There is a Chinese place up the road from where I live. It bears the name Shangrila Bistro–which, depending on how heavily accented your internal monologue is, may be read as Shangri-la or Shangrilla. If you haven’t been familiarized with the city from which this unassuming little joint draws its name, you’re more likely to go with the latter. This conjures up images of long grass crowding around trucks on blocks, refrigerators on front porches furnished with old couches, and the eternal dusk of a country road. At any rate, I refer to it as Shangri-la in the Shell Station because it shares a store front with the gas station.
Location Does Not Determine Quality
Now, a lot of people will turn their nose up at food that comes from any restaurant with such close proximity to gas pumps. Such snobbery is common in these parts, where the you’ll get whiffs of the rarefied atmosphere of money hard on the heels of people who walk their laundry to the local Suds n’ Stuff laundromat in the Big Lots shopping center. However, Shangrila makes some of the freshest and most abundant Chinese food you’re likely to find–Americanized or otherwise–in this part of the world.
We joke that they have to staple the styrofoam containers shut, but not because they don’t. Fourteen dollars get you enough tasty food to feed three or four people with healthy appetites. And then there’s the free stuff. While their young work on mathematics or English homework of varying difficulty at the laminate tables in the small cafe, a young woman urges hot, sugared doughnuts on you, containers of hot and sour or egg drop soup, or egg rolls that could feed a family all by themselves. These items are marked in neat black marker script with the word “Free” and they are included in your meal. Don’t say negative things about Shangri-la at the Shell Station–across the road and down a bit from Stephanie’s Shoe Palace–until you’ve paid a visit.
Magical Egg Rolls
I’m here again, in the kitchen. In my pajamas. In a contemplative frame of mind. The house is hushed–the only sounds in the dark are those of snoring, like surf from some indistinct shore. I ponder the meaning of life. And also, how cabbage can possibly taste as good as it does in an egg roll. It’s a simple thing–fried, stuffed bread. But then, many of the things I love most about being human and alive are simple.
In all the modern muddle about possessions and position, earning power, buying power–the thing this egg roll whispers to me in the dim kitchen is the sublime happiness of Enough. Life is too short for constant competition, for jealousy or envy, for food that doesn’t evoke the deepest satisfaction. We are all so busy getting somewhere that we seldom stop to appreciate the power of Enough in the moment. While we’re having it. While it is building the framework of ultimate happiness.
Enough is this egg roll. And this experience of cool tile beneath my bare feet. It is knowing that there is time for every task that needs doing; that the night is long enough to contain satisfaction, work, and deep sleep.