The first person we meet at
Ling’s is Johnny Chi, a charismatic and flaming queen right out
of “La Cage Aux Folles”. Hey… it’s Cheuk’s fantasy come true…
it’s not the appropriate location… but maybe he can Bollywood
dance or maybe he has a tango lover somewhere in Buenos Aires…
you never know… our world is getting smaller as our global
documentary family grows bigger.
At first sight, I mistook Johnny for the owner Nini. This
gracious and extroverted host in his silky Chinese robe looks
more like a gentleman of leisure than a waiter. He has been here
since Ling’s doors opened. He acts like he owns the joint… in a
good way. He adores the Lings and takes pride working here.
While the more reserved Nini takes a back seat in the office,
Johnny plays ambassador in charming the customers with his
knowledgeable instructions on the art of ordering Chinese food.
He takes pride in the food like a chef boasting about their
freshness and hams around with live crabs and fish that just
came in fresh from the coast off Mumbai. I jokingly mumble
something about the pomfret fish not moving and he proceeds to
flap and jiggle it in front of my lens breaking me out in
laughter. This is gonna be a funny “La Cage Au Johnny” shoot.
Back in the kitchen, I film an orderly military operation
reminding me of Soong’s in San Fernando. It’s bright, spacious
and clean. The ingredients get thrown together by the Indian
help and passed on to the Chinese line cooks all personally
trained by Baba and Nini. At Cantonese speed and efficiency,
everything gets wok’ed up for the serving counter where Johnny
and other waiters pick up for the dinning room.
I follow Johnny down the street on his lunch break. Everybody
knows him. He tells us about Bollywood stars dinning out at
Ling’s in-between bites on his butter chicken and naan. I was
disappointed that he didn’t break out in a Bollywood song and
dance number right there for his friends in the busy
jammed-packed Punjabi eatery.