An Oceanic Taste of Chinese History: Ocean Palace Chinese Seafood Restaurany by:Leung, Carol

11215 Bellaire (Hong Kong City Mall)
Houston Texas 77072

April 2004–With a distinctive Chinese, empiric design and standing in the heart of Southwest Houston , Ocean Palace Seafood Restaurant’s cultural and historical charm takes you by surprise! The green, glazed roof allows Ocean Palace Chinese Restaurant to glitter like an emerald jewel on the surface of Houston ! As you pass through the bridge that leads toward the entrance of the restaurant, the massive clear, blue water fountains surrounding gives you the feeling as if you are standing under Tai Yue Shan, one of Hong Kong’s most popular natural attractions. The misty, drizzle of water of the fountains sprinkle upon your face as you walk through a hot, humid climate of the mountains in the summer. Unlike ordinary Chinese restaurants, Ocean Palace Seafood Restaurant is a castle of two stories and inflects the feeling of how royal Chinese families lived in the 1700-1800’s when China was still under monarchy rule. Ocean Palace Chinese Restaurant at the Hong Kong City Mall is one of the traditional favorites for Hong Kong and Chinese families to open wedding parties, usually on the first floor, and entertainments shows on stage, sometimes even featuring some Hong Kong Chinese singers or superstars from abroad! Recently, Ko Thien Loc, Huong Hai Lam, and Xa Sze Man, three of my favorite actors and singers flew over from Hong Kong , China to Houston on Friday and Saturday, January 30-31st, 2004to perform a live show at Ocean Palace ! The live performance was spectacular and it was one of the best days of the year! Louis Ko (Ko Thien Loc), Huong Hai Lam, and Xa Sze Man sung some of their famous Chinese songs, danced and musical surroundings sparked the stage on the second floor banquet! Streams of delicious Chinese dishes like barbeque roasted duck, mushroom and bok choy with abalone, and Chinese-style fried rice was served on each table along with the show.

Both levels serve as dim sum and seafood dining rooms. On regular weekdays, dim sum is served on the first deck. Numerous tropical aquariums with decorative fish surround you as you eat, as well as live tanks in the back with live edible seafood. For dinner, there are countless varieties of fresh seafood beyond your imagination! Some examples include Dungeness crabs, Australian jewel crabs, shrimp, cabezon, tilapia fish, geoduck, Australian and Boston lobsters, oysters, and clams. Located at the corner of Hong Kong City Mall Center in Bellaire, it conveys a profound, authentic feeling of the Chinese culture. Both the restaurant’s exterior and interior successfully brings the heart of the Chinese to Houston .

Almost every weekend, whenever anyone in my family asks, “Where are we eating for lunch?” My parents would reply, “Hui Yum Cha,” which is a familiar Chinese phrase that means “Go drink tea.” It literally means to eat traditional Chinese dim sum and enjoy hot Chinese tea at the same time. Dim sumis a Cantonese term meaning “pieces of one’s heart” (Chan) that enhances awareness and understanding of the deeper meaning inside Chinese culinary arts. Most of the time, we arrive at Ocean Palace during Saturdays and Sundays. As our family enters the main doors of the restaurant, there are two rotary snakes of stairways curling up toward the second floor. As you look up, you could see bright, shining chandeliers as a flash of a camera would when taking memorable photo. The dim sum ritual takes place at the second-floor ballroom during weekends, which is usually crowded. “I am told that a thousand people can fit inside [the second story], and having seen it full, I [can’t] believe it” (Cook 4:13) As my family and I sit down on the cozy, snug sofa chairs, I always instantly adjust my head toward the glass windows that border the side of the right wall. From the second story view, you could see the top views of the auto repair shop and the mini centers that stretch alongside of the other side of the street from Hong Kong City Mall. When I look out further beyond the neighboring buildings, I could feel myself standing next to the bloated, puffy clouds and touch the shadowing silhouette of the downtown skyscrapers. Usually, only the fresh smell of scrumptious food, such as “some excellent Xiao Mai [or] barbecue pork rolls”, canarouse me from my meditation. It is a unique experience to be submerged by the restaurant’s cultural and historical surroundings and marveled by the excellent view overlooking Houston at the same time!

