Jason glanced at his watch. In a few minutes, he, Michelle and a few other colleagues would be heading out of the office to have dinner at Hong Kong Kitchen. He pulled on his jacket and then went over to his desk to power off his computer before locking his drawers.
Michelle stood at the doorway. “Ready?” she asked.
“Yes.” He walked over to her and together, they joined the others who were waiting in the reception area. There were eight of them. They took two cars. Michelle, Mei Ling and he rode with Michael while the other three went with Kai.
Hong Kong Kitchen turned out to be a colorful and vibrant place where they served delicious Chinese cuisine. There were solo diners, families and groups. They found a table near the window. Jason removed his jacket, spread it at the back of the chair and sat down. Michelle was sitting on his right. The waitress went over to give them menus and to take their drink orders.
“What are you going to have?” Michelle asked Jason as he looked through the menu.
“A Hong Kong burger,” he said, his mouth watering at the thought of sinking his teeth into one. It had been a while since he had done that.
Michelle smiled knowingly. “Sounds good but I’ll have the Chicken Fried Noodles.”
“You always have that whenever we come here,” Kai said to her shaking his head. “Why don’t you try something different for a change?”
“No. I’ll stick with what I know and love.”
“Hmph. Well, I’ll try the Dry Chilli Prawns.”
“I’ll have the Spicy Chicken Wings,” Michael announced. “What about you, Mei Ling?”
“I’ll have the Chili Garlic Chicken.”
Ling, Jun and Taio the other three in the group had Stir-fried Pak Choi, Chicken Cashew Nut and Beef with Broccoli and respectively.
Jason thoroughly enjoyed his burger and spicy fries. He promised himself that the next time he would try one of the other dishes. He wondered if Karine would like it here.
“How’s your burger?” Michelle asked him.
“Delicious,” he said without any hesitation.
“I know how you feel,” Kai said. “When I first moved to Nairobi, all I wanted to eat was Chinese food. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I decided to try Kenyan food and I’m happy I did. It’s my second favorite cuisine.”
“Although I’ve been here for ten years, I still miss Beijing very much,” Ling said. “Every opportunity I get, I visit my family.”
“I don’t miss living in China,” Jun said. “I don’t miss the Hip hopping hoodlums and rash inducing radishes.”
“Rash inducing radishes?” Michelle queried.
“Yes, whenever I had radishes, I broke out in ugly rashes. It was awful.”
“And what’s with the derogatory remark about Hip Hop?” Taio demanded. “Why do you assume that Hip Hop artists are hoodlums?”
“I won’t even classify them as artists,” she retorted. “Their music is tasteless, vulgar, and obscene. They promote drugs and misogyny. Their lyrics are harmful to society.”
“Who said that?”
“The government and that’s why they banned Hip Hop in 2018. It think it was the wise thing to do.
“The ban was the government’s response to the country’s interest in the reality television music series called The Rap of China,” Kai said. “Contestants faced backlash from government officials. Rappers were removed from music and video streaming services and also from planned television appearances.”
“In other words, the government was control a culture it doesn’t understand and this is why rap music has been given such a bad rap,” Taio interjected. “People always fear what they don’t understand. Rap music is just another form of art. In America artists use it to address racism and in China, they use it to comment on the country’s growing economic inequalities. Art, in whatever form it takes, should be allowed to be encouraged not banned. All Hip Hop artists want to be allowed to express themselves. Should they be denied that right?”
“What about the ones whose lyrics are offensive?” Jun said. “Why should they be allowed to be heard? What about the people they are offending?”
“Not all Hip Hop artists use obscene and offensive language, Jun. You have Mr Trouble whose raps are about romance, his beloved parents and his childhood in Shanghai which is where you’re from. Should he be forced to give up his dreams and stop writing songs because of the government and people like you?”
“Guys, let’s not argue about this anymore,” Michelle said. “We came here to eat and enjoy ourselves. Let’s not spoil the evening. Just agree to disagree and move on.”
“Fine,” Jun said.
“All right,” Taio said.
“Sorry about that exchange,” Michelle said to Jason. “They’re always at it. Sometimes they act more like siblings than co-workers. Before we leave here, they will be on good terms again.”
“I’ve never been a fan of Hip Hop music although it’s gaining popularity in Hong Kong but I don’t think it’s right for it to be banned and artists forced to be driven underground.”
“I agree. What sort of music do you listen to, by the way?”
“Classical, Blues and Cantopop. What about you?”
“Classical, R&B and Soft Rock.”
“Do you play any instruments?”
“I can play the piano. And you?”
“Really? Why the guitar?”
“I have a few reasons for why I chose to play the guitar. I want to play my favorite songs. I can sing and play at the same time. It’s relatively easy to play compared to other instruments. And guitar music is so diverse.”
“How old were you when you started playing?”
“Six. My mother was strongly opposed to me learning to play the guitar. She would have preferred the violin, cello or even the piano. My father was more encouraging and supportive and it was thanks to him that I’m now an accomplished guitar player.”
She smiled. “I hope to hear you play sometime.”
He smiled but didn’t answer. Michelle was a very nice person but he wasn’t interested in her. He didn’t want to give her the wrong idea. They could be friends but nothing more.
They all had ice-cream for dessert, stayed for a while longer and then Michael asked for separate bills. They left and headed back to the company’s parking lot. Mei Ling offered to give Jason a ride home and he accepted.
“Have a great weekend, everyone,” Taio said before getting into his car and driving off. Michelle was right about Jun and him. They hugged when they left the restaurant. They had let bygones be bygones.
“I think Michelle was hoping to give you a ride home,” Mei Ling told Jason when they were on the way to his place. “I can tell that she likes you but you don’t feel the same way, do you?”
He shook his head, thinking that she was very perceptive. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” he said.
“She’ll get over it. Is there someone else?”
“Yes. Karine. She’s a Kenyan woman who lives in my building. I’m taking her out for dinner tomorrow night.”
“I see. Have you told your parents about her?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“I don’t suppose they would approve, would they?”
“Well, my mother wouldn’t.”
“Mr. Chang’s mother didn’t approve either when he married Mrs. Chang who’s South African. She still doesn’t but he’s happy and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
“So, if this Karine is the woman for you, then, it doesn’t matter what others say or think, including your mother. What matters is that you’re happy.”
“Yes.” Why couldn’t his mother be open-minded like Mei Ling? His lips compressed. Fat chance of that ever happening.