Chinese “Cheers”

This is a typical conversation between me and my good friend, Laura, on any given night of the week:

Me: “Where should we go for dinner?”
Laura: “I don’t care. You pick.”
Me: “The tang bao place?”
Laura: “Yes, absolutely!”

There are several facts that I need to explain in order to emphasize the significance of this conversation:

  1. Laura is new at MAK this year, and she is a God-send. We clicked immediately, and she is now my dinner companion, my yoga buddy, a listening ear, the comic relief to my busy days, and a partner in prayer. I love her.
  2. We go out to eat multiple nights a week. Taiwanese cuisine is scrumptious and cheap. It beats cooking after a long day.
  3. “Xiao long bao” (小籠包)–or “tang bao” (湯包) for short–is the Chinese phrase for steamed soup dumplings [pictured above]. The “tang bao place” (christened as such because I don’t know its actual name) is a local restaurant that I’ve been frequenting for the last four years, and it serves the most exquisitely delicious dumplings I’ve ever tasted in my life.
  4. Laura and I go to the tang bao place about once a week. It’s that good.

Now the food at this place is truly amazing; in fact, my dad, who has traveled extensively throughout China and Taiwan and loves Chinese food, claims that these are the best dumplings he’s ever eaten. Every time he comes to visit, he requests this restaurant to be the first stop along his culinary journey. And it has more than just the soup dumplings! However, I digress. This post is meant to be less about the food and more about the people. (I promise we’ll come back to the food in an upcoming post!)

Like most small businesses in Dashe and all over Taiwan, this is a family business. The chef (or “lao ban” 老闆–“boss” in Chinese) is a middle-aged man whose two teenage sons work with him. It’s been neat to see the sons learn from their father and take more responsibility in the restaurant over the last four years. Here is a picture of my family with the lao ban (shame on me for not knowing his name by now!) last year at Christmas (incidentally, he was the one that asked for the picture to be taken):

The lao ban is now married to a young, beautiful Vietnamese woman, and they have the cutest little boy (about a year and a half old) together. The little boy is a perfect combination of his parents in looks, and he’s a smiley, happy little guy who has just learned to walk. Since both of his parents work at the restaurant, he is there almost every time we stop by.

During recent visits, Laura and I have been getting more and more familiar with the family. Though we have HUGE language barriers (a constant frustration for me here since I don’t have time to learn Chinese properly because I work in an English environment), we laugh and smile a lot with the family, and the little boy has become our point of connection. It’s fun to go into the restaurant, hear the lao ban greet us with an enthusiastic, “qing zuo!”  (請坐–“please sit down!”), head to “our” table, and settle in for an hour or so of good food and a sense of belonging.

Earlier this week, we stopped by for our usual meal, and we shared this fun interaction with the family as we watched our little friend becoming more sure on his feet:

Can you sense the joy shared in our time together?

Deep down inside, you know you all want that “Cheers” experience of walking into an establishment where “everybody knows your name.” Well, they might not know my name at the tang bao place, but they know my face, and I know theirs. I love to feel a sense of connection with the local people here in Taiwan, even if it’s as simple as a smile or a laugh with a cute baby who blows us kisses throughout our meal.

As we left the tang bao place the other night (feeling full to the brim, I might add), Laura and I talked about our friends there and how thankful we are to be connecting with them more and more. Please pray with me that God will enhance our communication with this family and allow us to build a relationship with them over the next year.

{Read more about this story in an updated post entitled A Surprising Friendship.}

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