Don't be polite!
By Walter Ang
February 16, 1999
A trip to a Chinese restaurant either results in happy smiling faces after a hearty meal, or it can sometimes leave you completely dazed. I find that going with relatives or family ensures at least an interesting, if not an eventful, evening.
First, everyone trundles into the resto and scouts for a good table. If you're like most people, you'll probably wait to be seated. If you're the more gung-ho type, you weave through furniture and people and seek out your own table. You beam at your adeptness for finding a table that doesn't have an airconditioner blasting straight at it.
As you sit down and take in the atmosphere of the resto, you realize all Chinese restos are basically the same. It offers the compounded layer of grease that covers every available surface, the loud clanking of silverware, the pudgy lady cashier with large silver hoop earrings who resembles the happy Buddha. There will be a small altar nearby with Tho Tee Kong and Sto. Nino beside each other.
Then the family acrobatics begin. The grandmother or mother will wipe her tableware (and everybody else's if they won't) with paper napkins and will douse her drinking glass with the house tea before anything else. The younger brother will play with his chopsticks grabbing pretend flies in the air. This, he will explain, is an imitation of a kung-fu movie he just saw the other day. The kung-fu master caught flies with his chopsticks in order to teach his student mastery of hand-eye coordination. "Haii-yaaa!"
The younger sister will be reading her Archie comics as the father reprimands her for doing so. An even younger sibling will rush off to the aquariums and look at the fishies and shrimp. You will tag along and announce to everyone against the din, "I'll look after the brat." The truth of the matter is, you want to take a look at the fishies and shrimp too. All of this and the order taker hasn't even arrived yet.
Later on, your mother will lay on your plate those squiggly seaweed appetizers that look like worms despite your pleas, head shaking, palm waving and loud nonononono's. Perhaps you've hated those squiggly worms since your childhood, and you taunt your mother for not eating the half slices of century egg your dad sneakily piled on her plate.
Immediately after the cold cut appetizers, the younger sibling once again run off to the aquariums with an adamant, "I'm full!" And as author Amy Tan puts it so aptly, rounds of "Don't be polite" will be exchanged among everyone. The rest of the meal will hopefully go on smoothly, accented by animated chatter and punctuated by rambuctious laughter by the adults as the young sister goes back to reading her book and the younger brother starts playing with the toothpicks.
Sometimes for extra fun, you could get a fresh untrained server. He will ceremoniously lay down the soup tureen in the middle of the lazy susan and will promptly leave without ladling the soup into the individual soup bowls.
All this fun (or torture), sad to say, soon comes to an end. If your family has invited someone else along, he and the father will argue as to who will pay the bill. Each threatening to become angry at the other if not allowed to pay. The brother starts mixing all the liquid condiments into his glass of half finished iced tea. The grandmother will have cunningly snuck several toothpicks into her purse to bring home. You start getting a headache from the monosodiumglutamate.