Saturday, December 16, 2006

Reunion at Gainesville

Time has a way of slipping by when you’re not watching, such as when you’re having fun working and busy blogging. So, before I know it, my S has completed his first ever college semester and was due to come home for the winter break.

We woke up just after 5 am this morning and before 7 am, we were already on the road, cruising along I-275 and then I-75 heading toward Gainesville. When daylight broke, we could see that both sides of the highway were shrouded in a low-level fog hugging the ground and veiling the scenery in a translucent white drape. Fortunately, the road visibility was fair with the headlight on, the backlights of the car in front visible like pairs of crimson beads tracing out the road alignment. Coupled with the thin traffic, it was a relaxing drive all the way.

Upon reaching UF, we revisited Lake Alice, but did not bargain for the morning chill and therefore did not see fit to bring along sweaters. So we half jogged along on our exploration, hoping to generate some body heat to offset the dipping temperature. We did not take the jungle trek that surrounds the lake, but stayed on the side of Museum Road, and at a respectable distance from the edge of the lake at that, paying heed to the two dire warnings posted.

The Hume Hall seemed deserted. My S was already packed, checked out, and ready to leave. The only other student outside the Hall was a female with her pet tarantula (so we thought) by her side, safely secured in a glass container, but no other luggage in sight. So it was hard to speculate on her next move, and we wisely refrained from doing that.

Before we set off on our return journey, we first had lunch with a long-time friend originally from China, and her twin daughters, to a dim sum lunch at Mr. Han’s Restaurant, opposite Oaks Mall. We arrived early, about 10 minutes before the opening business hour for the day at 11.30 am. While at the waiting lounge, we were greeted by this smiling Buddha flanked by a pair of Chinese mythical animals, which are symbols of prosperity and flourishing business, and paragon of good feng shui (the Chinese art of geomancy).

Unlike the dim sum lunch we had at Tampa last Sunday where the dishes were pre-prepared and rolled out on carts for patrons to select (read here), the offering here is similar to ala carte, ordered from menu and then prepared. So the waitress made sure we ordered enough for the party at the first go, advising against additional orders at mid-course if found necessary due to the time taken in the preparation.

The dining hall was dimly lighted, save for those tables next to the windows that benefited from the external light. On the walls were hung several pieces of Chinese calligraphy of Buddhist themes. This one, obviously written on some kind of cloth material as evidenced from the many folds, giving it a wavy texture, is the most common Buddhist mantra, Namo Amitabha. The red character, written in a recursive form, is an alternate name for the Buddha, the Englightened One.

We know Mr. Lin and his wife, Mdm. Huang, way back when Lin and I were both grad students living at the Corry Village in the early to mid 1990s. Being home-makers, my wife and Huang became close friends. However, we lost touch with them after my return to Malaysia in early 1995 after graduation. Then we thought farewell was for good, not expecting to cross path with them again. But they were always on our minds as good memories seem to last forever.

A year after we moved to Tampa, we bumped into a mutual friend, from China too, Mdm. Chen and her husband, Dr. Yao, all Corry Village-mates. Then she told us that Lin and Huang have settled down in Gainesville. Contact telephone numbers were sought, and the call made, and the reunion consummated when we paid them a visit last year. The image is taken in front of their house in Gainesville during the visit. And they returned the favor the following year, on Gasparilla Day.

So fate works in its own mysterious way, and I’m glad my wife has found an old friend, compatible in so many ways, that she can confide in, diminishing some of the initial tedium and feeling of solitude that had been gnawing at her during the first one year or so when we were here.

Then, her twin daughters were just born a few months before we left Gainesville, bundles of joy really. Now they are in the 6th Grade, bubbling and chatty. We can’t tell Fanning from Ginnie, but I do know that the order is determined alphabetically. Hence, Fanning is the elder one, albeit by a mere minute, and is the one on the right, with the pony tail, while Ginnie, is on the left, letting her hair down. Or did I mess up? Well, I’m sure they will tell me if I goofed.

As for the dim sum dishes, well, we seemed to feel more bloated this time eventhough we ordered less. Perhaps I was busy talking to Mr. Kim last time around while this time the man of the house, Lin, was not able to make it as he had to work, leaving my wife to engage Huang in a more animated conversation, and by deduction, less food ingestion. So I had to cover the difference. Make sense? But my wife likes the sesame coated bun with red bean paste where the crust was prepared to a crispy consistency that just melts in the mouth with the slightest of jaw pressure. I would have to say both are a delight to savor, though I much prefer the food trolleys weaving in between tables and the dim sum dishes ready to be assessed visually and partaken on demand, any time.

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