"Nobody stopped thinking about those psychedelic experiences. Once you've been to some of those places, you think, 'How can I get back there again but make it a little easier on myself?'"
I am driving outside the Beltway on Bellaire to Hong Kong City Mall. To prepare myself, I am playing "Dub Side of the Moon" - a reggae/dub cover version of the whole album of Pink Floyd's, "Dark Side of the Moon." Dub music is very trippy, and so is "Dark Side of the Moon." The combination of the two is pleasantly disorienting. And so is Hong Kong City Mall.
The mall has grown into a huge series of Chinese and Vietnamese shops and restaurants. The shops specialize in Asian music, DVD's, and hair styles. The restaurants sell Pho, Banh Mi, and Asian baked goods. But the highlight of the mall is the giant Hong Kong Market - the most wonderfully strange supermarket in Houston.
For an American of Western heritage, the foods at Hong Kong Market are downright weird. They sell some giant durian - the world's foulest smelling fruit - that are larger than my 7 year-old. They sell unimaginable varieties of fungus and Vietnamese herbs, giant thin purple eggplants, bitter melon, fresh water chestnuts, lime green gelatinous baked goods, dried fish parts, and animal parts that would never appear in a Western supermarket. In the produce section and at the fish counter, I don't recognize even half the products. They even have a whole aisle for products you can use to build your own little Buddhist shrine.
The market also has some incredible deals. I buy a large bag of bay leaves, which usually cost around $6, for 69 cents. I buy a tin of Jasmine tea, usually over $5, for less than $2. I also buy some strange products that I will almost certainly regret, like bitter melon tea. It cost less than $1, so it is worth trying.
It's lunchtime, so I buy this package wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a pretty bow. It is called "BanhChung" and it lists the ingredients as "rice, pork, mung bean, salt, pepper, banana leaves, onions, and msg." I untie it and find a square block of sticky rice. The first bite of rice isn't bad. I like the texture. Then I try the meat inside. It is savory, very salty, and has an odd flavor I can't quite pinpoint. It looks a bit like cat food. Then, after a few seconds, I start to recognize the taste . . . that's it! -- It's Spam! I stop eating. Suddenly a good trip has taken a turn for the worse. I start to feel a little dizzy -- maybe from the msg -- and nauseous -- probably from the Spam.
When I get home, I brew some Thai tea that I bought. It is flavored with star anise. The flavor reminds me of a milk and tea drink my grandmother used to make me. Or maybe the flavor is the combination of tea and anise cookies. The tea calms my stomach and brings me back from the nauseating experience of the block of rice and Spam.
When you don't know what you are doing, a trip to Hong Kong market can be very strange. Some surprises are pleasant; others are disturbing. It may help to have a guide -- someone who knows what the trip there is like and who can point you the right way.