China Express #3
A tiny strip mall restaurant tucked away close to a Walmart.
Sanibel Island, on the western coast of Florida, is an idyllic place, with beautiful beaches filled with seashells and gorgeous sunsets.
There is one thing lacking: Asian food.
Sanibel Island, though beautiful, is not a very diverse place.
Perhaps because of its 98.8% Cacuasian population, aside from a lone sushi restaurant, as of November 2018, there were no establishments that served Asian food of any kind — no Indian, no Thai, not even Chinese.
After three days of eating lightly seasoned white fish and seafood, my parents and I couldn’t take it anymore.
We made the trek to Fort Myers, to pick up some vegetables and meat from Publix to cook some food on the way back — and to search for some Chinese food, at the very least.
We landed on a place called China Express #3, a tiny strip mall restaurant tucked away close to a Walmart. When we entered, we found a serious but friendly looking woman at the counter and a preteen looking boy sitting sullenly at the table next to it, playing games on his phone.
After we ordered and sat back down, I went up to the boy and asked where I could get some forks.
He wiped the snot hanging from his nose with the back of his hand and gestured at the counter.
“Where are you from?” he asked as I plucked them out of the holder.
The flirtatious expression in his eyes that suggested that he thought I was only a few years older than him, a high schooler, maybe, rather than someone old enough to be his teacher.
“Chicago,” I replied.
His eyes sparked with interest.
“Wow, that’s cool!” he started to reply, when his mother scowled at him and scolded him for bothering me. He scowled back at her as I grabbed a few extra packets of soy sauce and headed back to our table.
By the time the food came, he was on Facetime with his friend, saying fuck over and over with the enthusiasm of a young teenager performing vulgarity for the first time in his life and thoroughly enjoying it.
My mother, never a fan of profanity, frowned at the nonstop cursing. But my father and I exchanged glances and grinned. Both of us felt and understood the art and joy of a well placed curse word.
As my parents and I started on our hot and sour soup, relishing in its comforting and familiar flavor, he kept trying to catch my eye again in between bragging to his friend about beating a video game and a hot girl he had met in class.
After several minutes of failing to get my attention, he hung up and slid behind the counter, where he argued with his mother about the expensive sneakers he wanted for Christmas, while my parents and I started on the main entree, a fragrant and fresh basil chicken and perfectly seasoned vegetable fried rice with more flavor than anything I had eaten in three days.
After scolding him in Mandarin, his mother asked me if we needed anything else as he handed us fortune cookies and shuffled sullenly back to his chair. I stifled a laugh and said no thank you, and we headed back to the car after she packed up the leftovers for us to take back to the condo.
As we drove back to quiet and serene Sanibel, neatly packed leftovers in hand, I couldn’t help but wonder what brought the restaurant owner and her son to Ft. Myers, and how many other people would come through their doors over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, and I hoped that the boy would eventually find a girlfriend who wasn’t 17 years older than him.
All in all, a satisfying meal and a memorable experience.