Technically, the request to meet up was her initiative, The Chairman mine, but this meal would have fallen in place no matter how it had been arranged: a very good friend from college, her boyfriend, one of the best restaurants in town, me.
We three had met once before while they were visiting Taipei, and at one of my favorite cafes, after he had gone to the bathroom, she had asked me nervously what I thought of him. And I had said, “He’s really sweet,” because he really was, and because anyone she chose could be nothing less than an angel.
In Hong Kong, they picked me up after work, and we walked over to The Chairman together. He led the way, with an unerring sense of direction I envy, and I followed just a couple steps behind so I could watch them be comfortable, be cute.
Our table at the restaurant was just inside the door, right outside the kitchen, and because the dining space was partitioned, our nook was so quietly intimate. The dishes arrived without fanfare—unctuous pork shoulder and tangerine peel, soy sauce chicken from the heavens—and with no waiters or neighbors or hubbub to fill the silence, they talked.
I talked, too, I’m sure—about what, I don’t remember—but I do remember them: she, effervescent; he, affably imperturbable. When I got up to use the restroom, she sidled up to him as if seeing him for the first time, like a first date all over again.
I would not realize how large the restaurant was until I ventured upstairs: a dozen tables, guests all around. Soundproofing at its best, I suppose—how lucky we were to have been given a corner of privacy! And I came back to see them holding hands.
After dinner, we walked around until we found dessert, and we talked until the last trains were leaving. At the station, she apologized for being loopier than normal—”I just haven’t seen him in a while”—and I said no, no, not at all.
If I cannot find love in this lifetime, let me at least be in the company of friends who have. Who try desperately to include me in their lives, but who, in the end, are unable to divert their attention from each other. Let them be helplessly in love. As they swim in waves of romance, overwhelming and unyielding, some of it will splash onto me, as it already has, as I hope it always will.
Superb, unpretentious Cantonese food is served at this white-walled, white-tableclothed restaurant just slightly away from the heart of Central. Flowery crab with shaoxing wine, chicken oil, and flat rice noodles is the signature, but The Chairman is able to make even the “simplest” dishes—clams with basil, chicken in soy sauce, pork and tangerine—taste sublime. The tables are perpetually crowded with locals, making a reservation necessary. Go with a group, and go hungry.
18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong
Mon-Sun: 12:00-15:00, 18:00-23:00
Around 800 HKD per person