Yum Cha

Despite working through Years 11 and 12 delivering pamphlets and local newspapers, I never gave up hope for better part-time employment.  I scoured the classifieds for any money-making opportunities, and dabbled in Avon, Amway, telemarketing work, you name it.  For awhile, I was a distributor of Yves Rocher, which, I was told by my supervisor, was the biggest cosmetics company in France, despite my never having heard of it.  She’d come to my house to give me a presentation of their product line (I had to invest over $100 for a starter kit).

I couldn’t be bothered making tea/coffee for her, but being a Chinese household, we always had a pot of Chinese tea in the kitchen.  So I asked if Ilona would like some Chinese tea, since all I’d have to do was pour it.

‘Ooh, how exciting, I’ve never had Chinese tea before!’ she replied in her bubbly manner.  ‘I’ll have it white with two sugars, please’.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her the only way to take Chinese tea was, well, with nothing, so I had to make her regular tea instead and pass it off as Chinese tea with milk and sugar.  Anyway, the Yves Rocher thing, as with all my other money-making ventures, didn’t last very long.

At that age, I dreamed of getting work as a waitress.  It seemed so glamourous, next to walking for miles carrying a heavy load of pamphlets.  Yet, every listing for a waitressing position mentioned ‘Experience Required’.  I had none.  I’d made friends at church with this girl from Vietnam (via Hong Kong, where her family had been refugees).  CT was four years younger than me but was quite the party girl and seemed to have friends everywhere.  I told her about my dilemma.

‘Oh, just lie about your experience’, she said, ‘Everybody does!’  I wasn’t prepared to do that.

So, for months, I kept looking.  I went down to Chinatown, where all the big restaurants served Yum Cha from trolleys.  It didn’t seem overly complicated; all the trolley pushers had to do were call out what varieties of dim sum were on their trolley, then stamp the cards at the tables, based on how many trays of food had been dispensed.  I went into every restaurant and asked at the counter.  Each time, I was asked if I’d had prior experience.  And each time, I was turned away.

Then one day, CT rang me.  Her friend, Joanna (aka Dior), was one of the main trolley girls at Choy’s Inn.  She couldn’t do her shift that Saturday, and wanted someone to fill in for her.  Would I be interested?  Hell, yes, I said.   So, that Saturday, I commuted nearly two hours to this rustic Chinatown restaurant, donned the period costume they supplied, and pushed trolleys from 11am-3pm, for $5ph.  I had to learn the names of the dishes, and deal with the temperamental head chef.  The very first table I served, I managed to spill some sauce on the Aussie patron’s lap – but he was thankfully very kind and laughed it off.

Another table I went to, I announced my trolley’s fare – fish balls.  The Aussie boy at the table, probably about 7 years old, turned to his dad and said, ‘Wow, dad, I didn’t know fish had such big balls!’  His whole family laughed at his wit.  Obnoxious little turd, I thought.

That shift was going to be a one-off, so at the end of it, I changed out of my costume and left.  I dropped in at Emperor’s Garden, a huge, new restaurant around the corner.  I’d applied for a job there the week before and had been turned away, as usual, by the lady at the counter.  This time, the owner himself was there.  I walked up to him and asked if he had any jobs available.

‘Do you have any experience?’

‘Yes’, I replied truthfully, grateful that he didn’t ask me to elaborate.

‘Then you can start next week!’.

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