I was back in Taiwan for CNY down south in Pingtung. A part of my normal routing is stuffing myself to catch-up on a years worth of lost good eating, (China is better than HKG, but no where near Taiwan). Typically my wife and I will get on my mother-in-law’s old scooter and putter into town to have some tripe soup, (with fresh basil and a hot dipping sauce), after afterwards some shaved ice and sliced, fresh, green tomatoes with a wonderful dipping sauce made from ground new ginger, oyster sauce with powdered confectioners sugar on top that you can mix in to your taste. It’s sweet, savory and has a great crunch, (it’s called ga ma bei or something). These are some of my favorite foods.
Anyway…I’ve been eating at this same ice shop since I was a teenager, some 17+ years or so, same store, same laoban; a tall heavy-set guy a little older than me. I possibly go to the place once or twice a year now that I no longer live in Taiwan, and even when I did… But, I 'm a bit of a creature of habit, so each time I go, I order the same thing - a tomato plate and dao shao bing with passion fruit and crunchy peanuts, (If you haven’t tried that combination, I suggest you do so immediately; it’s the best). Mind you, neither the laoban nor myself have changed, other than we’ve just gotten a bit older. That said, I think if I added up our total conversation in the total of those 17+ years, including order taking and settling the bill, it would barely fill a paragraph.
Well, this time on the way into town, my wife and I were sort of taking stock of what had changed and what hadn’t to the town and the surrounding farms. I remarked to my wife over my shoulder about how after 17+ years, the ice shop laoban should recognize us. I was even a bit indignant. I mean, how could this be? How many foreigners roll up to his place at least a couple times a year for 17+ years, (an mind you who speaks Mandarin fluently! Plus some Taiwanese!), and orders the same thing every time? I even ride the same damn scooter. He certainly should know us by now. You think he’d might have recognized that fact after all this time.
So par usual we drive up, park the bike and walk in – but this time before I’ve even opened my mouth to order, the lao ban turns to me and says, “Eh!, Today we don’t have any crunchy peanuts – do you want ye guo instead?.
Nothing else was said other than the usually ordering and settling the tab. My wife and I sat eating in quietly, as we usually do, watching the news on the TV overhead, with the kids playing the video games bing-bonging in the corner. But, I can’t tell you what a warm feeling that was…