Chinese Whispers

by Benjamin Hames

A leap into the unknown Hong Kong


I found myself in a diner surrounded by a bunch of Chinese characters I couldn't understand, and I couldn't read what the symbols said either. Pounding the streets of Hong Kong the whole day had made me hungry, famished, starved; whichever way you want to say it I was desperate to sit down and embarrass myself with a pair of chopsticks. But, only if that were so easy. Approaching the counter, I did my best to assimilate and opened with Ni Hao or `hello' in Mandarin. They spoke Cantonese. The elderly couple behind the desk looked at me with a mixture of confusion and disappointment which I call the `ex-girlfriend expression'. Even the plastic cat on the counter was waving me to piss off. Still, I was determined to order and sample the sweet smells coming from the kitchen. It must have been rush hour too (not the Jackie Chan film), as a crowd had suddenly formed behind me. I'm not the tallest man but I loomed over the clearly irked locals. It wouldn't be too hard to imagine them holding pitchforks the way they were eyeing me and I must've sounded like Frankenstein the way I was mumbling my way through the whole predicament. I didn't want to be that guy who bludgeons his way through with English and I definitely didn't want to be that guy who just points and grunts. I wasn't going to stand there and shout `noodles' at an old Asian man. Plus, the man had the rugged, worn-in looks of an ageing action hero, so I thought it best not to get my ass handed to me on a plate. Though my stomach probably would have accepted the offer. I was all set to give up before a combined voice rang out from the crowd, `sorry' spoke my guardian angels. Two young men introduced themselves: Denny and Daniel, two Indonesians. Denny could speak English and Indonesian, Daniel; Indonesian and some basic Cantonese. We combined forces and managed to order our meals through the most literal version of Chinese whispers I'd ever seen. The two sat with me on stools about 3 age ranges too small for us and almost instantly the elderly lady from the desk came out with a tray of delicious, steaming, dim sum in a variety of flavours for us to enjoy. I hastily picked up a bun with my chopsticks only to instantly drop it onto my crotch. Seeing my mishap, the old lady turned away and said `Enjoy your meal' with perfect prose. The old couple could speak English the whole time. At least I had the warm fulfilling taste of dim sum soaking through my trousers to sustain me.