Once my family and I are seated at a table upstairs with clean, ceramic plates and wooden chopsticks wrapped in recycled paper, “breathing in the seductive aromas from the circulating food carts and enjoying the first sips from a pot of loose-leaf tea, the unavoidable sensation takes hold” (Cook 4:13). As the newly baked, mouthwatering dim sums are laid upon the table, it reminds me of how lucky I am to actually have time to spend together with my family. Most of my friends prefer to hang out with their other companions than with their own folks and some don’t even have five minutes to talk with their family! Many families of mixed cultures may have difficulties associating with each other, like mentioned in two of my favorite novels Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and May Pao-May Tung’s Chinese Americans and their Immigrant Parents. Chinese immigrant families, like mine, usually “[have the fear] of losing their strong family ties and seeing their children not practicing traditional customs” (Tung 173). That’s why my parents are meticulous about us speaking mostly in Chinese Cantonese-dialect and has set up a cable with Chinese channels at home. Strangely, I live and was born in Houston , but I seem to blend into my family’s Chinese culture more than that of American culture! I am even tempted to watch Chinese shows, news and movies on Chinese satellite more than that of the English channels. My interest for my family’s Chinese culture has greatly grown throughout the years. However, my education and knowledge “strikes a nice balance between the traditional cultural influences which affect the social behaviors of Chinese and Chinese Americans” (Tung 282). When it comes to reading, writing, and knowing about its history, I excel in English and American history much more. Even though I can pronounce Cantonese and English fluently, I am definitely nothing near amateur when it comes to reading and writing Chinese. Ocean Palace Chinese Restaurant is my emblem of who I am and what binds the two cultures together in my heart. Most importantly, the eatery is one of the locations that have brought my family together in happiness. It is usually the best time to share memories, feelings, and love with one another. Not only that, it brings me more knowledge about my family culture into my heart.

As our family sips traditional Chinese tea and chats, certain types of dim sum remind my parents of Hong Kong and Guangzhou , their hometowns. Some examples are shrimp dumplings and sweet black sesame dumplings. Shrimp dumpling is “a typical dim sum filled with fresh shrimp, bamboo, and pork mixed in a crystal clear wrapper” (Chan). The fresh, scrumptious shrimp dumplings that are being arranged on the table seem like golden, round goldfishes lying in a steel carton. As the shrimp dumplings are laid at the table, my mother usually tells us about the culinary art of dim sum and the old Chinese historical theories about them. Like Thomas Tseng says, “Chinese culture socializing is almost impossible without food” (Schwarz 28). She always says in Cantonese dialect, “To know if the dim sum in any restaurant is good or not, you must try the simplest dish: shrimp dumplings. If that doesn’t taste good, then nothing else will taste good in the restaurant.” Following the theory, she also explains, “It’s because that certain dim sum is one of the most complicated Chinese dishes for cooks to perfect.” Those conversations usually lead into the subject of extreme poverty back when my mother was my age and how women worked so hard for just very little money in China . Back then, I remember when my mother once told me that she was the only one who did all the chores and endured drudgery for the family, “As I worked so hard, my three younger brothers just eat, play and sleep!” However, even though my grandparents pampered my three uncles more then my mom, I could always see that my mother’s love for grandma and grandpa was always exceedingly deep. In the 1960’s, it was not unusual for parents to love only their sons and male generations. As I watch her talked, my mother would always manage to shed some tears while she talks and emotionally shove the dumpling into her mouth as crumbs of dumpling wrap fall upon the new restaurant tablecloth.

My father, on the other hand, loves to call sweet black sesame dumplings because it reminds him of the times when he was back in Ghangzhou and their old traditions. What would make my family laugh all the time is when every time my dad talks about his old days and says, “Back then in Guangzhou, this black sesame dumpling dessert is know as ‘eet’!” It is an old custom historical name for the dish. The particular dim sum also brings back his past experiences during historical revolts when the city was ruled under Mao Zedong. “Change in the economic policy of the People’s Republic of China introduced by Mao Zedong under the second five-year plan of 1958 to 1962. The aim was to achieve rapid and simultaneous agricultural and industrial growth through the creation of large new agro-industrial communes” (“The Great Leap Forward” 693). All men and children were forced into farming communes, and my father was one of them. “If it wasn’t for Mao Zedong’s agricultural plan, I would have been a graduate of one of China ’s top colleges! Before I finished the last year, I was forced to go farm, so I’m left as a high school graduate,” he would always boost, “You should know how lucky you are to endure the conflicts of life that you endure now, because you did not endure the worst conflicts and understand how much pain, hard work, and how much blood I lost!” If my dad had didn’t swim over for numerous days in the bitter and wintry seas to Hong Kong, he may have died with the “20 million people [who] died in the Great Leap famines of 1959 to 1961” (“The Great Leap Forward” 693). Also, not all refugees who swam survived. Apart from the times of depression, there were pleasant moments and times of laughter throughout the past to present time in both China and Houston . Their stories made my sister and my interest for Chinese history and culture grew deeper as well as our personal American experience made my parents’ interest in Houston grow too.

As dim sum is shared, memories of depression from the past and happiness of the present is flowed along the table. During these meals, my sister and I would absorb as much knowledge about our own background and history of China as we can. Sometimes, eating at Ocean Palace makes me feel as if I am living in my parents’ past and through the ages of China myself. Ocean Palace Chinese Seafood Restaurant is also one of the reasons that make me more eager for weekdays to pass by quicker!



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