It was my last night in Dalian, China. Tomorrow I would be making the 12-hour flight back to the states and to my family in North Carolina. My guide and buddy for the past three months, Robin, was taking me out for a last hoorah. We were going to the restaurant around the corner from the Dalian Language Institute where I had been staying. The restaurant didn’t have a name, just a red awning over a door of thick plastic strips. We were to meet a few of our friends there. Helena, a college graduate with freckles on her cheeks like my oldest daughter, Sue Lin and her husband Joe who was my business partner, Shin and Mei two young men from the Institute who were both into marine biology and loved girls, and Robin’s cousin whose name I could never remember, were all going to be there.
The restaurant was a side-street, hole in the wall with hazy yellow light, a fish tank displaying the food you could eat, a lazy Susan in the middle of each table and cheep wooden chairs. And, like all the restaurants Robin had taken me to, the food was excellent. It wasn't like the boxed lo mein I’d get back home. Everything here was fresh (hence the fish tank) and seasoned with ginger, garlic, green onions and five-spice powder. Five-spice was a misleading name since each restaurant added or subtracted spices based on their region. The most common spices ground into making five-spice were fennel, anise, cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns.
But at this particular restaurant the soup was prized above all. Here, noodles were hand made, fresh for each bowl of steaming brothy soup slurped. The man who made the noodles would start with a ball of dough, put the middle of the dough on a post on the wall, grab the ends and pull. Then, folding the dough in half, he’d throw the middle on the post again and pull – doubling the amount of noodles and thinning out the strands each time. He worked fast and noodles grew in the blink of an eye. Also at this particular restaurant there was karaoke.
I’d sung karaoke before with Robin and Helena, but, even after one too many shots of hot sake, I’d never sung by myself. Many students and teachers I’d gotten to know while at the Language Institute made it a point to sing badly at least once a week with friends. Karaoke was a social event. And tonight was a Karaoke competition.