Taking the Nestea Plunge

Table for 12 Easter is a four-day long weekend.

Most people take the opportunity to get out of Hong Kong. An estimated 25% of the population left the territory: many went to the mainland, others went to other Asian countries. Anywhere else was good enough.

We stayed. Work interrupts our ability to get things done, so when the chance presents itself, we take full advantage. We accomplished a lot of nagging little tasks that had been left undone too long.

We had a full schedule Easter Sunday. At 11.30am, we met friends for dim sum. Part of the fun was watching the restaurant operate; it's a marvel of efficiency.

Tables vary in size: some seat four or six, others from eight to as many as twelve.

They're constructed using square frames, upon which is set a large, round piece of wood. Over this goes a table cloth and a metal turntable, followed by a smooth, round piece of glass. Surrounding this, at each place setting, is a small plate, a bowl, chopsticks, a spoon and a teacup.

Tables are set up prior to opening, but should a large party arrive, restaurant staff can prepare a table for 12 in three minutes.

"Try getting a clean fork at a North American restaurant and see how long it takes."

Busboys clear dirty dishes from the previous party. Another person removes the glass and turntable, followed by the dirty linen. While that's happening, two other fellows retrieve a larger table top and roll it into place.

In a flash, the new table top is set, clean linen is thrown over top, the turntable is replaced and the glass, having been cleaned, is set down. Servers with trays of clean dishes bang out the plates, bowls, teacups, spoons and chopsticks. The guests are seated and tea is brought out.

Try getting a clean fork at a North American restaurant and see how long it takes.

Sometimes, a table doesn't need a change in size, but location. If a nearby table is unoccupied, two men will execute a deft move, lifting the entire table top, dishes and all, up and over to the unoccupied table. Teacups on the other table are upside down; they place the table atop the cups, move the table frame into position, then replace the table top. In less than 30 seconds, the job is done.

When turnover is the name of the game, Chinese restaurants are masters of getting 'em in and getting 'em out.

Later, after clothes shopping and a movie, we went for a small snack before the main event for the day. We went into a cafe-style eatery that served both Cantonese and Western food. I never order Western food because most times it's awful. I asked for congee, while my wife ordered French Toast.

Congee is rice that is steamed with extra water until the rice becomes soft, with a porridge-like consistency. Other things are added, depending on what you want. I had pork balls, and no, they weren't what you think.

Mabel's French Toast was weird. They took two pieces of bread, stuck them together with a thick layer of peanut butter, then dipped it in egg and fried it.

It took awhile for her to eat it.

· ƒ ·

The main event was a service at the Kowloon City Baptist Church. No, we aren't Baptists. A friend of ours was getting baptised in a special Easter Sunday service; he'd invited us.

What he failed to mention was 70 people were getting baptised that night. If you're unfamiliar with Baptists, their baptisms are full-immersion. The church had a big water tank behind the pulpit, looking like a fish-less aquarium.

"I watched 70 people take the Nestea Plunge for God."

At 7.30pm, the cheesy pipe organ kicked into gear. The service was in Cantonese, including the hymns, leaving me with nothing to do but sit and watch. I watched 70 people take the Nestea Plunge for God.

People entered the tank one at a time. The preacher asked for affirmation, stuck his right hand in the air, made a short prayer and then used both hands to dunk the person backwards into the water. The baptised left the tank while the next person entered. Folks ranged from young adults to elderly people in wheelchairs.

Hymns were sung after the baptisms. The Chinese aren't shy about singing. The whole church belted out translated traditional Baptist hymns dating back as far as 1802. The only word I recognised was Alleluia.

Afterward, we went out for a celebratory dessert, then zipped home as we had to make a few Easter phone calls to Canada.

Where else but in Hong Kong can you eat dim sum, buy clothing, watch Jet Li kick ass, eat soggy rice, see a friend get dunked, and celebrate Easter Sunday in church, all in one day?

Where else, but in the City of Life?

April 26, 2000

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