David Harris Lang writes adventure thrillers set in Asia.
He has lived and worked most of his life in various countries throughout the Asian region, and his writing is informed by his love and knowledge of the different cultures, foods, thought, and architecture of the different regions of Asia.
Four Irish Travelers from gypsy families journey to Western China to find the 3,000-year old mummified and bejewelled head of their Celtic ancestor. With a psychotic Japanese woman with Yakuza connections as their guide, their odyssey takes them to the Taklamakan Desert of Western China.
When one of the Travelers is found dead of unknown causes in an obscure Hong Kong museum, finding the killer becomes one of the most challenging cases for Hong Kong homicide detectives Angela Cheung and Ian Hamilton as they match wits with the Russian mob, a Nigerian art smuggler, the Yakuza, and a murderous bare knuckle boxer.
The street below the Travelers’ flat in Sham Shui Po was lined with local restaurants: narrow eateries with pungent aromas, chestnut-brown roast ducks hanging by their necks in the windows, steaming baskets of mysterious snacks displayed on rickety tables, and huge boiling vats of mahogany-colored soup with floating bits of tofu and scallions.
“Let’s try this one,” Jimmy said as the four strolled on a Saturday morning. A tank of giant salt-water clams next to the restaurant’s doorway obscenely felt their way around their glass prison with their long feet. Steam from baskets full of shrimp dumplings and pork buns tickled the Travelers’ nostrils.
“In there?” William asked. “What on earth are you planning to order in there? Probably would be a better idea for us to walk around until we find a McDonalds, I’d say.”
“We’ve got to eat in this strange land, William. I’m for goin’ local,” Jimmy said. He spun and entered the restaurant as one would jump abruptly into a cold ocean so that there was no time to reconsider. Margaret gave a shrug, and followed Jimmy in.
“Local it is then,” Clovis said to William, and they followed their mates.
As soon as they entered the restaurant a din of Cantonese enveloped them. Twelve round linoleum tables were squeezed into a space the size of a bareknuckle ring. Suddenly all conversation at the tables stopped. Clovis remembered old American Cowboy Western’s where a stranger walks into a saloon and all conversation halts; the only sound the swinging saloon doors squeaking on their hinges behind him.
A portly waitress wearing a stained apron approached. A snarl on her face, she made a ‘shooing’ gesture with her chubby hands as if to shoo away farm animals that had strolled accidently into her restaurant. Margaret, with a broad smile said, “Four please,” holding up four fingers. The waitress, seeing that the interlopers were intent on violating her domain, pointed gruffly at four empty seats at one of the crowded tables. The four foreigners sat down smiling and nodded at the other patrons. The vacillating tonal harmony of Cantonese conversations resumed as abruptly as they had stopped.
“The greeter is sort of a female King Kong, what?” Clovis said. “Wouldn’t want to be matched up with her in the ring.”
“King Kong for sure,” William said.
King Kong slapped a sheet of paper and a stubby pencil in front of Jimmy and sped off to deliver pots of tea and baskets of dim sum to other tables. Jimmy looked at the sheet of paper.
“It’s a menu I believe, there’s Chinese writing with boxes next to each line. I think we’re supposed to check off what we want with this pencil.”
“Slight problem there,” Clovis said.
Jimmy waved to a slightly built waiter passing their table. He looked at the unchecked piece of paper in Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy said, “Do you have a menu with pictures? We don’t read Chinese.” The boy said nothing and walked away.
“Yeah, well, looks like this is not workin’,” William said. “Shall we move on and search for a McDonalds?”
The waiter returned with a girl about eighteen years old, hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing a maroon apron. “I speak English,” the girl said. “Can I help you?”
“Brilliant!” Jimmy exclaimed. “We can’t read Chinese. Could you help us with the menu?”
The girl smiled, “Yeah, we don’t get many tourists in here. This is a dim sum menu. What kind of dim sum do you guys like?”
“We like any-sum kind of dim sum,” William quipped. “Why don’t you just bring us sum.”
“Please excuse my daft friend,” Jimmy said. “If you could choose for us, that would be great.”
“OK, but I don’t want to hear any complaints if you don’t like my choices,” the girl laughed and wagged a finger at Jimmy.
“Promise: no complaints,” Jimmy said. “By the way, I’m Jimmy. This is my sister, Margaret. The ugly guy is her boyfriend, Clovis, and that is William,”
“I’m Mandy,” the girl said. She spun and walked to the back of the restaurant and through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
“That filly is bloody beautiful!” Jimmy commented when she had left.
“Oh no, Jimmy’s in love! Look at that glassy gaze like he’s just been sucker-punched. The lad’s been smitten,” Clovis laughed.
“Really, Jimmy?” William asked. “She’s got no diddies, and her backside is as flat as stale beer.”
“Shut up, William!” Margaret exclaimed. “So, what if she doesn’t look like the bovines that you used to date in Sheffield? Different cultures have different body types. If Jimmy thinks she’s beautiful, then she’s beautiful. You are such a tool, William!”
“Just jokin’,” William grinned. “Don’t get all serious, Margaret. You should just be delighted that we followed you on this bonkers journey to the other side of the planet.”
“And what would you be doin’ if you dinna follow Margaret and stayed home?” Clovis asked. “Dealing with the prejudices of the bloody Settled Folk and facing a life of no hope?”
“Chill the feck out!” William exclaimed. “J-o-k-i-n-g! I was joking!”
The dim sum started arriving: wicker baskets of translucent steamed shrimp dumplings, squares of fried turnip cakes with bits of sausage, fluffy white barbecue pork-stuffed buns, rolled rice noodles filled with shrimp and drizzled with soy sauce, meat balls simmered with tofu skins, and steamed pork ribs. The waiter tossed the baskets of dim sum on the table like a card player throwing down a losing hand.
“This stuff is really good!” William said as he stuffed his face. “Way different than the Chinese food back in Sheffield.”
Mandy stopped at their table on her way to deliver a pot of tea to another group. “How is everything?” she asked.
“It’s brilliant! Thanks for the suggestions, Mandy,” Jimmy effused.
“Hey, Mandy, I have a dim sum question for you,” William announced. All eyes turned towards him. Jimmy sensed that somewhere in the ethereal realm of the Universe a pendulum with a very sharp blade had just been released and was now speeding with bad intentions towards their table. His stomach convulsed.
“Yes? What is your question?” Mandy asked.
“What’s the restaurant’s record for how many of these shrimp dumplings someone can get in their mouth? Six? I’ll bet it’s six. If I can beat that, what would you give me? Would you put my photo on the wall?” William asked.
“Your photo? I don’t understand,” Mandy said.
William started shoving dumplings in his mouth. His cheeks expanded until he looked like Luis Armstrong blowing his horn. At eight dumplings, he proudly held up eight fingers. Then he tried for nine. His eyes suddenly widened with the realization that he had exceeded the threshold of what was physically possible. William jumped up and turned his head away from the table as his mouth exploded like Mount Saint Helens. The adjacent tables were sprayed with partially chewed dumplings. Chairs fell as people jumped from their seats screaming Cantonese curses. Chopsticks flew and tea spilled. People pointed fingers at the Westerners. King Kong came running from the kitchen and was on William immediately, beating him with a wooden ladle as she called to the heavens to send down Yen Lo Wang, the death god, to rip William’s innards out through his anus.
Jimmy, red-faced, turned to Mandy, “Sorry.”
“Just get out,” Mandy said, pointing to the door.
Margaret slapped some money on the table and said, “Time to leave, lads.”
Jimmy said again to Mandy, “I am so sorry.”
“Get out,” Mandy replied. “Go.”