disgorge in this story it means lots of people getting off the bus
humanity lots of people
delicacies delicious food
sniggering laughing quietly
ambled walked slowly
curtly a little but rude
grubby slang word for dirty
spanking pace moving quickly
brash loud, bold, forceful
oozing to be full of, to overflow
skinny slang for very thin
snooze slang for short sleep
escalator moving stairs in a large shop from one floor to the next floor
dough slang for money
nope slang for no
Abalone. A large shell fish.
‘You’d have to be Chinese to love this smell,’ Trevor thought with great fondness. ‘Not been here for, well, maybe 25 years, but the smell’s the same.’ He grinned with delight, looking around at the partly old, partly modernised apartment buildings on the corner of Des Voeux Road and Connaught Road West.
Trevor couldn’t believe his luck at being assigned a job in Hong Kong. He knew it would be a brief visit, but he was determined to visit his old home in Aberdeen, buy his wife something from Stanley Street Markets and go up to the Peak on the cable car at dusk.
He mentally dusted himself off and started walking. It was time to get to work. He knew his Chinese background was the reason he got this job. His Mandarin and Cantonese speaking was still excellent. The old wooden trams rattled up the middle of the street. Buses swished past, stopping frequently to disgorge little ponds of seething humanity. This place was known for its dense population, but to him it was home.
He looked up at the street sign. Des Voeux Road it said, with Dried Fish Street written underneath in smaller writing. All along this street were shops that were packed with dried fish. Trevor walked into the narrow entrance of the first shop he came across, surrounded by large plastic bags full of delicacies. He was here on a mission and he needed to get the information.
‘Good morning,’ he said in English.
‘Good morning,’ the Chinese shop attendant replied, taking note of Trevor’s clothes. ‘How can I help you?’
Trevor tried to work his way to the back of the shop. ‘I’ll have a bag of these.’ He handed a plastic bag to the attendant.
‘Twelve dollars,’ said the attendant handing him the bag and accepting the correct change.
‘Thanks,’ Trevor replied as he walked out of the shop round the corner to his left and threw the packet into a rubbish bin close by.
Trevor walked into the next shop. He knew he looked a bit odd, but he wanted to be noticed. His odd socks, one red and one green stood out below his slightly short suit pants. His hands were in his denim jacket as he wandered to the back of the shop.
‘Can I help you?’ asked a young lady.
‘Yes please, I want to know about ho see. These foods stand for good luck?’ he asked.
‘Yes because of their auspicious name. Would you like some?’
‘Mmm, yes I think so, I think this is what my wife likes for New Year dinner,’ Trevor said as he closely examined the shelves at the back of the shop. ‘How much?’
‘Twenty two dollars per pound. One pound is good for two people.’
‘Okay that’s good thanks.’
‘These are from Korea,’ the girl continued. ‘Remember to soak them for half an hour before cooking.’
‘Thanks. Here’s twenty five dollars.’ He accepts the change and walks out of the shop, back around the corner and throws the parcel into a different rubbish bin.
Trevor goes into other shops and buys fish several times. Suddenly he sees someone with a familiar face. ‘I bet that’s Kim,’ he thought. ‘Wonder where he’s going?’
Kim obviously knew where he was going and on the footpaths getting busier by the minute with mid-morning shoppers, Trevor had a hard job keeping close enough but out of range.
After just a minute or so Kim went in to very large shop, absolutely packed from floor to ceiling with sacks and packs of dried fish. In the window there was also a huge fish tank with live fish ambling around. A couple floated upside down.
‘Bored to death no doubt,’ Trevor thought, sniggering at his own joke. He walked in, noting Kim talking to an elderly man at the rear.
Trevor ambled towards the back, but when he got close, he was stopped by a gravelly voice, ‘You want?’
An elderly man stepped out from behind a grubby grey curtain. He took hold of Trevor’s elbow and steered him towards the front of the shop.
‘Wan will serve you,’ he said curtly.
‘I want some dried abalone. You got some?’
‘Speak Chinese?’ Wan asked.
