Being the type of person who rather likes eating, food and anything that has ever had anything to do with a frying pan and hot oil, as well as being a fan of activities in which efficient people bring you endless plates of crispy, salty things that you equally as efficiently vault down your gob, one of my favourite pastimes is yum cha.
If you're not familiar with yum cha, it's basically the best Chinese invention since the compass. And the compass was only invented so Chinese people could find their way to the next yum cha restaurant, so that puts THAT in perspective.
Also known as dim sum, yum cha is a type of dining in which waiters push trolleys full of little baskets of food around and hassle you until you take some from them. Then they make a mark on a special piece of paper on your table - the more marks you accrue, the more likely you are to have a coronary after you leave.
You might think that the kind of event in which you are virtually force fed dumplings and beer until you burst has no down side. But you'd be wrong. There is one fatal flaw with the yum cha experience - you can't talk to anyone. (Of course, indulging in conversation does reduce the amount of dumplings you can eat rather dramatically, so it's up to you whether that's a problem or not.)
The reason you can't talk is not to do with the food, it's this:
"You want squid? Dumpling? Pork bun? You want pork bun? Hey, YOU WANT PORK BUN?"
If you've ever had to explain advanced computer programming to a parent of 13 children under three who have recently all been given a box of matches then you'll have some idea what trying to have a conversation at a yum cha restaurant is like.
The other day I went to yum cha with some friends I hadn't seen in ages for a "catch up". The conversation went something like this:
You'll never believe this but last week I got to meet FRIED BEAN CURD? And the most incredible part of the whole story was STEAMED PRAWN ROLLS? And then I worked out who murdered Mark - it was BARBECUE PORK BUNS?
After attempting a citizen's arrest on a plate of pork buns for homicide, I came up with the best idea in the history of ever - THE YUM CHA FLAG.
You want waiters to hassle you with dumplings? Flag up. You want to be left alone to eat and talk? Flag down. IT'S THAT SIMPLE, GUYS.
Now, if only someone would adopt the idea it could be the best Chinese invention since yum cha.