Monday, October 30, 2006

REMIX: Ancient Chinese Secret



Once upon a time, so long ago that I don’t remember the exact year except that it was between 1988 and 1993, my best friend Terri and I went to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Anchorage, China Garden, for an after-work meal.

It was not our favorite Chinese restaurant because of the quality of the food (Good Lord no) but because it was open until 4 o’clock in the morning and it was cheap. I worked until 11pm at a hotel and I think Terri might have worked a late shift at Fred Meyer but for whatever reason we were out late that night, telling stories and venting about our crappy jobs and crappy lives (although neither of us had it all that bad, really).

All Chinese restaurants in Anchorage are owned and run by wicked Korean women. Usually they hide their wickedness under a gallon of paint-scraper applied makeup and a vocabulary which consists entirely of phrases like “Hello, honey,” “That good, you like that,” and “You funny man.”* The service is usually pretty crappy for fine-dining standards but there are no fine-dining Chinese restaurants so you don’t expect outstanding service. Also, if you order a soda they are going to deliver you a tiny glass of ice and slam a single can of soda on your table. They will also charge you about $2.00 for that 12oz portion of liquid refreshment.

This is all part of the social contract between Chinese restaurants and their customers in my home town. We expect this. What we don’t expect is what happened at this particular meal.

I ordered a combination meal, one of the six or so combination meals on the menu. The combination comes with whatever entrée you select accompanied by pork fried rice and an egg roll. I vaguely remember ordering Combination B (or whatever its designation) which was Kung-Pao chicken. Terri looked the menu over and pointed to the combination section and said she would like the breaded almond chicken.

Minutes later our order arrived and was thudded down onto our table by the waitress/hostess/owner who spun quickly and returned to her opium den or illegal gambling parlor or whatever she runs in the back room of the restaurant. My plate of food was as ordered: chicken, rice, and the perfect looking but utterly inedible egg roll. Terri’s plate was piled high with breaded almond chicken but no rice and no egg roll.

Terri is very articulate and is not afraid to speak up when an incorrect order is delivered. She waited to get the attention of the evil Korean woman and, upon doing so, flagged her over to our table.

“I ordered the breaded almond chicken but I did not get my rice and egg roll.”

“You order a la carte.”

“Well, I pointed to the combination but I guess there was a misunderstanding. I’d like the breaded almond chicken combina-“

The evil Korean woman stopped her with an evil glare, bent over so as to get inches from Terri’s face (so much so that Terri shrank back a little) and nearly screamed, “THAT’S NOT WHAT YOU ORDER!” She then spun around and returned to her opium gambling operation in back.

Most folks would describe Terri as unflappable but that night I witnessed her being flapped by a Korean woman. Shaking off the flapping, Terri’s posture returned to normal – although a very angry normal. Very quietly and very calmly she locked eyes with me and said “you are NOT leaving that woman a tip.”

For dog’s sake, I worked at a hotel where many of my coworkers relied heavily on tips so I usually tip very well for good service and no less than 15% for reasonably bad service. Plus I am not one to make a scene. Looking Terri in the eye, however, I knew that I was not leaving the woman a tip even if it meant she followed us into the parking lot screaming and chasing us with a cleaver, which at one o’clock in the morning was a distinct possibility. I thought of the cleaver wielding evil Korean woman and I knew that any amount of cleaver damage inflicted upon me would pale in comparison to what Terri would do to me if I put a single rusty dime on the table.

We ate our meal and we skeedaddled out of there. Okay, I skeedaddled and Terri walked slowly and purposefully out. If anything Terri wanted it abundantly clear there was no tip on the table, daring anyone to comment on it or even look at us wrong. I didn’t know what was going to happen if there was a scene but I imagined a full-on hair-pulling cleaver fight which would end in my best friend going to jail, the evil Korean woman going to the hospital, and me being burned by a hurled bowl of hot and sour soup.

I hate hot and sour soup.

There was no scene and we never ate at that restaurant again. I did learn a valuable lesson though: Order carefully at restaurants – using the appropriate number or letter if they have them on the menu. Also: flap Terri once and it’s on her, flap her twice and you might very well kiss your gyoza goodbye.


This was only one of my restaurant adventures with Terri. Next time: The fickle finger of fate at the pancake house.


* This reminds me of a shorter but equally funny story which involves Korean hostesses and Chinese restaurants in Anchorage. I went with my parents to the Asia Gardens restaurant. What is it with those folks and gardens anyway? After being seated, the waitress/hostess/owner/opium den proprietor asked my dad what beverage he preferred by saying "And you sir?" My dad, in his charming way, told her that she didn't have to call him "sir." Without missing a beat, the hostess said "Oh, radda I call you ass-ho? Ha-ha!" We were all flapped on that one. Silence hung in the air until my mom and I, followed quickly by dad, burst into uproarious laughter. I think I nearly passed out. Now that restaurant earned many return visits.


jen said...

