Leaving Dinner

Not my leaving dinner (yet). Today is 5th November and marks six months since I first arrived in Hong Kong, as well as Guy Fawkes day back in England. Guy Fawkes day is not celebrated over here. As my expected stay in Hong Kong is likely to be three years I’m quite possibly one sixth of the way through it. Anyway, Friday night was a dinner arranged by my office for one of my colleagues leaving. He’d completed twelve years and I think had resigned rather than being one of the redundancies leavers announced from the UK office. I assume it was a resignation as he’s been replaced, although when I asked if he had another job lined up he said he hadn’t. Maybe that’s normal over here though. To celebrate, or should it be commiserate?, his leaving there was a dinner arranged for the entire office. As we have about thirteen staff here it’s not quite a huge affair, but everyone was invited and also to bring families along as well. We had two large tables in a separate room, and would have had twenty to twenty five people in total.

I had been invited earlier in the week, although wasn’t too sure whether I should go as it was largely going to be a Cantonese evening and I’d been warned it was a seafood restaurant. Six months in, I’m still not great on seafood. I can eat most fish, but shellfish I really struggle with; more from the mental side rather than anything physical. Although, crabs to my eye just don’t look nice, and the same goes for shrimps and lobsters… I’d decided to go as I thought it would look impolite not to, I had no other plans for Friday night, and thought it could be good fun and a chance to have a different kind of social evening.

As I mentioned we had a separate room with two large tables set up with a large TV on the wall, and a sound system that looked suspiciously like it was set up for karaoke. This was not an encouraging sign. On arrival there were some plates of battered chicken wings available and we were also passed a glass of white wine. Chicken wings always seem like a lot of hassle for not much return, but as I knew this was a seafood restaurant and I was likely to struggle with some of the dishes I had a couple of chicken wings. Washed down with what I can only describe as horribly sweet white wine. Not the greatest of starts.

Next up was plates of crabs. I’ve no idea how these were cooked – I’m assuming they were boiled, but everyone was able to have some entertainment at my expense as I found just the site of these crabs quite nauseating. I was, however, educated on how to tell the difference between male and female varieties. Apparently the male is more desirable as there is likely to be more meat. Next up came some bowls of peanuts and plates with celery in a chili sauce. The peanuts seem to be a staple part of most meals I’ve been too, as has the celery. I quite happily ate from these dishes, although I would have to class them as slightly boring dishes, and have no idea how vegetarians survive. At this point I’ve the restaurant staff are bringing in what looks like hot wine. My first thoughts are that this is pretty unusual, but I’m not exactly shocked or surprised – although I’m then reminded that sake is basically hot wine, and of course we have mulled wine at Christmas in the UK. So not really all that unusual. I’m informed this is a hot rice wine and should taste similar to sake. That’s probably the case, except here you’re expected to dump in a dried plum to add to the taste. It seems the dried plum is to add a kind of bitter sweet taste to the drink, and the longer you leave it the worse stronger it becomes. It’s obviously a mechanism to get you to drink the wine pretty quickly, and for me it worked pretty well.

We had yet more sweet white wine passed round, although I’d then opted to stay on water rather than the wine. Our next dish was a huge bowl of melted cheese with bits of lobster jutting from the surface. So, yet more shellfish… with a cheese sauce and noodles underneath. I tried a very small amount of lobster with cheese and noodles. Any taste was basically masked by the cheese so was edible. The dish itself was weird with amputated claws and legs appearing in the cheese sauce along with, I assume, cuts of the main meat of the lobster. Not the most visually aesthetic dish in the world for sure. Halfway through this it was accompanied by what can only be described as crab appendages. This time not in a cheese sauce it was just a couple of plates of various bits of crab, the torso being a notable exception. It seems incredibly fiddly and hard work to get anything nutritious from this.

As you can probably imagine I’m not eating much of this so far, however the next dish is a soup, and some kind of white fish. The white fish was fine, a bit chewy, but tasted ok, and the soup wasn’t too bad either. I must admit I didn’t eat the things in the soup though, as I’d been informed that one of them was some sort of sea snail, and the mental image just wasn’t a positive one. After this dish we had abalone turn up – one of which I ate but found absolutely disgusting. Which everyone else found very amusing. At this point there also turned up a plate of barbecued beef, so I was able to get rid of the abalone taste (and texture) with that.

There followed some desserts which I skipped as I’m not a big dessert fan any more, and felt I’d had more than enough sweet stuff with the wine and rice wine earlier. All in all it was a pretty interesting dinner, and it was fun from the social aspect to be out with so many of the office and their families. Added bonus was that there was no karaoke, but there was Nintendo Wii playing instead. It seems very odd to go to a restaurant and play a games console. There was also some (very bad) soap opera viewing to be done mid-way through the meal. I may not have understood the words, but it looked like a cheesily bad soap opera, particularly amusing when one guy jumps in front of another to take a bullet and when we next go to this guy (now on the ground moaning in pain) the main? character rolls him over to discover he’s fallen over on a knife too (with the expected bad fake blood). Absolutely hilarious from my point of view, especially as at that point the shooter decides to jump off the conveniently near by cliff.

I think the oddest thing is that the meal and taxi costs are then expensed back – you’d not get that in the UK. One final gift from the company on departure perhaps?

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One Response to “Leaving Dinner”

  1. johniebg Says:

    Mr Ervine, good to see you back. You probably have not been far but this is th first time it seems in awhile that you have posted. My favourite lin among many: ‘I would have to class them as slightly boring dishes, and have no idea how vegetarians survive.’

    This reminds me of the social evenings and being the only ghost on a very large round table of locals. Who ordinarily were hard to come by socially, were charm personified on these sort of evenings. It always seemed utterly genuine, their friendship. Although my western mind thought such genuine friendship would manifest in repeated outings. Which never occured.

    This was charming as these post seem to be …. I fear for the real Mr. Ervine. Maybe he is a kidnap victim and someone is having a whale of a time masquerading as him.

    PS I wonder whether you were such a fickle food eater as a child, or the produce of limited food choices as a child. I suspect the former, maybe the aging ones can shed some light.

    Great writing … on countdown already it seems. Do not do it.

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