Battle of Wills -- and Utensils



HONG KONG – One unheralded pleasure of Hong Kong is eating with chopsticks, every day. This is by choice: many restaurants have fork and knife at the ready, just in case klutzy Westerners drop in. Some even serve me fork and knife automatically, like they did earlier this week in the HKBU faculty restaurant. “Chopsticks, please,” I asked the waitress. For good measure, I included my international symbol for chopsticks – a finger-scissoring motion that also works well in Rock, Paper, Scissors.


You see, I love the chopsticks. Slows down consumption. Makes eating fun. Sometimes, even a challenge. I’ll never forget the day-trip to Lamma Island last year, eating fried clams smothered in black-bean sauce. With chopsticks, sitting alone, I kept dropping the clam shells back into the dish, spattering beans like shrapnel around the table. Free entertainment for the young women at the neighboring table. Nevertheless, the Chinese seem tickled to see me handle chopsticks. Just as they’re pleased to hear me utter a Cantonese word here and there. That’s all the encouragement I need.


Tonight, though, I wasn’t up for for the whole sit-down dinner production, so I walked 15 minutes from campus to the gleaming mega-mall known as Festival Walk. Its crowded food court hosts a KFC and McDonald’s, of course. (What self-respecting mega-mall anywhere in the world wouldn't?) But for a food court, the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai counters offer quality.


As I await my grilled Japanese pork, garlic and noodle soup, I soak in the scene. It’s an enormous space, roughly the size of two football fields. Smack in the middle, jarringly, is a large ice-skating rink.


I don’t mean to keep whining about the weather. But while walking the campus today, only one thought swam in my head: “Man, is it hot.” Yet here I am a few hours later, my dark shirt covered in dry, powdery-white sweat rings, watching Chinese girls performing figure-eights, while boys race around them.


Carrying my soup on a tray, I notice just how packed the place is. So packed that I have to muster the charm to ask someone if I can share their table. I hone in on easier prey: a young, bookish guy, occupying one of four chairs. He’s either texting a friend or playing video games. He grins, shyly. I sit.


Looking up, I’m being watched by a Chinese woman in grey business suit at the next table. She wants to see how I dig in into my huge black, faux-lacquer bowl. They’ve armed me with matching chopsticks, with a spoon cast in a shape that, frankly, puzzles me. It’s a cross between soup spoon and serving ladle.


I know it’s to be teamed with the chopsticks, to help capture and demoralize those slippery noodles. But is this spoon multi-functional? Can it place it to my lips … and slurp? Would that cause a riot? I’m won over by the savory-looking soup. A sip is in order. As I raise the spoo-ladle (or is it a ladl-oon?) to my mouth, I stare back at the woman, defiantly.


Then I see it, and I’m aghast. She’s using a fork!