When I am lost in the dark, sometimes I go faster and make lots of noise. Or, in the inverse of what American novelist E.L. Doctorow recommends, I drive beyond the high-beams.
So it was in the closet-like kitchen of Beijing Dim Sim Food Pty Ltd (51 Adderton Road, Telopea, NSW, Australia), which I basically crashed into earlier this week.
A very large and bearded white man being ever more exuberant and hyper-curious, as five Chinese dumpling makers went about their gentle trade of making gow-gee, dim sim, shallot pancakes, spring rolls, and pork buns.
When you point with your chopsticks (and show really bad form) at the cart rolling past at a some crowded yum-cha palace in western Sydney on a Sunday morning, it’s likely that you have Annie to thank for the magnificent morsels that come your way.
Since 1997, her Telopea-based, dumpling-making shop-front factory supplies dozens of Chinese restaurants and Asian grocery stores. Looking like snowballs in a Glad bag, some retail dumplings are also sold out the front.
To get my admission into the kitchen, I bought a bag of fish-filling gow-gee and a bag of pork-and-cabbage gow-gee; the latter are Annie’s best seller.
“30 per cent pork. 70 per cent cabbage. Salt and pepper. Little bit soy sauce. Very healthy. People want very healthy,” Annie tells me.
I am glad that something healthy, nourishing and profitable comes from a hard heart. Not Annie’s – Telopea’s.
If Telopea doesn’t mean ‘lonely ass place’ in an Aboriginal dialect, maybe it should. Housing Commission blocks like mouldy loaves of bread. Tree trunks covered in graffiti. Junk mail from Kmart blowing across the tracks of the train that comes through only once an hour.
I’m riffing with all this in Annie's kitchen - which means I’m really anywhere but the kitchen. So, what comes out are ever louder and stupider questions. “So what’s the Mandarin for rolling pin?”
I somehow squeeze through to near the best dumpling maker – 2000 plus per day. Roll, palm, place, seal. The whole action in under 5 seconds.
Each dumpling identically formed and plump and resting in neat rows on a metal tray dusted with flour.
She’s so calm and smiling. With no English, just flicks of fingers as she continues packing her parcels, I’m invited to settle and watch.
But, I’m still caught in my mental beach rip about how much Telopea sucks. Then, the migration status of Annie’s employees. Then, why are migrants blowing things up in Boston and I hope my cousin and her family are safe...
The good old monkey mind basically pushes the button for the ejection seat and I hurriedly leave the Beijing Dim Sim Food Pty Ltd shop in Telopea. The guy who runs the local grog shop next door smokes out the front and flicks the fag in the gutter as he sees me.
The soundtrack in my head is saying: “Wow, you really are an enormous dickhead.”
Then, an old Chinese man comes walking down the street. He’s got a portable speaker slung over his Lowes tracksuit top and it’s pumping out what I make out to be an exercise routine. There’s the screech of Chinese violin and a sergeant-like narrator barking orders by which to flap arms and lift legs.
He stops at the cross-walk and smiles when I ask for a photo. The pause button on my mad world is pushed. Stuff just gets calm and centred.
“Stop, revive, survive,” I am reminded of a lesson part of me just doesn’t seem to learn. Maybe, I need to go make 2000 dumplings.