We’re having lunch out today. A new Chinese joint has just opened near UN Optometry and Nika and I think this is just that moment to prove their service. Anthony, Gerald and Cathy (the new girl) decide to join us, which turns this into … well, a session of the General Assembly.
A waitress shows us to an available table, as we enter the rather tiny eatery. Its cramped, where she’s leading us. What I can only describe as a bench rests against one wall. The table is set with very little leg room and there’s another bench on the opposite side. It will take some manoeuvring to sit all 5 of us. I begin to wonder what it will be like when we attempt to exit after this plenary session. Waiter Chu counters our hostess’s suggestion by declaring in Chinese that the space is inadequate. I give Chu a stare, as I very deliberately manoeuvre my way on to the bench and next to the window. Something doesn’t feel right about the way I stare at the young waiter; Nika asks to know what he said in Chinese. I brush her off politely. Gerald picks up the questioning after Nika. “Its nothing important,” I say and turn my attention to the menu card.
“What’s going on?” Anthony asks.
I beckon to the waitress and as she approaches our table, I say loudly and with affected politeness, “Qǐng gěi wǒmen yīgè hú bīng shuǐ” (Mandarin for “Please bring us a jug of ice water”).
“Oh, you speak Chinese?” she asks rather sheepishly, in Mandarin.
“I do, bring us the water,” I continue in Mandarin. It’s a declaration of war.
“What was that she said?” Nika asks in a combative tone. She’s a bit of a loose cannon in conflict situations, so I’m not letting her in on my game plan just yet.
The waitress recedes to the back of the eatery and has a word with Chu. I can see them from where I’m seated and can tell by their body language that there will be substantial casualties on their side. I’m in to maximize the damage. She returns with the water and, after she’s taken our order, she asks how long I’ve been learning Mandarin.
“Three, no four years.”
“Oh …, Shénme ràng nǐ gǎn xìngqù de pǔtōnghuà?” (Mandarin for “What got you interested in Chinese?”)
I respond in English and ask if she intends to test my fluency in Chinese. This salvo is intended to disorient her and directly engage her commander-in-chief. It works. She retreats with apologies and fetches the Manager. While she’s at it, I have to deal with the collateral damage of calming the nerves of my fellow diners. Anthony is quite oblivious to what’s going on and Cathy’s new and still trying to get used to all of us. Gerald does sense that there’s something serious afoot. He can’t tell what it is, but wont push too hard. Its different with Nika. Ms Just N. Fair wont let go. She keeps pressing for the full transcript of the dialogue I’ve been having with the waiters.
I gain an unlikely ally in the middle of this internal conflict. The Manager walks in with very generous servings, in response to our order. I hear a waiter say in Chinese, “That’s too much.” It draws such a look from the Manager, he should have turned into stone right there; a monument in celebration of the injudicious. She proceeds to serve and fuss over us. Anthony is simply blown over by the attention we’re getting and the sheer generosity of the servings. Customer service is up to gold standard, by now. Anthony declares that we must visit this eatery often. It goes further. The Assembly pass a resolution to dine in Chinese eateries only, from now on. They insist that I be part of the company on each visit, to make certain we secure equally regal and generous treats. I abstain from voting on this occasion and simply chuckle.
The servings are indeed generous, so generous we’re unable to go through them all. When I wave for assistance, Chu appears again and accepts to package the leftovers for us. He apologizes profusely for his first comment about the table offered us. Says his was a poor choice of words. He hadn’t intended to offend me; he simply wanted me to feel comfortable. As he turns to go, Ms. Just N. Fair deciphers it all and goes nuclear!
“What the @#%$? Are you @#%$*&~ kidding me? Manager; where’s the Manager? They’re not getting any tip from me. In fact, we shouldn’t pay for any of this. Where did he come from? Who asked for his @#%$*&~ opinion anyway?”
The Manager is distraught. She apologizes even more profusely for Chu’s poor choice of words and says our order shall be on the house. Anthony is totally lost. What exactly offended Nika, he asks Gerald. We got excellent service; the food was good; the lunch is free and she’s upset!
As we leave the eatery with our doggie-bag, I let the rest in on the reason we had such a treat. Chu thought I was too fat to fit in the space offered us, when we entered the eatery. He spoke in Cantonese and I was uncertain about the exact meaning of what he said. I appealed to time for justice; she gave me Chu’s confession and the courtesy of the house. The General Assembly is incredulous. I wonder whether I made the right policy choice though, seeing we went nuclear.