For those who do not know what dim sum is, it is a Cantonese food fare that started out serving customers who wake up early in the morning to take their song birds to a gathering place to hear them sing. It was a sort of friendly competition and leisure pleasure to meet up with friends with common interests. Originally only hot tea was served. Then some enterprising owner of the place started to have simple items of breakfast foods such as steamed buns and porridge. Later dumplings were served. It has now evolved into an elaborate affair with all kinds of dainty looking foods. There are now two kinds of dim sum restaurants. The traditional ones would have heat generators installed in small carts to keep the steaming food trays hot. The dim sum ladies would push them to the tables where customers can look at what is there. Upon ordering, the bill would be stamped in the appropriate price category. Here in Los Angeles, there are dim sum places where all the price of different items is the same. It is quite an eye opener especially for those who never had dim sum before. Just let their eyes do the ordering. The more modern restaurants, maybe because of the lack of space for the cart maneuvers, will cook whatever items are ticked on the menu ticket. This is good for people on the go with no time to spare. A bonus for this way is that you are sure of the food arriving at the table is piping hot. Dim sum had come a long way.
Today, my essay is not about dim sum but a continuation story from an earlier entry of mine – Mid Autumn Parting. For those who are interested in the background, please refer to
We had dim sum last weekend. There were five of us. It was the usual run of the mill monthly ritual that we do to keep in touch. We were excited because we had received news from our Hong Kong friend who had left the US last autumn. He had suggested we should have a gathering in the coming summer. Of course we were excited and joined in the chorus of cacophony with other customers in your typical boisterous Chinese restaurant setting. Each different table filled with different animations of different people mired in their own world of affairs. We were debating whether to go to Asia or that he should return to the US. There were pros and cons; hotly debated as we caught on with excitement.
Then an evil twinkle of his eye, we knew what this close friend of us was up to in his sleeve. Time to have our brains exercised. True enough to our expectation; soon he uttered the following lines,
叢林百鳥啼, A hundred birds chirping in the deep forest,
枝上鳳凰遊. The phoenix roving on top of branches.
宴席長夜樂, Joyous are banquets through the long night,
定要醉為題. Must use the word ,“drunkness” as the theme.
We smiled at his vivid imagination and a way of demeaning us as nothing but a bunch of chattering birds while he is the phoenix soaring in poetic utterance. It was also a challenge issued to us. What a bunch of winos these friends of mine are! One friend immediately took up arms and recited eloquently,
花間彩蝶飛, Colored butterflies hovering atop of flowers,
池塘水蓮香. Lotus fragrance wafting on the pond.
難得良兄來, Hard it is for our dear friend to come,
不醉不為友! Not in drunkenness, we are not friends!
Well, at least we are now promoted to colorful butterflies while making him as the lofty pure lotus blossom! Not only that, he also suggested that our friend should come to the US instead of us going abroad. Then as we contemplated on his wisdom, another friend set off another salvo, continuing on the previous scenic themes,
水上蜻蜓點, Dragonflies hovering on the water’s surface,
萍下金鱗現. Under the duckweeds, golden scales appear.
此聚定要醉, For this gathering, we must get drunk,
酒盡才回家! Only when the wine is gone, shall we then head home!
Geez, are we now mere dragonflies while he compared himself to some golden carp to be dragon. Oh well, what to do? After all, it is his poem. I am always amazed at their quick witty replies. My mind is still at a blank. Well, as more tea passed around since the restaurant does not serve alcohol at this time of the day, my fourth friend started on his,
小溪柳蔭邊, By the banks of the brook, under the willow shade,
閑釣問長短. Fishing in leisure while asking the long and short of things.
遍地酒壺空, Strewn on the ground are empty jugs of wine,
嘻哈鬼震狂! Laughing in orgiastic merriment!
His poem suggests that we should camp in some private park where they can drink themselves to stupor; laughing and making fools of themselves without any care in the world. Not only that, no law can touch on them for being in thorough intoxication. Sure the idea merits a second thought. To be with nature while asking the ins and outs of our friend we are just a gossipy bunch hidden in the guise of things. And they say that only women revel in gossips! What baloney! Anyway, I was sure they were ganging up on me since I am the only one in the group who does not drink. If I came out with some similar thought, then they would ridicule me to no end as a hypocrite! Need to act fast but how. One of them even smirked and told me to take my time. When they are not drunk, they can be viciously dear to me. This is what friends are for, to needle and jab you without mercy and yet not have to worry about anything. I guess I have to rely on my engineering and mathematical background to save me. Then a mathematical corollary thought gave birth to an idea. To give me the time to polish my words, I chided them for being drunks while coming up with the eloquence needed,
上樓四仙醉, In this grand tower pavilion, the four immortals are drunk,
身無飛天駒. If there is no sky reaching steed by their sides,
若回玉蟾宮, Wishing to return to the Lunar Palace,
Breaking out in guffaws, they simply said, “Touché. Not bad... Not bad at all”.