Mochi ice cream

A delicate dessert, then and now

Plenty of memories come to mind when I look back on my childhood growing up in Hong Kong, and the family gatherings that took place at my grandparents’ place.

My grandfather ran a fabric business. His entire factory was connected to the mansion he lived in. You could walk from the warehouse to a large kitchen area, into the dining room, and then into the living room. Walk a bit further towards the front entrance, and there was an office room where the employees worked. On the second floor, there were rooms for my grandparents, with a beautiful garden outside that lead into a balcony space where my grandfather, even as he was getting up there in age, would do push-ups as exercise, but usually for show.

I spent plenty of time at my grandparents. When I was younger, I would sleep on a roll-out couch in their room. Later on, I got my own room across from theirs. My SONY Discman is probably still in one of the drawers in there. I even spent summers interning for my grandparents’ company, which in retrospect was just me sitting in the office room and earning an allowance that I didn’t deserve.

I remember watching my grandparents and relatives play Mah Jong, and then eventually being allowed to play. Or sitting in the living room as my grandparents and some of the workers which also had their own residences in the mansion watched another Chinese opera show. Most of all, I remember gathering in the dining room, with the revolving table-top serving more dishes than we should have eaten. There was a small television in the corner broadcasting the local news, set to a volume that was faint enough that it didn’t interrupt any conversations, but tuned loud enough that you could still hear it if that was what you were trying to do.

My grandparents lived a lavish life, but they came from humble beginnings. Family gatherings were always an attempt at excess, especially at dinners. We would place ourselves in this temporary space where we shared in everything that we could afford. Why have five dishes, when we could have ten instead?Why have just one dessert, when we could have a plate of five to choose from? It was a celebration every time, an acknowledge of the comforts of life as it existed at that very moment.

As a seven-year-old kid, I appreciated none of the camaraderie as I do now. All I remembered was spending afternoons bargaining with my grandmother to let me open a new box of Mochi ice cream she had bought during her morning grocery run and had placed in the freezer. For whatever reason, Mochi ice cream was always the luxury item among the desserts.

After my family immigrated to Canada, I wrote letters in Cantonese to communicate with my grandmother. We would visit every summer at the very start. I remember those visits, especially how I would count down the weeks left on the calendar. Every time it reached the last week, I would lament how time flew by so fast, and needed to cross an emotional hurdle to realize that I wouldn’t see my grandparents again for another year. The farewells were difficult. I cried every time at the airport.

Eventually, we visited less often. Every summer turned into once every five years, or not at all. When my grandfather passed, we had drifted, not for any reason other than our distance. I returned to Hong Kong for his funeral. There was a dispute among the family members over dividing up my grandfather’s will. I never asked for the full details, but I believe my grandmother took over the business, upsetting the other members of the family. I’ve since lost touch with my grandma as well.

Last night, I went out for sushi. For dessert, I got the assorted Mochi ice cream. It made me remember what a delicate dessert it was to me, and always will be.