Christmas in Kong Kong

Hong Kee Respaurant? The agenda for Christmas and Boxing Day was simple, if a departure from the norm.

Take Christmas Day. For some folks it's a day to open gifts. For others it's time with the family.

I played Mah Jong! Mabel's Auntie and Uncle came over, along with her cousin Victor, his wife Cindy and their twins. There we were, nine people smashed into 450 square feet. It's a good thing we had extra chairs.

Mabel's mom had been cooking all morning, making traditional Christmas food such as spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, cashew chicken and steamed veggies. I was asked to make spaghetti; it's a big treat. I whipped up a huge batch with roasted garlic meat sauce.

"... nine people smashed into 450 square feet."

While cooking, I'd grabbed a hot lid and burned the crap out of my thumb and index finger. It was a serious 2nd degree burn and it hurt like Hell. I rushed to the freezer and jammed my crispy appendages against a frozen chicken for five minutes.

When Mabel's mom found out I'd burned my hand, she poured Chinese cooking wine into a bowl, grabbed a wad of paper towel, and told me to soak the burned areas in the wine with the towel. That sounded weird, but I did it. After 10 minutes, the pain... went away. The burn didn't blister, either, as I'd expected it would. Chinese cooking wine is good stuff!

Once everyone was settled, we chowed down. Some things may be different, but not this. We all pigged out.

Afterward, I sat with Mabel's Mom, her Auntie and cousin Victor for a round of Mah Jong. I wasn't sure Auntie would play with me, as she's superstitious and had once expressed concern the sight of my bald head would cause her to lose money. I learned she was concerned about my skill level. I was sitting with three skilled players. Imagine their surprise as I kept up and took the first three hands, winning a lot of cash on each.

Yeah, I'm good baby. It didn't take Auntie long to squash me like a bug once she switched to defensive play. We played two full rounds, and at the end of the games, I was $16 down. Not too shabby for a gwai lo.

While everyone visited, I cleaned the kitchen to give Mabel's mom a break. As the evening wound down and they left, Mabel and I relaxed with a movie.

We had a full day planned for the 26th.

· ƒ ·

On Boxing Day, while most of North America visited one shopping mall or another, we hopped a fast ferry to Cheung Chau. We'd been there before, and we thought it'd be fun to visit as we knew our way around. A short mid-afternoon trip brought us to the little island perched off the southeast tip of Lantau Island.

Upon arrival we rented bicycles to zip about the island for an hour. The bike I got was the biggest they had, but it was still too small. I felt like the circus clown who rides the tiny bicycle around the big top, but I took it.

The first 30 minutes were fun as we cycled around the outer northwest edge, past the scenic sewage treatment plant, the Christian cemetery, and a tiny beach as we headed toward the radar station.

The second half hour proved more of a challenge as we navigated our way through narrow lanes and side streets crowded with mouth-breathers who refused to make way no matter how often we rang the bells. Twits.

After we returned the bikes, we walked to a restaurant for an early dinner. We chose the same place where we ate during our previous visit as the food was excellent. The sign announced the name as Hong Kee Respaurant, but they cooked better than they spelled.

"... they cooked better than they spelled."

We dined by the waterfront where fishing boats were anchored and watched the sun set into the South China Sea. The food was excellent; the atmosphere was serene.

After dinner, we relaxed and sipped tea while I broke out a cigar I had tucked away. Thirty minutes later we went for a walk as the respaurant had become busy and noisy. Cheung Chau is famous for its popular seafood restaurants.

We walked through the lanes and side streets, looking at the shops with no intention of buying anything, but one little clothing store caught our attention. Mabel needed a winter coat, and this place had several on display, the likes of which we hadn't seen elsewhere. I suggested she try them on. I stayed outside with my stogie and watched her model coats while I kept one eye on a rat that scurried about.

I have a special tradition I started the first year Mabel and I were together. At the end of every year, I buy her clothing to celebrate the New Year. Finding this shop was fortuitous; she found a beautiful camel-coloured 3/4 length coat that wasn't too heavy, but would protect her from cold monsoon winds. She picked a nice shirt to go with it.

Mission accomplished. Satisfied with the fun and shopping, we boarded ferry for home. The day was fabulous: better than fighting rabid throngs of post-Christmas shoppers while being bombarded with Boxing Week ads.

We plan to return to Canada for Christmas, 2001. As much fun as we had this year, I missed my family.

I want to teach them how to play Mah Jong.

January 18, 2001

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