Dim Sum for One

I originally wrote this piece in 2011, about my trip to Hong Kong.

I wake up with a start—today is Dim Sum day! My guidebook said that you shouldn’t leave Hong Kong without trying Dim Sum, and since my host has no interest, I am on my own. I plug my computer into the internet and read the latest review of my chosen Dim Sum house, which says “This is the worst dim sum ever.” It’s time for a change of plans. I consult TripAdvisor again, and find Maxim’s Palace is rated highly and even serves the Dim Sum in authentic trolleys. A quick consultation of my guidebook leads me to discover it will take about 40 minutes to get there, and recommends arriving before the restaurant opens. I worry a bit about eating a meal traditional shared with a large group of people alone, but decide it is worth the culinary and cultural experience.

I hop out of bed, excited for what the day holds, and now armed with a plan. I brush my teeth, apply a few coats of mascara, change my clothes and rush out of the door to catch the 10:00 AM shuttle downstairs. 

A short ride later, I jump out and stroll through the MTR (metro) station. I get on the Red Line and get off three stops later. Now I am in unfamiliar territory-the downtown area of Hong Kong Island. I wander around, consulting my guidebook, and find the back entrance to Maxim’s. I climb up the stairs and join the queue, which is chock-full of locals—I take this as a good sign. 

A few minutes later, the doors open and the rush begins. I scope out the tables, trying to find a small one that still has a view of the harbor. I choose a circular four person table and the madness begins. Women roll their trolleys around, calling out their wares in Cantonese. Thankfully, the English signs on the trolleys help me identify what is ensconced in the bamboo baskets. I choose the recommended dishes from my guidebook: Barbecue Pork Buns and Lotus Leaf Rice. I am anxious to try another dish, and wait to see it. As I enjoy the barbecue pork buns, the hostess approaches me and asks me if I am expecting anyone else. I answer in the negative, and she asks me to move. Her supervisor then intervenes and allows me to stay at my table with a view. 

The hostess changes tactics and offers me some chai (tea). I readily agree, and soon she brings it to me. I pour a cup of tea and bring it to my lips. It smells familiar. I taste it and remember three months earlier, when I was anything but alone.

The smells of dinner since dissipated, I sat at a cozy table in Saky, Ukraine, surrounded by my world race team. We enjoyed our mandatory post-dinner chai. Tonight was our favorite blend of Jasmine Green Tea and Melon. We laughed about how much food Tatiana has again prepared, and our total lack of self control when it came to the dessert tray. Kathryn mocked me as I played with my hair and made faces in the mirror opposite the table. David made an unmentionable noise and we all broke into hysterics. These sweet moments of fellowship with the awesome, absurd individuals I have lived with day in and day out for the past eleven months are treasured in my memory. With only a few days left on our around-the-world journey,  I was trying my best to live each moment, reminiscing on the good times, laughing about the bad times, and enjoying the people who were here with me now. 

Our dining room in Saky with our hosts. PC: Leyna White

The moment turned serious as we settled into our review of the day. David was leading our discussion, and asked us to pick one word to describe each of the eleven countries we had visited. New Zealand-fun. Australia-unexpected. Philippines-orphans. Cambodia-hot. Thailand-redemption. Kenya-kids. Tanzania-malaria. Uganda-Buginyanya. Romania-Awakened. Hungary-homeless. Ukraine-amazing. 

I sat back and watched as my teammates blurted a word or phrase (Australia: hot-dash-school-dash-spiders), and worried about the rapidly approaching day when I wouldn’t be with them anymore. Who would understand what I had gone through in this crazy year?

I blink, shaking off the flashback of dinnertime in Saky. I wonder at the power of sensory memories and fight back the tears. Today, instead of surrounded by friends and love in the middle of the Crimean Peninsula, I am alone in a restaurant in Hong Kong. Today, instead of sharing deep fried Ukrainian delicacies in a basement dining room, I am eating dim sum by myself, at a table set for four.

I am eating dim sum for one, awash in memories brought on by a cup of tea. I finish my meal and my tea, and set off on the next part of my adventure alone.


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