I spend a lot of time eating food here in Hong Kong but not much time preparing it. That’s because I have a helper at home and when I dine out it just appears on the plate. Such is life for People Like Us.
But now, as I type, my fingers smell faintly of onions after the 90 minutes I spent this morning chopping an unknown chive-y/grassy sort of vegetable at The Home of Love, a Nam Cheong soup kitchen run by the Sisters of Charity.
I met three other AWA (American Women’s’ Association) members at Hong Kong station at 8.30am and we caught the MTR to Nam Cheong. We had to cross a busy intersection diagonally (v.scary) before arriving at a rough-looking housing estate. It was a long way, if not geographically, from the bright and shiny Gotham City Hong Kong we’re all used to.
We walked past one or two people asleep on benches and a lot of washing draped over tiny balconies until we got to the tiny nun-run kitchen - a hive of industry even at that time in the morning. A red-faced cook on a stool was stirring a vast vat on the stove and others were busying about with plastic bags full of vegetables I didn’t recognise.
We were handed some delightful gingham aprons and told to chop two bin bags full of the mystery chive-y/onion specimen – I'm gonna call it a ‘chunion’
We were all soon happily engaged in chopping and chatting but I was a little shame-faced when told by the boss nun that I hadn’t chopped the ‘chunion’ properly and had to do it again. A traveller guy sat outside chopping a volcano of chilies. The Sisters depend on people like this to help out, even as a one-off.
At 10.30am we walked over to the ‘dining area’ a sort of caged room lined with tables and chairs. The dinner ladies – members of the Korean Church (dressed to the nines for some reason!) – stood ladles in hand, waiting to serve the food to the men gathering outside.
From what I could understand, those who are allowed in to sit down and eat have been somewhere first to procure a ‘yellow ticket’. Without this ticket, the men have to wait outside for leftovers. It’s a bit disconcerting to watch hungry men, presumably down on their luck, stare in through the bars, ever hopeful.
At last prayers were said and what I thought would be a bun fight - ensued. Except it wasn’t a bun fight; it was a very civilised affair. I have volunteered in Mumbai where I’ve had people practically mow me down to get their hands on a samosa, but this was different. The men all sat waiting patiently while we served them. The Korean Church ladies dolloped rice, some sort of brassica and a meat/egg combo onto the tray and we took them to the tables –just like proper waitresses. One or two of the guys said ‘thanks’ but mostly, nobody caught anybody’s eye as the business of chowing down got underway. Some of these men were dressed in rags, some in suits and two or three in past season Liverpool strips (my favourite was a tee shirt reading "Who the FUCK are Manchester Utd?" - the nuns didn't bat an eyelid) but they all had one thing in common – hunger
Some of the guys came up for seconds and even thirds while those outside shuffled uncomfortably. One or two of the ‘yellow-ticket’ guys even brought Tupperware boxes so they could take away some of the grub for later (more anxious shuffling outside). Finally, one of the sisters turned up with some takeaway boxes and cups for the soup and an orderly line was formed at the door. Every one of them received soup, the main meal and a cake. Nobody went hungry I am very pleased to say because for a minute there I was getting a bit worried. Miraculously they had exactly the right amount of food. The soup kitchen runs every day of the week and these men depend on it for survival. Imagine living in Hong Kong – or anywhere - with little or no money. Thank God there are people like these Sisters in the world.
When the work was over (I was quite relieved they didn’t ask us to do the washing up ‘cos I’d just had my nails done) we went back to the city for a coffee - which probably cost more than the ton of ‘chunions’ we’d just chopped. There but for the grace of God, eh?