I find myself thinking a lot about the familiar.
And how that familiarity manifests itself, in two languages with which I’m very familiar.
Neither of them is English.
Vancouver, Canada : Keefer Street, Chinatown
A woman bellows in Cantonese at the top of her lungs …
“牛腸,兩個!” (Beef noodle roll, two orders!)
Walking into the shop, a small group of women crowd around the front counter. Plastic bags hang on one arm, while their hands are clasped together with money in their hands.
A customer shouts her order, also in Cantonese …
“三個咖哩牛肉包 … ” (Three curry beef buns …)
I stand in the corner and close my eyes. The language and smells of childhood are everywhere. I know where there’s barbecue- and roast-pork, fresh seafood, and baked buns, and two restaurants where our parents introduced dim sum (點心) and yum cha (飲茶) to us. One is boarded up and derelict, and the other is now a music bar and lounge.
In our wonderfully blended mix of Hoisan (Toisan) and Cantonese, I’ll take mum out for the occasional “yum cha”. An octogenarian isn’t expected to eat much, but what she wants I can anticipate. One of which is the rice noodle roll; specifically, the beef roll (牛腸). Oh, it’s good: it’s slippery good, filled with savory beef. Sometimes, we’ll mix it up with a barbecue-pork (char siu) noodle roll (叉燒腸).
Now, the area includes the encroachment of unfamiliar elements, only expected with an absence of years. The remaining elderly Chinese who’ve stayed and new hipster elements breathing new different life will call this place ‘Chinatown’ in name only. Change is everywhere and inevitable: when one group leaves with their money, another arrives with theirs.
But for me, this neighbourhood of my childhood and adolescence will always be ‘Chinatown’: 唐人街, or 華埠.
Berlin, Germany : Wilmersdorfer Strasse, Charlottenburg
On the hunt for breakfast at 8am, I get what I want for about 5 Euros. I push the door and walk into the unmistakable smell of bread and sweet baked goods. There’s a lot of sugar in here: all the good stuff I’ve come to know over the years. There’s also the din and chatter between customers and staff, in a mix of accented German and Turkish.
One of the women behind the counter walks in my direction.
“Nächste, bitte …” (Next, please …)
“Morgen. Ich hätte gern ‘nen Mohnstrudel, ‘ne Quarktasche, auch grosse Kaffee. Alle zum Mitnehmen.” (Morning. I’d like a poppy-seed strudel, a quark turnover, and a large coffee. All takeaway.)
“Noch was?” (Anything else?)
“Das war’s.” (That’s all.)
When the clock strikes twelve, I know where to look for “döner kebap” in the German capital. On the Kaiserdamm in the city’s Westend, I walk into Lokanta, busy with the lunch crowd. Two big bulky rotating spits provide beef and chicken alternatives.
I catch the attention of a gentleman behind the counter.
“Bitte.” (Yes, please.)
“Döner, bitte.” (I’d like a Döner.)
“Welcher?” (Which kind?)
“Rindfleisch, bitte.” (Beef, please.)
“Komplett?” (With everything? lettuce, cabbage, onions, cucumber, tomatoes)
“Mit allem. Knoblauchsoße, Scharfsoße. Bestimmt scharf.” (Everything. Garlic sauce, hot sauce. Definitely hot.)
“Sicher?” (Are you sure?, he eyes me dubiously.)
“Natürlich. Ich bin kein Deutscher, sondern ein Kanadier.” (Of course. I’m not German, I’m Canadian.)
“Echt?” (Really?, he eyes me curiously.)
Ah, food: conversation starter, and the great uniter of people and nations.
I’m hungry, but the conversation remains short and sweet to the extent that yes, I’ve been here countless times with much time spent in country, and yes, I’ve tried to keep this language “akzentfrei.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stuff my pie-hole with your beautifully delicious Döner …
Perhaps, the divide is only in my mind. If “absence makes the heart grow fonder (or fungus),” I prefer to think about my impending return: the sooner that day comes, the better it always is. For me and what Berlin means to me: art & culture, food & her streets, and that elusive thing called love.
This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-7xO.