Thursday, September 09, 2010
The object(s) #16 Chinese cups
These little Chinese restaurant tea cups are really evidence of some kind of nostalgia disorder that I think I must have. I buy them when I see them at yard sales or secondhand stores, not because I will ever drink tea from them, or find any practical use for them, but because they remind me of the Shanghai Restaurant in Pocatello where I grew up. Sadly, it is no longer there, but it was there throughout my childhood and probably for years before and after.
Bing Hong, the owner, was a tiny Chinese man, straight out of the movies and the restaurant was located in the oldest part of town, just up from the railroad tracks, in a slightly wobbly old Victorian brick building. The high-ceiling-ed dining room was dimly lit with red silk lanterns and the walls were hung with painted silk scrolls. As children we were taken there for special occasions. It was a real restaurant, as opposed to the A&W or Fred and Kelley's where you sat in your car and carhops delivered your food on a tray that clipped to the car window. The Shanghai was a little bit fancy. The food was exotic and delicious. I especially loved the little red-tinged medallions of cold pork that you dipped into fiery hot mustard, then into sesame seeds. And, of course the fortune cookies at the end of the meal. There were tablecloths and lovely china plates and bowls from China. Tea came in a little metal teapot. Even as children we drank the pale tea from those little porcelain cups. A couple of sugar cubes made it palatable and I felt quite worldly carefully sipping the syrupy blend.
Later, in High School, the Shanghai was a favorite place to go for dinner before the prom or the Christmas formal. I have a dreamy, unfocused memory of dozens of couples in frothy dresses and rented tuxedos perched on tiny chairs, sipping tea as Mr. Hong scurried from table to table. I knew one of Mr. Hong's nephews in High School. He worked in the kitchen at the restaurant and told me that Mr. Hong had brought many family members to Pocatello from China over the years and each got his start working at the restaurant. I don't know when the restaurant closed. Perhaps Mr. Hong died. I don't know. He always seemed old. I wonder what happened to the lanterns and the tea cups and the glass case, full of cigars, where you paid your bill. It was in a little entry area, next to an ancient pay phone. Easy to imagine that it is all still there, like it always was.
When did Chinese restaurants become so ordinary? When did you last hear anyone rave about the fabulous Chinese restaurant they just ate at? And when did they start serving tea in silly plastic tea cups?