Rolex and Plum Sauce
"Dip the plum sauce, it makes the goose so much better, trust me."
I never understood that because plum sauce just tasted weird to me when I was younger, but he seemed to think it was the ultimate secret to eating roast goose. My grandfather ran a restaurant that sold, in my opinion, the best in all of Hong Kong. This is his story.
After fleeing to Hong Kong from Guangzhou, he worked as a chef at a shop that sold roast meats, a specialty of the Guangdong province. My grandfather had to start his day long before everyone else was even awake to start preparation of the meats. It was a laborious job with long hours and tough working conditions, especially during the hot summer days of Hong Kong, with the sweltering heat of the charcoal ovens. With many mouths to feed and a low-paying job, times were extremely rough. My father recalls living in dire conditions and simple things in life such as a bottle of coca-cola or chicken drumsticks being unusual treats on birthdays.
My grandmother (the younger sister of the two wives who reminded us frequently this was all her doing) convinced him that this was no sustainable way to live and that they would have to find a way out of this. They saved up whatever they could and even asked my father and his siblings to pony up any spare cash they had. Partnering with a fellow colleague they set their sights on opening their own roast meat restaurant, servicing the local community of Kwun Tong.
They had perfected the art of roasting meats over the years, especially geese and when they finally managed to open their own shop, putting in all the money they had saved up on this one gamble, it did not take long before word about their roast goose spread and business started booming. My grandfather had done it, he had managed to lift the whole family out of poverty. He came to Hong Kong from China with nothing to his name and now he was a successful business owner.
With the success came little splurges and one of these splurges came in the form of this Rolex Datejust. My grandfather loved to wear this as a mark of his achievements and wore it every day. Growing up, I thought it looked hideous. It was such an old man's watch.
My grandfather passed away a few years ago and this Rolex passed through the family into my possession. Like the plum sauce that I didn't get, this did not resonate with me and it was left unworn.
One day while having dinner, I noticed the table had ordered roast goose and next to it was that little plate of plum sauce. I heard the voice of my grandfather in my head saying the words,
"Dip that plum sauce, it makes the goose so much better, trust me."
I hadn't tried plum sauce in god knows how many years. Remembering his words after all this time gave me this nudge that I should at least try it again, even if only as a respectful gesture to the man who went through so much. I picked up a piece of goose and dipped it in the sauce.
Wow. It tasted amazing. The sweet and sourness balanced out the fattiness of the crispy skin of the roast goose perfectly and I was perplexed why I didn't like it in the first place. Did my taste change? Did my grandfather just know what he was talking about? Had I been blind this whole time?
After that, I remembered my grandfather's watch which I detested the look of and started taking it out to wear. I wanted to give it a second chance like I did with the plum sauce. It's still an old-fashioned watch but it has been growing on me like something has changed. Maybe it's me, maybe I'm becoming an old man myself and so my tastes are becoming like one too. Maybe a watch isn't really just a watch and is more about the emotions it brings. Emotions that I may not have had when I was younger but after becoming a father myself, going through the life stages my grandfather did, feelings I have now.
When I wear this, I think of the life he had and how this represents his reward to himself after a hardworking life, fulfilling his responsibilities as a husband and father. I think of the times he would secretly pour himself more brandy behind my grandmother's back while giving me a wink because she was hounding him to drink less. I think of him sitting in his favourite chair, playing mahjong with us, quietly amassing the most winnings. I think of the man who didn't speak much but still made sure to do so when he saw how much I was missing out on that sauce.
And like that sauce I didn't like before, I have grown to love this timepiece and it now sits among one of my most cherished possessions.
I'm not sure if I'm going to live a life as interesting or as successful as he did. I also don't know if I'll be a grandfather some day. But one thing I do know, is if I'm lucky enough to be one, you bet I'm going to be wearing this Rolex and telling my grandkids to go dip that plum sauce.