‘Sorry,’ Trevor replied. ‘I used to, but I’ve lived in New Zealand for so long now, I hardly ever speak it.
Trevor pointed to the name Wan on a name badge. ‘You Wan?’ The shop attendant nodded.
‘Okay. You want?’ asked Wan.
‘Dried abalone,’ Trevor repeated. Trevor looked around to try and find some.
‘This,’ he said, pointing to a sack.
Kim was talking to the well-dressed elderly man.
Trevor looked at the sack intently, both ears trained on the muted conversation at the back. He heard a couple of words. He held up his fingers. ‘Ten’
Wan pulled out a small plastic bag and counted ten into it. Trevor turned around and with a shock realised the other two men had vanished.
‘Thanks,’ Trevor said as he was given the bag. ‘I need to know how to cook them.’
‘How do I cook them? Trevor repeated.’ Do I boil them, or fry them. Do I have to soak them first?’
Another customer came in, heading for the back of the shop. The shop attendant called out to him. ‘Can you help with translating? This customer only speaks English.’
‘What do you want to know,’ the new customer asked in excellent English.
‘I need to know how to cook these abalone.’
‘I don’t have much time, sorry. Soak them for two or three days first.’
‘Really? That long?’ Trevor asked, following the customer to the back of the shop where the elderly man greeted the new comer.
Trevor stood looking very puzzled, as a few words were spoken in Mandarin and they both walked behind the curtain.
‘Are you sure its two or three days? That’s a hell-ova-long time to soak some shellfish!’ he called out to the disappearing backs.
Wan came over and steered him back to the front counter. ‘After I soak them what do I do?’ he asked Wan, whose expression plainly said he didn’t understand.
‘Ah!’ Trevor said, seeing a piece of paper and pen. He drew a saucepan, with water in it.
‘Yes?’ asked Trevor.
Wan understood. ‘No.’
Trevor drew a wok. ‘Yes?’
Another man walked in, much younger, dressed in a business suit. ‘He’ll speak English,’ Trevor thought, while saying, ‘Sir, you speak English?’
‘Sure, how can I help?’
Trevor pointed at Wan. ‘His English is not good. How do I cook these abalone?’
‘You soak them for two or three days,’ he said as the elderly man approached.
‘Really? Sounds too long to me, then what?’
‘Then dunk them in boiling water for an hour and leave to cool in the pot,’ he said as the elderly man spoke to him in Cantonese, drawing him also to the back of the shop.
Trevor followed, asking as many questions as he could while also picking up bits of the Cantonese conversation.
Wan steered him back to the front counter.
‘Then what? I eat them like that?’ he asked Wan.
In frustration Wan spoke to himself, ‘These idiots who can’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin. ‘How can a man lose his own culture, his own language? His parents have no pride. No love for their country. It is a terrible thing for a man to forget his roots!’
It took Trevor great self-control to keep quiet. Instead he got the pen and paper busy again drawing another saucepan then miming tipping ingredients into the pot.
‘Ah!’ Wan said, walking off to a couple of shelves and bringing back soya sauce, and a packet containing a broth base.
Another man walked purposefully into the shop, looking neither left nor right but straight to the back. He was as short and round as a barrel, but his little feet encased in black patent leather shoes moved him along at a spanking pace. Trevor hurriedly glanced at the roof and noticed an entire dried shark hanging from the ceiling, all the fins, head and tail, completely intact. Instinctively he followed the mobile barrel.
’What about this one Wan? How much? Wow that’d make some good soup. That’s a beaut!’
Trevor was just one pace behind the short man who looked like a brash loud mouth, and Trevor was not disappointed. The elderly gentleman grabbed the walking barrel urgently, but not before Trevor heard the entire but brief conversation.
Wan had had enough. He held out the parcels. ‘One hundred seventy three dollars fifty cents.’
Trevor took out his wallet, paid the money, oozing charm and gratefulness, said goodbye thanking him with every step out the door. He stood outside the shop for a moment as if lost, looking up and down the street. He slowly wandered off to his right, the bag of abalone open, as he stuck his nose in the bag filling his head with the wonderful smell from his childhood.
