Our Heroine Moves

Anneli Matheson

In Which Our Heroine Moves to Vancouver and Encounters Her First Dinner Dilemma at Kwong Chow Congee & Noodle House.

The table is large and round, wobbling slightly as we gather ‘round and scoot our chairs across the tile floor.  This communal culinary sphere feels as large as a Ferris wheel to me.  Teapots, hot and white, slowly circumnavigate with the Lazy Susan as we, my new friends and I, fill our cups and chatter. Dave, born in Hong Kong but a longtime resident of Canada, pours Jasmine tea into my cup and it tastes tart, green-boiled; it smells like a brewed garden. The din of Cantonese in this packed restaurant swallows our English whole and plays a duet with the clatter of a thousand plates and bowls being passed, scraped, and stacked.

Soon sliced beef with black bean sauce piled on steamed rice; sautéed squid with ginger and green onion, and whole deep fried prawns (a house specialty) march toward me on platters as white and wide as the noblest steed.  But two black chopsticks rest silently by my right hand; two black utensils that I really don’t know how to use well stand between me and this feast.  They dare me to grasp them, like Excalibur taunting the unworthy and ignorant before Arthur arrived and reached forth an intuitive hand.

“We can get you a fork if you need one,” James calls from across the Ferris wheel.  He grins and is joking, as comfortable and familiar with this food as I am intimidated.  This is my dinner dilemma: this Kwong Chow meal is a test.  Use a fork and I will be the pitied pariah, the girl from the sticks who couldn’t adapt.  Use the chopsticks and I am magical.  I will be accepted by my new friends and prove my cultural dexterity.

The deep fried prawns approach: eyes protruding from crunchy faces above toothpick legs and shellacked pink bodies.  I weave the chopsticks between my fingers with an unstudied air, conjuring up movie scenes in my mind where the characters deftly solve crimes or discuss their investment portfolios while elegantly consuming rice and noodles.

Like Arthur, I reach forth and clutch, squeeze, yank my food into submission. Hah! I smile triumphantly at the two prawns in my possession and chase them around the circumference of my bowl, feeling friendly toward my new city and new friends.  I give James a confident self-congratulatory smirk.

Suddenly, feeling a pair of eyes on my hands, I realize Dave from Hong Kong is trying not to stare. Encouraged that I’m about to be complimented for my technique, I wonder if Dave, James, Lori, Grace, Vikram, Sasha, and I will share many future meals together.
Leaning toward me, Dave whispers, “Uhhmmm, I don’t know how to say this exactly but —,” he pauses.

“Yes?” I say.

“Your chopsticks are upside down.”

About the Author

Anneli Matheson is an Associate Editor with Black Lawrence Press, and is currently co-editing a poetry anthology cookbook titled Feast: Poetry and Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner to be released in June 2015. She recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at City University in Hong Kong.