The first time I went to Yum Cha was a revelation. It was a crowded barn of a restaurant in Sydney, and my small table were the only Caucasians in a sea of dark hair. They didn’t even have a menu in English. My friend Geoff, who speaks fluent Cantonese, took us there, and did all of the ordering for us. The place was bustling, and small children played happily amidst the tables, dodging the streaming trolleys of food as they creaked around the room.
Of course the food was fantastic. But it was more than that. In that chaotic asian soup of sounds, flavours and faces I felt as comfortable as if I’d been born to it. I sat back in the madhouse din, all smiles. My soul felt nurtured, satisfied, home.
Years later, my sister and I often ventured to Sunnybank in Brisbane for an evening meal in one of the small family-run restaurants in that predominantly Asian suburb. The place we favoured had the worst translation of a menu I’ve ever seen, laminated tables, a clacketty old electric fan that pushed heat-wave summer air around in slow circles, and cheap plastic decorations. It had the ambience of a hospital waiting room. The food was home-style but tasty and the owners got to know us so well that after a while they just brought us a soup, a main, some sort of dessert – whatever was going, without us having to order. We loved the place. It felt like family.
When my husband was working overseas and I was struggling with a farm in drought, miserable with fatigue and acute loneliness, I would allow myself a fortnightly treat of yum cha on my own. Sitting by myself at a small table, with the routine of trolley, crowds, noise and family chatter around me, I always left feeling calm, comforted and reassured. A standard cafe never had the same effect, no matter how kind the staff or how delicious the food.
Why? Why Yum Cha?
It didn’t make much sense to me until I explored China, and then Thailand. These foreign places felt as familiar to me as breathing. The food, the crowds, the smell of the air. The first time I saw a line of bald-headed buddhist monks in their saffron robes, I was brought inexplicably to tears.
I was welcomed into temples, strangers encouraged me to pray and leave offerings at their family or workplace altars, monks sought me out for conversation. I knew some of the chants and meditations, although they were not in my native tongue, and I had not been taught them. I felt as if I had come home.
I’m sure Yum Cha stirs past life memories in me. They must have been good lives, for I find much comfort there.
How about you? Have you ever felt a crazy kind of connection to an unfamiliar place? Or known the place on first visit without having ever been there before? It’s more common that people realise.
Even if you don’t believe in past lives, you can still find places that take you back to a different time in this life, and to interests, dreams and skills you might have forgotten.
Wishing for you a day of reconnection and positive memories. And maybe some Yum Cha. ♥ Nicole xx