A trip into the city to have lunch and return within one hour to beat the Parking Officer and avoid an inevitable fine at 16:00 hours.
Four friends piled into a taxi the size of a toy car, well maybe not. But that's how it seemed, like giant circus clowns with rainbow afros and shiny costumes squeezing into a Mini. Somehow we managed and arrived in the city within ten minutes.
The four friends stood with their backs to the wild, dry winter wind. The hood of my jacket protected my neck as loose tendrils of my long hair whipped frantically in front of my face. We crossed the wide street and scampered into the mall where Zilver restaurant is located on the first level.
We were seated immediately and before we could adjust our wild new natural hairstyles and loosen our jackets, three heavily stocked foot carts, wheeled by three petite Chinese women suddenly appeared at our table and the offerings commenced. Lachlan sat wide-eyed, unable to decipher what was happening. I could see he understood they were offering food but I recognised that look on his face, he had no idea what the food actually was. Byron expertly leaped to Lachlan's assistance as he instructed which dishes to leave and which he did not want.
I thoroughly enjoy watching him in his element. He's so used to the unique style of service and matter-of-factly directed in Mandarin and English what we would eat and what would be turned away.
I must admit, my first experience with Yum Cha several years ago was a negative one. I was so submissive that I ended up with more food than I could possibly eat, an expensive lesson that left me with a rather bad taste in my mouth... Surely I did not order those mangled looking battered and fried orange chicken feet. De-clawed and frightening they lay helplessly on the plate, untouched by myself. I couldn't bare to look at them. Yum Cha? If only I had gone with Byron, had I known him then, it would have guaranteed a wonderful experience. In fact I recall my company was a young chef who was trying to impress me by a different cultural restaurant experience. I was a few years older than he was and I noticed he was out of his depth as he ordered this and that, not knowing what the tiny parcels contained. Some were too spicy to eat, others were nicer, though I remember leaving more food on the plates than what we consumed and having a rumbling stomach as we left, telling me that I still needed to eat something.. How on earth my lunch was $80 rendered me speechless. Was it the chicken feet?!
Within five minutes our table was covered in a bright array of fine steamed dumplings and vegetables. Bright green choy sum stems, lightly blanched, hot and crunchy, dripping with an oyster sauce concoction that I can only dream of preparing at home (mine is always so depressingly salty). We enjoyed steamed rice parcels of pork mince with mushrooms and chives, others were bursting with spinach and finely chopped peanuts, and these bright green dumplings (pictured below) were filled with scallops, cooked roe and prawns. I was amazed that the tiny roe still burst in my mouth, just as fresh roe does. It reminded me of tiny bath balls filled with oil. My mother used to have clear orange bath balls filled with apricot scented oil. When I was a little girl, she treated me a number of times to a bubble bath, followed by a soak in her giant spa bath with those apricot balls- It was heaven.
More parcels arrived, lightly fried spring rolls, and parcels that I call moneybags (I'm not certain of the actual name). I could imagine a tiny dollar sign on the outside of the bag, except instead of gold coins, they contained brunoise diced carrot, onion, mushrooms, garlic, bamboo shoots and clear rice glass noodles.
We slowly sipped our hot Chinese tea and I marvelled at how quickly one empty bamboo steam basket was replaced by another. Prawn rolls, more vegetables, another white porcelain tea pot. Kailee and Lachlan entertained us with their attempts at using chopsticks, before conceding defeat and opting for forks. I wasn't much better but decided to continue with the challenge as I should be used to using them by now.
We laughed and drank and ate until I felt I looked like one of those little steamed parcels, round and bulging.
Some small egg custard tarts were ordered next, glossy and golden in their flaky pastry cases.
We paid and left after a brief look into a few of the fish tanks, admittedly not my cup of tea to see my food living and swimming around before I eat it. If I'm honest, I prefer to see the tiny parcels, wrapped like individual presents to be dipped in sauces of every imaginable colour and delicately eaten with long, slender chopsticks.
We farewelled Byron as he rushed off to work, then Kailee, Lachlan and I hailed a taxi and sped home to arrive with more than ten minutes to spare. We ordered deliciously creamy lattes from a tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe opposite my apartment.
The cafe is called Coffee, Tea & Me, and I definitely recommend the coffee, especially as take away before you embark on a long trip. They sell bagels too, and I have heard the hot chocolates are delicious (I'll order one next time). In the warmer months, they sell iced coffees, similar to frappes but better- Perhaps it's the milk they use, perhaps it's the coffee beans I can't be sure but they certainly are addictive.
I hugged my friends tightly before they drove off into the late afternoon sun light, then turned and walked briskly towards my apartment, my latte warming my cold fingers and satisfying my afternoon caffeine craving.
I unlocked my apartment door, poured myself a cool glass of refreshing water and sat on my balcony, overlooking the city as I sipped the last of my coffee.
I must admit I'm going to miss the convenience of the city when I leave. It's so reassuring to have inexpensive food cooked at any hour, no matter how ridiculously late, prepared conveniently for you and your friends.
As I sat tapping my foot to the soothing indie beats coming from the apartment below I contemplated how much longer we have on our lease and where the next adventure will take us. I miss the open roads of the country, the beautiful beaches, the long stretch of sugar cane fields by the wide rivers of northern New South Wales and the more laid back lifestyle I once enjoyed before embarking on my respective university and city adventures.
As I drained the last glistening drop from my water glass, I relaxed back into my chair and looked at the city skyline. I can always come back whenever I want to but for now, I feel the familiar pull towards the calming sounds of the sea, the salty air and playing my own music as loudly as my neighbours if I feel the urge, without the fear of eviction.
I opened my laptop and started a new Word document on a promising blank white page. I typed quickly and deliberately, with as much control as Byron demonstrated when ordering our Yum Cha lunch. I saved the document and relaxed back into my chair again, pulling my jacket more tightly around my body. It had grown dark and the city lights twinkled more brightly than the stars.
I stared at the document for a moment and it stared back at me, my subconscious giving the document a taunting voice, which shouted, 'Do it! I dare you!'.
'I will', I thought. Then I closed my Notice of Resignation and lowered the screen on my laptop.
I want the stars be the brightest lights in the sky again and I will see that in a few short weeks. But for now, I'm going to rustle up dinner for one.