‘There’s nothing like the real deal when it comes to Chinese food,’ he thought as a skinny little man bumped violently into him, spilling all his abalone on the footpath.
‘Hey, look where you’re going, you idiot! Now look what you’ve done! This is expensive stuff!’ Trevor yelled.
‘Sorry, so very sorry,’ the man replied in Chinese, bending down to help pick up the food, replacing it in the plastic bag. ‘Please let me pay for it, it was my fault.’
‘Don’t understand Chinese,’ Trevor replied, as the bag broke and the contents spilled on the footpath again. ‘Hell, now look what you’ve done!’
Together they scrabbled around picking up the food. ‘Might as well go in the bin now!’ Trevor moaned. ‘Can’t eat it now, it’s filthy.’
Again the skinny man apologised, opening his wallet and giving him three one hundred dollar bills.
‘Nah, forget it. But you should be more careful,’ Trevor said in a warning tone.
Both men stood up, gave each other an uncertain smile, nodded to each other and walked off, Trevor in his denim jacket, suit pants that were too short and odd coloured socks, the other man in an expensive business suit.
‘Looks like Prada,’ Trevor thought, watching the other man hurrying away. ‘He probably eats abalone every day in the best restaurants. Never mind.’ He looked at the ruined shellfish, and threw it in the bin. ‘Back to the hotel I guess. Time for a snooze.’
Several hours later the phone rang. Trevor picked it up as a voice said, ‘Sogo. Times Square. Food court. Level seven. Window table. Fifty minutes.’ He looked at his watch, changed into a business suit and got a two dollar piece ready for the tram.
The trams were always packed, but today a late afternoon storm was brewing, and everyone wanted to get home. The inside of the tram was filled with buzzing, bee like drones, swarming from the rear to the front to alight and pay their fare. Trevor was no different, squeezing through the vacuum packed bodies, trying to breathe, but not too deeply, and slither his way to the front as Times Square came into view.
He used the main entrance to this flashy mall, dripping with expensive brand names, up several floors on the escalators, then rushed for a closing lift to the seventh floor. He exited to a huge food court, and wandered over to the windows. There sat the skinny little man in the Prada suit.
‘Excuse me, is this seat free?’ Trevor asked in a loud voice.
The Prada man nodded.
‘Okay?’ Trevor asked quietly
‘Fab. Easy peasy.’
‘Got everything then?’
‘The whole lot, and the proceeds from quite a few other games. Lots of dough.’
‘Great! No problems then?’
‘Nope. I had so much backup I didn’t even need my cuffs,’ the skinny man said patting his inner pocket where several sets of handcuffs sat.
‘Terrific. And I got it right?’ Trevor asked.
‘Spot on my boy. Spot on.’
‘So pleased. See you round then eh?’
‘Sure thing.’ Trevor got up from the table and wandered over to order some Hong Kong Noodles, and tucked into a good meal. ‘Wish they were abalone,’ he thought with a chuckle.
The headlines in The Standard enthralled Trevor the next day. ‘Drug and gambling ring cracked. Leaders arrested.’
Trevor went up to The Peak, wandered nostalgically around Aberdeen, bought his dear wife some lovely clothes made of Korean silk, and treated himself to a couple of silk shirts, one of which he wore the following Monday as he reported to his boss.
‘All went well then Trevor. Good work.’
‘The thing that really fooled me was the crazy password they used. Had to repeat it to Sam twice as we scrabbled around on the footpath with those stupid abalone. They must be running out of ideas. Fair go! Walk softly with a big fish. What next!’
Read more: Lucky foods: How to shop on Hong Kong’s dried seafood street | CNNGo.com http://www.cnngo.com/hong-kong/none/seafood-street-819095#ixzz1gYMGR6qo
Questions for review.
- What is this story about?
- Where did this story happen?
- Have you ever been to Hong Kong and seen this street?
- Who is the main character?
- Why did he buy lots of fish and throw them out?
- Who was the skinny man in the Prada suit?
- Where did they meet?
- Describe abalone.
- What kind of job did Trevor have?
©Lana Kerr www.englishstoriesforfun.com