Category Archives: Sharpstown

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

11215 Bellaire (Hong Kong City Mall)
Houston Texas 77072
281.988.8898

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!

MAP

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Houston On a Smaller Scale:Sharpstown Mall by Jason Olivier

7500 Bellaire Blvd.
Suite 201
Houston, TX 77036
(713)777-1111

April 2004–On August 20, 2003 I left my home of eighteen years in Austin , Texas to attend school in Houston , Texas at the University of Houston. I was anxious to get started on new life on my own. After checking in and getting all of my things settled in me and my room mate decided to go to the mall and get some shopping done and waste some time. We headed off to Sharpstown Mall. We decided to go there because someone told us that it was a good mall and had a nice selection of clothing. From that day on Sharpstown Mall became my official shopping hot spot. Every single piece of clothing that I have purchased while in Houston has been bought at Sharpstown Mall.

Anytime someone mentions Sharpstown or I see it I think of Houston . Sharpstown Mall is Houston on a smaller scale. Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation, is very diverse and is home to many different people from all walks of life. The same can be said for Sharpstown Mall. In the mall you will find people from all walks of life both working and shopping. Houston contains people from many different ethnicities. In Sharpstown Mall people from many different races work and shop. “Damn, that’s a lot of money for a small ass piece”, one person says while looking at a small selection of sterling silver pendants. The jewelry center is very diverse in itself. The jewelry center has a variety of many different shops with a nice selection of gold, silver, and white gold jewelry. All of the shops are owned by people of Middle Eastern decent, while the majority of the customers are African American. In Foley’s you will find almost every race both working and shopping. Foley’s has the same atmosphere as JC Penny and Dillard’s both located on opposite sides of the mall. In places like Champs, Foot Action, and Footlocker you will find a staff consisted of mostly African Americans. Shopping in these shoe stars you will find mostly African American and Hispanic people shopping.

As I pass by the food court I can’t help but smell the bitter- sweet smell aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls mixed with the smell of dirty water coming from mop, which is resting in a pale yellow bucket. The janitor sweeps the skid mark infested floor as if the world was ending tomorrow. As I ride the escalator down to the ground level I can see people gazing at themselves in the mirror after receiving a fresh haircut from the mall’s mostly African American barbershop. The front section of the barbershop is designated for the barbers while in the back you will find ladies braiding, giving perms, and twisting hair.

People go to Sharpstown, not only to shop or work, but to get away and hang out with friends. You can’t help but here the sound of kids laughing and joking after a hard day of work at school. Sharpstown is a popular hangout for the teenagers. “ I’ve been coming here since I first moved to Houston in 1996”, one girl exclaimed as she dug through her purse desperately trying to answer her vibrating cell phone. “ My sister used to come here with her friends too”, she said.

You will find the mall to be most busy on a Friday or Saturday night. During these times it seems as if every teenager in the city of Houston is at the mall. While some people are there shopping, the majority of the teens at the mall are just there to hang out with friends. “ Whenever we don’t have anything to do me and my friends always come here and walk around because we know there will be people here”, one boy told me as he looked down at the people passing by from the second floor balcony. If you enjoy a nice calm relaxed place to shop then you would prefer to go to the mall during the morning on one of the days during the week. In the morning you will find a more calm and laid back atmosphere. The only people in the mall in the morning are employees and elderly women getting a nice morning jog before most of the mall goers arrive.

My favorite place to shop in the mall is Foot Action. Of all the shopping I have done in Sharpstown Mall, I would say eighty five percent of it was done in Foot Action. Anytime a new pair of shoes comes out that I just can’t live without I know that Foot Action will have them in stock. While most of my selections at this store have been shoes, I have also bought other items also. I have bought everything from hats to shoe strings. My friends are also big spenders at Foot Action, but they spend more money than me on clothing and other accessories.

You can find something that fits you whether it be country, hip-hop, rhythm and blues, or easy listening at the malls only music store, F. Y. E. The store also has a nice selection of video games, DVD’s, and magazines. On top of the nice stores and food court, Sharpstown also contains a nice sized movie theater. The ten-screen theater has a nice selection of newly released movies. I haven’t gotten the pleasure of visiting the theater yet because I only go to Sharpstown to shop, however, I have heard that it is a very nice theater.

While Sharpstown is a nice place to shop, eat, and catch a movie, the facilities aren’t kept up very well. The bathrooms seem as if they haven’t been cleaned in since the mall opened. The stores are kept up very well, however, I guess the cleaning people are too tired to clean the restrooms after cleaning the stores. At first glance I assumed that the bathrooms were dirty due to all the people that had visited during the day. That assumption was quickly shot down after I went one time in the morning at the time in which the mall had just opened. The restrooms looked as if they had been left alone since the night before.

Sharpstown is a reflection of Houston because of its unique atmosphere and diversity. You can also due a fairly nice bit of shopping there too. This is why anytime I here someone mention Sharpstown Mall I immediately think of Houston, Texas.

Map:


Links:
Foot Action

F.Y.E

Foley’s

JC Penney’s

Movies