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AN ENTERTAINING TOUR-DE-FORCE IN THE VOICES OF RURAL AMERICA In Pocahontas, Mississippi, the Hong Kong Buffet is more than just a place to eat. Glory Ellis Higgins swears by it three times a week, but as editor of the Junior League Cookbook, Ruth Delaney knows that it isn't of the finest quality; she comes to indulge her husband's taste for sweet-and-sour pork. In eight monologues, the buffet's patrons and employees express their hopes, disappointments, and prejudices. Sonnenberg's talent for capturing idiosyncratic voices makes Hong Kong Buffet a revealing depiction of small-town American culture.
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Readux Books: Series 3, No 12
Copyright © 2014 by Brittani Sonnenberg
All rights reserved
Cover illustration by Lisa Schweizer
Design by Susann Stefanizen
Published by Readux Books
Sorauer Str. 16, Berlin, Germany
Here’s how I do the Hong Kong Buffet on Thursdays, which is Teriyaki Night. First course: three egg rolls, two pieces of crab rangoon, Jell-O. Second course: one egg roll, teriyaki chicken, fried rice, mu shu pork, Jell-O. Third course: hot and sour soup. Fourth course: moogoo gai pan, white rice, whatever greens they have up there, Jell-O. Fifth course: Jell-O and fortune cookies (I always ask for two extra).
With my boyfriend Herschel I can do up to eight courses, and he’s just getting started. Herschel tends to do whole-plate portions, moving clockwise around the buffet. He never does get Jell-O. One time I asked him why not and he said it’s because he found a pubic hair in his Jell-O when he was a boy. You bring things like that up over a meal and I will not join you for dinner again, I told him. And I didn’t spend the night at his place like I’d said I would. But mostly because I was feeling like death after all that teriyaki chicken.
First time we came here, we were heading to another buffet, Jack’s “All the Fish You Care to Eat.” Herschel saw a billboard for the Hong Kong Buffet from the highway. “Hey look, Glory Ellis,” he said. “There’s a Chinese restaurant where the Waffle House used to be.”
I’d been looking forward to fried catfish all day so I was mad as dung when he made a right into the Hong Kong Buffet parking lot. I refused to eat anything but Jell-O, until Herschel went to the bathroom and I tried a little bit of his mu shu pork. After that bite I’ve never looked back.
I come here about three nights a week. After two years they gave me a VIP card, so that I eat for free on my birthday. Daddy says my eyes are starting to look Asian from eating so much Chinese food, but I checked in the mirror after he said that and they look the same to me.
Before the Hong Kong Buffet opened, the only place I’d seen Asians was on TV. Daddy had a good impression of them from the time he spent fighting in Vietnam. He said they were polite and good at hiding. Everyone here in Pocahontas, Mississippi was beside themselves when the family that works here arrived. I got a call from Herschel that there were people speaking Chinese at the Piggly Wiggly, so I drove over ASAP. I found them in the fruits and vegetables section, arguing over cantaloupes, it looked like. I pretended I was picking out okra.
I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but from the way the husband and wife acted, even though they were arguing, you could tell they were in love. He kept grabbing for her hand and she would push him away and scold him, but joking-like. The little boy would yell something in Chinese and they would both look over at him and laugh. I could have watched forever but they saw me so I figured I’d better quit. Later I saw the little boy alone in the cereal aisle, looking around like he was in Disneyland.
That was more than ten years ago. Now the little boy is all grown up, in high school I reckon. His daddy, the chef, used to come out of the kitchen sometimes to help clear the tables. He’d ask how things tasted, and how you were doing. I dreaded it as much as I dread the “peace be with you” part of church, where you have to turn around and shake your neighbor’s hand. I get real nervous talking to people that aren’t Daddy or Herschel. So I was relieved when they hired that skinny little Chinese busboy, even if he does try to snatch my plate before I’m finished And tonight I saw him do something that put me off my appetite.
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