Karen and I had been driving around looking for a place to eat for over a half-hour. It was after eleven pm, so most of the usual places with English menus were closed. We would drive by an eatery that looked alright, but it would be completely empty, and I can’t eat in a place that has no customers. The other thing we would find is a corner market style place absolutely lousy with locals, but it would smell like manure and be filthier than the floor of a mens room in a Scottish Pub. We were getting frustrated by this point, and not to mention starving.
We had come to a stop at a red light, and Karen noticed a little pub on the second floor of the corner building. She tapped me on the shoulder, pointed up and said “How about that place?” I glanced up to see a comfortably lit, modern and clean lounge. I pulled the bike over and we made our way up the neon lit stairs to the second level.
We walked in to the bar and the first thing we noticed was the leopardskin covered seats on the booths. Definitely tacky, but other than that the place was great. There was something scratching at my consciousness, but it wouldn't come to the surface. Something wasn't right with the place. My eyes scanned the folks at the tables and they, of course, were staring at us. I just couldn't figure out what was bothering me about it. I was too hungry to worry about it for long, so we made our way to a booth (non-leopard) and awaited a waitress.
She arrived at our table quickly enough, and handed us a completely Chinese menu. Karen and I sighed inwardly at the seemingly hundredth time we found ourselves in this position. “ Do you speak English?” I asked the waitress.
“Oh….ah..litto beet” she answered, holding her thumb and index finger about a half inch apart, to display physically the small amount of English she knew.
“Ok.. What kind of food do you have?” Karen asked her. The waitress then went on to point at Chinese characters on the menu, like it was quite obvious what kind of food they sold if you just read the Chinese menu. “Yes, but what is it? We don’t understand this voodoo language.” I responded.
“ Oh…ah…umm….chicun.” She stated pointing at the first item.
“Oh, Chicken and rice?” Karen asked.
“Ahh…yes!” The waitress answered, nodding her head vigorously.
“ I’ll take that then”, I stated, deciding on the first item on the menu that was spoken aloud.
Karen on the other hand, wanted a few more of the items on the menu translated. What followed was a whole lot of teeth sucking, umm’s, ah’s, headscratching and frowning as the waitress struggled to come up with the English translation of whatever Karen was pointing at. It was chicken, beef, pork, shrimp and the final thing was Taiwanese Tacos.
“ Taiwanese Tacos!” Karen got excited about the prospect of tacos. “What kind of meat do you use for the tacos?” After repeating the question five or six times and having the waitress really strain herself to come up with “pork”. Karen decided she would indeed try the Taiwanese Tacos made with pork. We also ordered a Budweiser for myself and a Corona for Karen.
After the waitress left, it struck me again that there was something odd, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then it occurred to me that there were woman at every table and they were all dressed the same. The same as our waitress. There was one woman and a group of men, at each table.
“Karen..I think this is a talking bar!” We had heard rumors about such places but had never been in one before.
“ No, I don’t think so.” Was all Karen had to say about that. We drank our beers and waited patiently for our food. The waitress brought over a basket with sliced maple covered sausage that was greasier than a fourteen year old fry-cook’s face.
“The hell’s this?” I asked Karen, as it would do no good to ask the waitress.
“It is probably just a free appetizer or something, you know they do that kinda stuff here".
Fair enough, they did do that kind of thing here. Then she came back with more food-six lone, greasy chicken wings in a tiny basket. That was, in fact, our meal.
The Taiwanese Tacos were just slices of maple sausage, and my fried chicken with rice was a basket of six wings. We had just paid the equivalent of twelve Canadian dollars on six wings and two sausages, and eight dollars each for the beers. We were heartbroken, but decided we would eat the food and try and enjoy it, then fly the hell out of this place.
We were half-way through our food when the waitress pulled up a stool to our table. There was no longer any question about whether or not this was a talking bar. Talking bars are an Asian phenomenon wherein lonely people go to these “talking bars” and each table comes with a girl to talk to. She is paid to keep your company and offer conversation. So that takes us back to our own personal “Talking girl” that was just now sitting herself down at our table.
I know the girl was just doing her job, she has to sit and talk to the customers. That is all well and good, but we don’t speak Chinese and she didn’t speak English. What followed her sitting at our table was five of the most awkward and uncomfortable minutes of my life. Not only could we not communicate with her, but even talking to each other felt rude as she was just staring at us and struggling to spit out the few English words she knew. Mercifully she left after an excruciatingly long five minutes, and we wolfed the rest of our food down and bailed out of there before she made another go at it.