One Man's Egg Foo Yung
I am standing at the local Chinese restaurant waiting for my takeout order. It's a cold day and outside the streets are slick with ice. Every time the door opens a bell chimes and then a gust of cold air cuts through the room. I wonder if the staff is not sick of listening to the bell. I've only been here five minutes and already it's beginning to annoy me. I don't know how they stand its interruptions. Maybe they've learnt to tune it out and the chimes have become mere white noise, a backdrop to to their lives much like the ice and slush has innocuously become a backdrop to mine.
The lady at the counter asks me what I'd like today and I order the usual. Egg Drop soup, Shrimp Schezuan (she pronounces it for me) and Vegetable Lo Mein. I discovered this restaurant recently on my way back home from work one day and have been coming by frequently since. The staff are helpful, the food is freshly cooked and there is a sense of flavor to what you eat. They actually prepare the food in front of you. It's interesting to watch the chef cook your meal. He stirs some oil in a wok and throws in a fistful of vegetables; baby corn, scallions, mushrooms and a few others I don't recognise. His wife scoops up some sauce from a container and hands it to him. She fries some crab rangoon while her husband stirs in the shrimp. The air is saturated with the smell of food. I feel like swooning.
It is a family restaurant and the children are occasionally there. They have a boy and a girl who sit at the counter and watch the customers. The daughter is the older one and she helps her mother pack the food into bags. Her little brother just sits there, trying to pick fights with her. He is losing his milk teeth and has a wide grin that extends all the way back into his throat. He enjoys baiting her but she doesn't give in. She just works quietly with her mother, acquiring efficiencies like other kids pick up hobbies. Although she is probably only eight or nine years old there is a sense of composure about her that is impressive.
Today the kids were at school and they've just come in. They walk to one of the tables at the far end of the dining area and shrug off their schoolbags and their jackets. The girl goes over to help her mother. The boy takes a box out of his schoolbag and brings it to show her. It is a box of cake mix. Pillsbury's Funfetti Valentine Cake Mix. The cover is decorated with two large pink cupcakes shimmering with sprinkles. The Pillsbury man stands in the background holding a swollen red heart that reads "Be Mine." The children place the box on the counter and stare at it. Behind them their father raises a sudden burst of flames from his wok as the Schezuan Shrimp sizzles inside but the children continue to look at the cupcakes, turning the box over, admiring the pictures on the cover. A few minutes later the girl returns to her mother. Her brother picks up the box off the counter and hugs it. It is the most beautiful thing in the world.