Favorite Chinese restaurant story (if I may):

At my last job, we would frequently go to the Happy Palace (which was quickly renamed the Crabby Palace due to the demeanor of the hostess/server/owner). If she had spotted you going into a restaurant in the same strip mall called "I Heart Teriyaki" you would be snubbed and forced to wait for minutes before she would take your order. (NOTE: Minutes are crucial at lunch time).

THEN, when the food was brought to the table you had to immediately raise your hand to claim the dish (esp. if it was a table of 5 or more). If you FAILED to say, "that's mine!" with a quickness, she would bring the food back to the kitchen. You would then have to humbly beg at a later time (after everyone else had eaten about half of their lunch) for your food.

I just loved that place.

Eric said...

An excellent addition; you most certainly may contribute any and all stories you wish. You have a very nice voice and I always enjoy reading your posts.

"I Heart Teriyaki" reminds me of another tiny tale. Our dispatch center swing-shift ordered frequently at a place called "Maggie's" which had an entire section of grilled food under the heading "I Heart Teriyaki." One day a coworker who I will only identify as RR, because her mother spelled Karren with twice the normal number of the letter r, recieved her teriyaki chicken and steamed rice with a big fat juicy fly hidden in the rice.

She called the restaurant to complain and the employee who answered the phone said "oh, that happens."

We never ordered from them again but I had a delightful notion that the name of the restaurant "Maggie's" referred to a cutesy nickname of the children of the flies.

Anonymous said...

Hey, no fair stealing my chinese food story momentum, you bastard!

At least site me some credit!


Eric said...

Here is my brother Jason's story which turned my thoughts to the Terri story. I'll agree that he reminded me of funny Chinese moments. Credit where due. Mea culpa.

Jason's Story:

I'm sure the family can re-count many fun and amusing stories of Asian restaurant mishaps and odd moments of displays of cultural diversity bordering on and past political correctness.

Tonight Derek and I went to the local Chinese place. We head down there when we run out of places to agree on going and just opt to cut our losses. The place is family owned, operated, and run.

The lady / owner / hostess / waitress knows us well. She knows what we like to order, and knows that the dog sits in the truck in the parking lot, staring into the window at the same table we usually sit at. She is always pleasant, always attentive, and seems very genuinely happy to see us.

Tonight we were having our normal bit of lethargy. The place was unusually packed. As we sat down, we noticed a ratty couple seated at our usual table. (sigh)

I didn't like them, I didn't want to like them, and secretly I hoped that their soup was cold.

Bad thoughts.
I need to be nicer in my thoughts.

As they were paying their bill there was some dispute about the prices and the order. The woman was vocal, the man was backing away. The lady owner etc came to discuss with her the error. An argument ensued about what was substituted for which item, and what should have been explained to the "customer", even though there was apparently no confusion, but rather the woman didn't want to pay for something she didn't order, but ate anyway.

Owner: But you ate it, and didn't say you didn't want it, and although you didn't apparently want it, you asked if it could be substituted instead of another part of your meal, to which you instead ordered and also ate.

Woman: I know, but I didn't understand that, and I shouldn't have to pay for it if I didn't order it.

The argument was cyclical, and continued, until the owner said...

Owner: ok, I'll split the cost between what you ordered and what you didn't and the substitution which you didn't want, but ordered and ate.

This seemed acceptable to the "couple".

They left.

Then, comedy happened.

Chinese woman, MAD AS HELL, yelling in what I assume was Chinese to her son and husband in the kitchen. (10 feet away, with many open windows).

Woman: ban yan bak yak ban ya
Son: yak yak yak con don yak
Husband: bah bah ya no yaw
this went on, but i can't keep making up poor facsimilie for the Chinese language...

This tirade went on for at least 10 minutes, and the males in the kitchen would interject something, which would only wind the woman up.

In her defense, she has never treated us badly.

I just hope that I never make her mad.

Oh, how I wish I understood Chinese!

jen said...

another classic tale, jason. i bet that if we all got together and did some poking around, we could come up with an entire book, nay--a SERIES of books, of Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant.

jen said...

just as a sidebar, i recently noticed that "I Heart Teriyaki" has been franchised in Northern Cali. there is now the cleverly named, "I Heart Teriyaki 2" and the equally impressive "I Heart Teriyaki 3".

it's genius.

KaraMia said...

suddenly I don't want chinese anymore...ugh

Jas said...

Ass-ho, hmmmm, I thought those were certain ladies of the night.....

Definitely not something you'd use chopsticks for....


All these stories make me laugh still.

Anonymous said...

Where did you find it? Interesting read » » »