Wan Chai (灣仔), Tuesday evening

We walk down Hennessy Road (幹尼詩道), amidst its garish neon signs and endless streams of traffic.  The sun, wherever it was – a cloudy day today, for the most part – has set; a fine light rain descends on the street.  People are either moving to and fro in a hurry or patiently queuing up for buses.  It is rush hour.

But I’m on a mission.  A final mission.  This is my last day in Hong Kong, and I’m grateful to be spending it with my family, who arrived here several days earlier just as my classes ended.  And as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way for me to really tie things up, to bid a final farewell to a place I’ve called home for four months – a place that, I am now convinced, I will call home once again in the future.

If this really is the last time I will be in Hong Kong, then I am going to Joy Hing.  And if this is the last time I’ll be here with my family, then I’ll take them with me.

I lead them inside, into the half-bright (not half-dim) interior.  Even though it’s past the usual dinner rush, the place is still crowded as ever.  Two men behind the counter are busy hacking away at slabs of char siu (叉燒, roast pork), roast duck, and other meats; a female server walks from table to table (average distance: two steps), taking and delivering plates of rice and bowls of soup; an older man shouts orders to and fro.

I’ve eaten at Joy Hing before.  Several times, in fact – this is one of the places I tried to go to regularly throughout the semester, on trips to/from the Hong Kong Central Library (香港中央圖書館) in neighboring Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) when studying for exams.  So when I ask the server for four seats, she smiles and ushers us to an empty table near the counter before offering recommendations.  And somewhere in the explanations, she tells us that she recognizes me, that she knows I’ve been here several times already.  I feel giddy inside.

We order our dishes: char siu fan (叉燒飯, roast pork with rice) for me, two plates of “rice with three treasures” (三寶飯 – char siu, roast goose, and pig’s feet) for my parents and my sister to share, and a bowl of vegetables (which I can translate neither into English nor Chinese, to be honest) for all of us; I ask for bowls of soup to go with the rice dishes.  And this is where the place comes alive: the hacking sounds become frenzied; the old man’s semi-hoarse voice fills the room and beyond with its abbreviated orders; the woman hands us our dishes in less than a minutes’ time.  So lively, so simple, so efficient.

I smile and cry on the inside – I’m going to miss this.

We begin to eat.  Or at least I do, frantically mixing the pork and rice and taking the first few bites, savoring every mouthful.  But the server laughs and gently chides me for not remembering to pour any soy sauce (which they mix with honey, I think) on the rice, which she helps my family do.  I grin sheepishly, embarrassed but also proud that she’s willing to joke around a little (and still amazed that she recognizes me).

And we eat in semi-silence.  And it’s good.  Very good.  But it’s so remarkably simple too, all of it.  Just plates of rice with well-cured meats, all prepared and eaten in the dim fluorescent light of any place that would serve just plates of rice with well-cured meats, all prepared and eaten in the dim fluorescent light…

I’m trying hard not to philosophize, trying hard not to realize that this will be our last meal here (in fact, as I write this I leave for mainland China in just a few hours), but somewhere deep inside (beyond the stomach, I would imagine) I can’t help but feel sad.  I’ve grown to love places like Joy Hing because of their simplicity, their no-frills character.  It’s almost ironically anti-Hong Kong – a defiance of the complexities and façades that comprise the territory’s socioeconomic powerhouse.  Places like this shouldn’t exist in a city that, on the surface, has no room for them.

But it’s here.  And in that same spot deep inside I know that it’ll still be here.  Maybe not in the same exact spot at the corner of Lockhart (駱克道) and Stewart (史釗域道), but still somewhere in this ever-changing city.  I suspect I’m not the only one to think this, either.

Eventually, we finish our rice (I help finish the soup).  A delightful meal – but even more importantly, a family meal, and we are all happy and full.  I’ve missed that feeling.

Soon enough, we step out one last time into the Hong Kong night.  The sun, wherever it was – a cloudy day today, for the most part – is gone; a fine light rain descends on the street.  Only a handful of late commuters walk to and fro.

I turn around to take one final look at the restaurant.  At Joy Hing.  Its Chinese name, 再興, roughly means “continual happiness.”  It is, I now realize, such a fitting final statement.  And as we exit Wan Chai, I smile to myself.

I love Hong Kong.  I’ll miss it, to be sure – things won’t be the same when I return; aren’t the same today, in truth.  But I’m happy that I now have a collection of memories to look back on; a Hong Kong story to tell and share with family and friends, past and present.

Continual happiness.

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