I don’t know what the Chinese Mall is called. I never noticed. It sits on the east side of Dixie Road, south of the Gateway postal plant, south of the funeral home and the BMW dealership. There is an assortment of businesses. If you’re looking for a cell phone case or a Chinese video, or a passport photo, or some Asian sweets, they have it covered. It has a food court, which has for many years been a lunchtime haunt of employees of the postal plant just up the road. I worked out of a cubicle in that building for years and I don’t know how many times I’ve had lunch there with my work buddies.
There are several food kiosks, perhaps 7, set up side by each, much like in other malls. These are not your basic chains though, oh no, no, no. These are mom and pop outfits, cash only. They do a booming business, including catering. If you go on a Friday, better get there by 11:45 if you realistically expect to get a table to eat at.
Most of the kiosks are Chinese but on the west end there is also a Vietnamese pho place and a Korean place. The Chinese places have hundreds of menu items, most of them illustrated with photos. As well there are some choices only written out in Chinese characters. One place has multiple sets of numbers, so saying, “I’d like a number 14 and a Coke” is a no-go because the proprietor can’t possibly know which number 14 you want. Pointing is involved.
For a long time, whenever I visited the Chinese Mall for lunch, I would always go to a particular kiosk. This is because the woman who runs the place has magical powers and tractor beam eyes. She would see me as I approached the food court, lock her tractor beams in and pull me to her kiosk. When I arrived, I would look at the hundreds of lunch choices and before I could begin to absorb many of them, she would point to number 2 in the list of sizzling hot plates and say, “this one is good”.
I’d think, I’m a free man. I will not have the one this woman is pointing at. I’ll choose another. Any other. She turned up the intensity of the tractor beams.
“Ok, I’ll have the number 2 sizzling hot plate.”
“Yes, this one, and a coke please.”
The number 2 sizzling hot plate was a dish made with enormous quantities of thick noodles fried with beef and onions, a portion enough for about 3 people. It was really tasty, tasty enough that I would invariably eat more than reasonable and regret it later.
One day I decided I would eat at another kiosk. Yes, I’m a free man I thought. I can overcome the tractor beam. It took several attempts, but finally I did it. I looked straight ahead, refusing to meet Tractor Beam Lady’s gaze. I walked past her kiosk and turned down the aisle to the pho place. I ordered the vermicelli with pork and a spring roll. It was very tasty.
The next time I was there, weeks later, I did the same thing, heading past Tractor Beam Lady and turning down the aisle to the Vietnamese place.
“Would you like the same, sir?””The same?”
“Yes, the same as last time?”
“You remember what I had last time?”
“Yes, vermicelli, with pork and spring roll…….and a coke.”
“Yes, that’s what I want.”
One day my answer changed.
“I’ll have the green curry please.”
“Oh, sir, not the same today?”
“Yes I feel like a change.”
“OK, the green curry is very nice.”
Next time: “Back to the usual today sir?”
“Yes, back to the usual.”
Then I moved my office to another location and to complicate matters I badly broke my ankle. I didn’t visit the Chinese Mall for a very long time. After I finally recovered and returned to work, I met up with a buddy at Gateway for lunch. By now I was strong. Tractor beam lady had no affect on me any more, no, no, no. I was a free man. Now I always visited the Vietnamese joint.
“So nice to see you. Usual for you? Vermicelli, grilled pork and a spring roll right? Do you want a coke with that?
As my final week in the workaday world winds down, I’m pretty sure one thing I’ll miss is occasional lunches at the Chinese Mall.