Arriving in a large city always reminds me of how those of us living in suburban areas are so dependent on our cars for getting around. It’s especially true on this trip as I’m part of my nephew Prince Gabriel’s entourage and the myriad assortment of clothes, toys, luggage and accessories needed to mollify the future emissary of the Huang family jewels. Our challenge after arriving at Vancouver International Airport is to somehow get him and all his stuff through customs, into a taxi and on our way downtown to Aunt Mary’s condo without fraying the rest of our tattered nerves. Although Gabriel behaved as angelically as his namesake, Mama Michelle still deserves a gold medal in my mind. After 6 hours on a plane trying to entertain a precocious 10-month old on your lap, I’m convinced the only rational solution is some sort of Ambien for infants. If that’s not possible, then a cyanide capsule for Uncle John will do just fine.
Vancouver has to represent a little slice of heaven. No, its streets aren’t paved with gold and I’m sure there’s still a lot of death, mourning, crying and pain associated with typical big city life, but I don’t think I could find many better places to live. The weather is moderate with all four seasons adequately represented, traffic is manageable and outdoor activities abound. Sedentary individuals need not apply for residence here. The city provides you with a scenic 28 km walk or run around its fabled seawall and waterways. There’s also Stanley Park–a gigantic municipal oasis enticing you with 1000 acres of prime recreational green space enclosed within the actual urban area itself. If that’s not enough to tickle your fitness fancy, in Vancouver you could technically go snow skiing in the morning and jet skiing in the afternoon. We landed an hour ago in this paradise and I’m already feeling quite at home here, blending right in as every third person looks just like me–Asian, inscrutable, and slightly emaciated.
Don’t let my deceptively gaunt looks fool you. Anyone who has ever broken bread with us Huangs knows that we can all eat. We love food and have put many an all-you-can-eat buffet into chapter thirteen status. Early bird specials, senior discounts and two-for-one coupons only stiffened our resolve. I’m not saying we’re gluttons…well, maybe I am…but devouring good food and lots of it is one of our earthly pleasures. Vancouver affords us countless opportunities for just that and we’re ready for the day one challenge.
We have reservations for 8 adults and Prince Gabriel at the highly rated Western Lake Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Victoria Drive. It’s a reunion dinner of sorts with both my sister and brother and their spouses, my cousin Patrick and his wife Queenie, and my cousin Linda all coming together for this special family get together. Patrick and Linda are “real Chinese” people as they didn’t immigrate to the US until they were a little older and thus are as equally conversant in both Mandarin and English. I’m hoping their fluency will reward us with some authentic gourmet dishes as opposed to the bastardized ones off the usual tourist menus. For the sake of comparison, my brother Michael, my sister Mary and I are “fake Chinese”. All three of look like Chinese, talk like Chinese, and smell like Chinese (wait–that didn’t come out right), but we can’t really negotiate our way around a Chinese menu without being exposed as the fraudulent Westerners we are. Of course, our two spouses–Robin and Michelle, are completely “non Chinese” and not much help in that regard either. Their main worth in this dining extravaganza is that they have small appetites and eat normal portions of food, thus leaving more fodder for the real and fake Chinese people in our group to gorge on.
Enough of the preliminaries and on to the main event. The menu tonight does not disappoint as we’re regaled with dish after dish of delectable delicacies you don’t normally see in the bluegrass–roasted pig platter with jelly fish, sauteed scallops and sea cucumber with greens, stuffed crab claws with shrimp paste, crab meat braised with shark fin soup, braised lobsters, abalone slices with chinese mushrooms, steamed live fish, braised squab, stir fried rice with seafood, braised beef noodles with chives, a specialty custard dessert ……and the iconic Peking Duck. For everyone involved, this culinary encounter is a marathon and not a sprint and I’ve trained for this moment by not eating anything for two whole days. The non Chinese spouses drop out early as predicted. Patrick and Queenie having just returned from a week of gourmet eating on their Alaskan cruise understandably can’t go the distance either. That leaves Mary, Michael, Linda and myself to duke it out for the spoils of victory, all of us eager to choke down that last delicious morsel and remain the last man standing.
To cap off the perfect evening, my Dad insisted on paying for the entire reunion meal, even though at his age he wasn’t physically able to make the lengthy trip together with us. My mom was there in spirit also, looking down from her celestial perch, her mouth watering with every single swallow of those so near and dear to her. I look over at Prince Gabriel, peacefully napping in his car seat carrier, oblivious to all that was transpiring around him. One day he’ll eventually become fully aware of this palpable link between love of family and food. He’ll hopefully cherish these fleeting mealtime memories together around the dinner table and realize he’s already experienced a little slice of heaven.