About 100," he answered.
"About?" I asked. Silly me to expect to precision.
"Well, could be 99, could be 101. It's hard to count," he explained in broken English.
"Hou, hou, hou," I tell him. "I only need ngh sahp." Fifty.
I buy the envelopes and Claus and I went for lunch. While waiting for the food, we decide to see how many are really in the packet, for kicks.
It is not 99, and it is not 101. it is not even 90.
IT IS ONLY EIGHTY TWO.
I would be happy to pay the same price for 80 envelopes. I would just appreciate having some reasonable accuracy in case I actually needed more than 80.
Seriously? These are death envelopes. People don't want to have to come back to buy more when they're already overwhelmed with funeral planning.
Chinatown. *sigh* Always good for a story.