From about age 10 to 12 I harboured a secret fantasy about dim sum carts. I wanted to hijack one. Not to serve people, don’t be ridiculous. Obviously to ride one around the Chinese restaurant, flitting past the round tables laden with ceramic bowls and golden colored table cloths, even push it down an alley of the modestly sized Chinatown of Calgary to see what would happen. At that age I only had one Chinese friend (in a predominantly Caucasian town as Calgary, this equates to a high number) and we use to plot about racing carts down the street of a quiet, suburban neighbourhood, to rankle homeowners who preened over their lawns with those high powered mowers and refinished the exterior in white siding, so blinding it hurt your eyes to glance at it.
The donut is king in my country. There’s Country Style Donuts, Tim Horton’s, 7-11, Robin’s Donuts and Mac’s — a range of donut pushers varying in quality and price. That’s right, pushers. Donuts are a shot to the Canadian identity. You can’t bump into someone who hasn’t thought of or just eaten a donut. I use to work at an engineering company and the biggest event was birthday donuts. HR thought it brilliant to combine everybody’s birthday for that month and spring for several boxes of timbits. They never got creative, never deviated from the plan, yet like clockwork employees piled into the lunch room and grabbed their donut portion. It got to the point I avoided donut day, my cholesterol levels and hip circumference just couldn’t take it any longer and to introduce something radical such as cupcakes was forbidden, downright controversial. Lately though, I feel nostalgic for the donut. My sinful one: Boston Cream. A conservative choice: plain with glaze on the top. The beauty of the Canadian donut is how universal it is, every facet of society consumes them, not just the pot bellied cops, but firemen, executives, postal clerks and truck drivers (really, you aren’t a truck driver with street cred unless you have a relationship with a donut).
The sizzle of the grill. Smoke pluming and settling in your hair. A greasy, salty smell seducing your olfactory receptors and your stomach. You lean close, inhale, and watch every movement, charting the nuances. This is street food culture in Hong Kong.
Her brow furrowed with concentration. Having fallen once already – the result being a scraped knee – determination had set in. She pushed off wobbly at first, but eventually managed to steer straight for a few seconds. A lightness danced across her face – she was sailing on two wheels – her pigtails flapping against the breeze. Until the handlebars veered left and her concentration lurched to a dead halt. She wailed in frustration. Her mother ran over, cooing soothing words, setting the bicycle upright. This was the scene I witnessed as I made my way along the streets of Yuen Long, a suburb of the New Territories in Hong Kong, far from the bustling alleyways or shopping centers of Mong Kok. If you recall, my first try at Roomorama culminated in a semi-disappointing stay. Though Yuen Long had a decidedly gated community feel, with surreal signage (Melrose Place in Hong Kong?) the single thing that suppressed any doubts were tiny grey birds chirping in the leafless trees. The quiet was a pair of warm arms to slip into.