The Wonder of Youth

Talking of restaurants, Europe isn’t like back home in Calgary. Despite being branded “Cowtown”, you can find whatever cuisine your heart desires, from Uzbek to Indonesian. In Spain, it seems every restaurant serves Spanish fare. It’s the same all over Europe. After 23 days in Spain, my family longed for some hearty Chinese food.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer Spanish? Our courtyard hosts an award-winning restaurant?”, the shocked concierge asked. Once convinced I was serious, he crinkled his nose but continued. “Our Chinatown is five minutes away.” With a little more cajoling, he divulged the address and directions.

At seven, in front of our hotel in Granada, we crossed Via Colon, and walked two streets down.

The wide, brightly lit, treelined boulevard was all aglitter with parading fashionistas. Abruptly, we entered a dark, foggy alleyway. Imagine a 19th century dockyard district in London or Liverpool. Shadows loomed in and out of sight—ethereal, never concrete. The alley ended at Restaurante Chino Estrella Oriental. Its windows were barred with deep-red metal filigree. Thick red and gold curtains prevented any peek within. I hesitated momentarily, waiting for a go-ahead from Laura before heaving open the heavy metal door. I glanced around. There were no customers.

A teenager in an elegant silver and black cheongsam greeted us.. “May I you?”, in hardly recognizable English. Her appearance, her courage to speak despite a stutter, in what would have been a third language after Chinese and Spanish, filled me with admiration, impressing me more than the restaurant ever would, being the stereotype of every small-town, Western-Oriental in the world, including Calgary. To prove the point, its menu shone with such delights as sweet ‘n’ sour this or fried that.

Having eaten our fill, she brought us more tea. I couldn’t help but ask “How long have you been open?”

“My parents and I from mainland China five years ago,” she explained.”Mum and Dad can only speak Mandarin. While they cook, I serve. I’m their only child.”

“You must be in high school?”

“Yes. I’m taking my finals this year.”

“If you work here all evening, when do you study?”

“We close at 9 p.m., I study while my parents clean up.”

I detected neither hesitation nor embarrassment in her, despite the handicap I had unthinkingly bestowed upon her. It apparently wasn’t a concern to her.

I eyed her with growing curiosity. What was her ambition? Surely not to stay working at the Estrella all her life.

When it came, her answer knocked me for six.

“I’m going to be a speech therapist. Help others overcome their stuttering.”

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Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


The Wonder of Youth