We found ourselves sitting in a four person table near the window at the Empress of China, an apparent hidden-yet-not-so-hidden gem of cheap dumpling on Little Bourke Street in the Melbourne CBD.
We sat at a table against a wall with a mirror. The annoying kind that catches your attention every time you look at the person to your right. You can’t help but pretend like you’re talking to the person next to you, when in actuality you’re checking yourself out. And not in a good way. You stare at yourself as you chop on greasy, fried food and recall the words of David Sedaris, “Look at yourself. Really, just take a look at yourself.”
And by you, I mean me.
As many of my stories seem to go, my friends and I were starving. It was a windy, cold and drizzling day in Melbourne, the kind that comes randomly in “summer” and makes you want to poop your pants thinking about how cold it’s going to get. We heard the Grand Prix cars from inside and confused them for an uncharacteristic tornado that must have suddenly hit the city. Climate change, it’s coming!
Sitting in the restaurant, to say it was a challenge to get the waiter’s attention is a gross understatement. I kept my hand raised like a teacher’s pet for the better of the 20 minutes we were sitting before ordering.”Well, the reviews said this place was cheap but that it had terrible customer service,” my friend Erin explained. We sat in silence and all made eye contact. Too tired to acknowledge with verbal cues that we agreed.
There were three other occupied tables. One with two girls in their 20s, two professional, middle-aged men on their lunch break and two women in the back. While my stomach growled, my hand was starting to go numb and my tongue desperately wanted some water, I envied their massive portions of soy sauce drenched rice and vegetables. I also envied the massive portion of the waiter, who of course deserves a lunch break, but obviously not while an entitled girl named Allison sits at his establishment.
While looking to my right I kept having mini heart attacks when I saw my reflection, to my left I watched our young, black haired waiter look down at his plate and one by one pick up his meat and noodles with chopsticks.
We continued to sit in silence, fully aware of how unimportant we were. I kept raising my hand and lifting my eyebrows in hopefulness, only to give up a few seconds later and grunt in frustration. On the rare occasion that we did prove worthy of his love, we asked him which dumplings he recommended, fried or boiled.
He didn’t take this question lightly. He knew that if we didn’t understand the weight of our decision, there was more at stake than a wasted meal. There was our future, our health, our well being. He answered our question with the dramatic phrasing of a life or death moment in a Sci-Fi thriller, but with the intonation of asking for an extra serving of salad dressing with his meal.
“Fried is tasty. Boiled is healthy,” he reported. “I cannot make this decision for you.”
And neither would we put such responsibility on him. That’s why we ordered 15 pieces of each. And if 30 dumplings split between two people wasn’t enough, we ordered two desserts. Because when in Chinatown! (Oh wait, that’s like everyday).
Each of us just paid $11.00- an absolute bargain for the Melbourne CBD for such quantity of food (only rivaling my beloved Crossways). I’ll take the arm cramps.
This post is part of weekly series titled Character Tuesday, where every Tuesday I bring you a story about (a) unique individual(s) I’ve encountered. Like I always say, life can be good or bad, but as long as it’s entertaining, that’s all you need. This series is meant to celebrate our quirks and idiosyncrasies.