Ali watched a serpentine queue outside a ramshackle local restaurant. He had recently moved into a new neighbourhood by the name of Sheung Wan in Hong Kong. He was hungry and wanted to grab a quick meal. But looking at that queue, he felt a sense of intrigue take over his hunger. He decided to wait with the rest of the crowd.
The restaurant went by the name of Dimsum Square. It looked like just another Chinese eatery from the outside. But the day he entered it, his life changed. There was more to it than met the eye. Looking at the rather concise menu, he decided to order the Xiao Long Bao, some spicy Chicken Feet with Black Bean Sauce, Spring Rolls wrapped with Rice Rolls and then, some Buddha’s Delight Crescent Dumplings.
This was going to be a feast and a half… for one. And that’s when he got an idea. He wanted to trade in Chicken Feet. This was it. “People buy stories, more than products,” he thought. And this would be the greatest success story of them all. His mind was a whirlwind of ideas. As he savoured the mouth-watering aromas of the steaming dim sums surrounding him, he was reminded of a friend whose words now rang in his ears, “Have you ever thought of venturing into the F&B world? I’ve never seen someone this passionate about food! ”
There was a raging hustle and bustle in the restaurant as he gathered his thoughts. Would he be letting his parents down? After all, he was an Electrical Engineer, and he had worked hard to land his job in Hong Kong. Placed #5 amidst a pool of 316 students in High School before he got accepted at Clemson University in South Carolina, USA. Ali had made his parents proud. But was he ready for this jump?
Life had thrown a curveball at him yet again. But the minute he chowed down the first Xiao Long Bao, the screaming thoughts in his head quietened as the soupy goodness oozed into his palate. Suddenly, he was reminded of the day they touched American soil for the first time as permanent residents.
The Ghorbani family had successfully passed their interview in Berlin and been cleared to find their path in the United States of America. Landing in the United States for the first time, Ali and his family made their way to his father’s cousin’s townhome. They had graciously offered the family a shelter in their basement, until they could work, save some money and find their roots in the city. Ali looked back at his life, thinking about all the experiences he had to go through to reach where they were today. It had been a long journey. Across borders and at the mercy of many good-natured people. So he decided to learn from his experience. He decided to always help those in need, every time an opportunity presented itself. He wanted to be the ray of hope he was looking for, especially for the young dreamers in his community. Engulfed by the magnanimous size of the United States of America, he came across people from different socio-economic backgrounds and races. That is when he learnt how to respect different cultures from around the world.
Growing up, Ali had a Cantonese friend who was no less than a brother. He often came over to the Ghorbani residence and sat there looking at the photos of the fallen Berlin Wall. Ali never tired of showing off his wall of fame to his friend. They both inspired a feeling of awe amongst one another. And that’s where his love affair with Hong Kong began. Every summer, Ali waited anxiously for the return of the Ming family from their hometown. They came back to the States bearing the coolest gadgets and latest toys from Asia — while it made Ali envious, he also dreamed harder than ever before.
Even today, the thought of the steaming dumplings at the Ming residence made his mouth water. And here he sat, reminiscing about long-lost friends, achieving yet another dream in what felt like a blink of an eye. Life had taken a full circle. From wanting to find his way to Hong Kong, to finally sitting in the midst of the Cantonese descendants, enjoying their meal, he had seen it all. And while he did so, he had come to love the flavours that peppered his life. Another bite of the chicken feet and the spicy bean sauce enveloped his palate, bringing him to reality. He knew one thing for sure. The Chinese dragon was waking up, and he had to ride it to become successful. He had decided to write the story of his life, with one epic chapter that would be solely dedicated to China.
So he left his stable job and went back to his Persian roots. Never again would he be known as an engineer. That night, he had found his destiny in that brightly lit restaurant and a plate full of chicken feet. Little did he know that life had other plans for him.