By Lorna Ye
When I was a young girl, my family lived on the upper floor of a two-story apartment on a busy street, where buses hummed, bike bells rang, and crowds rushed to work and school. Sometimes peddlers pushed small carts through the street to sell their homemade candies, popcorn, and ice-cream. They yelled out as they moved, letting people know they were there even from a distance.
Along the street were clusters of old apartments and stores in dull grey or pale brown, most of which were built at least half a century ago. All apartments had balconies overlooking the main street. Many residents set up a clothesline and dried their laundry there because of the rich sunlight, but such doings were later banned by the local government for adding “messiness” to the street view.
Our balcony faced a reddish-brown brick building with a sleek red door. It looked taller than adjacent buildings because of its a gold-colored eastern Asian hip and gable roof, which elegantly sloped down. Its eave trims were painted crimson, adding vibrant highlights to the structure. On its top were three huge gold-coated Chinese characters — 东升楼 (Dongsheng House).
Dongsheng House was a restaurant. To me, it was more than that — it was a fancy world that I hoped to explore but could only observe from the outside. My parents’ salary could only cover our basic living costs and the school expenses of my brother and me, which means nothing luxury was allowed. Going to a restaurant like this one was a luxury.
The restaurant was a popular choice for weddings. As a local tradition, a wedding was usually scheduled in the evening, around dinner time. You could easily tell a wedding was about to start when a big crowd of neatly-dressed people gathered in front of the restaurant building.
They chatted cheerfully with each other, checked their watches and glanced at the traffic, awaiting the arrival of the bride and the groom. Women and girls wore a delicate red velvet décor on their hair, which symbolized good luck in marriage. One or two men held a long strand of firecrackers, waiting for the right moment to light it.
At such a moment, my brother and I would clutch two small bamboo stools from the kitchen and scamper to the balcony, perching on the stool and gazing at the crowd as if an exciting Disney show was kicking off. Sometimes, mom’s voice floated out, “Dinner’s ready.” We then dashed back, topped a bowl of rice with some dishes, and hurried back to our seats in balcony. The whole process took only ten seconds; we were as nimble as rabbits. We chewed our food with delight while eyes still locked on the crowd across the street.
When a line of cars adorned with garish ribbons zoomed up, the firecrackers went off, creating loud, crackling sounds. A pungent smell of smoke drifted and lingered in the air. As the cars stopped in front of the restaurant, the groom stepped out of the first car, turning around and inviting his bride out.
As the stunning bride gracefully got out of the vehicle, the show reached its climax — loud cheers, claps, and whistles went up and lasted for several long minutes. The crowd started to throng into the restaurant and the roaring faded out as the last person closed the door. The aged asphalt sidewalk was left covered with tiny red scraps from firecrackers.
The wedding “show” kept me entertained all year round. I don’t know why — maybe I was attracted by wedding dresses or maybe it was the festive mood.
Sometimes, I leaned again the balcony railing and gaped at the three dazzling characters of Dongsheng House. A breeze brought the aroma of freshly cooked food our way. I closed my eyes and sniffed appreciatively.
We moved to a different part of the city when I entered middle school. After a few years, the old main street was renovated and all old buildings along the street were torn down, replaced with a broad boulevard and modern buildings.
Occasionally, the image of Dongsheng House still pops into my mind and pulls out the childhood memories, taking me back to the noisy bustling street. Surprisingly, for me, it is a remarkably soothing feeling.
© 2019, Lorna Ye. All Rights Reserved