Jumbo is no more. That’s the text message I received from a childhood friend last Sunday night. It caught me off guard at first, as I had just gotten home and was smack in the middle of unpacking from a weekend trip while also thinking about my dad being it was Father’s Day. I was and still am oddly surprised at how hard the news hit me being it wasn’t like I was losing a family member or friend. For those that aren’t familiar, Jumbo was an iconic floating restaurant located in Hong Kong for almost fifty years, serving the likes of royalty, dignitaries, and laymen like me. Yet the story didn’t stop at just the closing of its doors. It was reported just a few days later, that while being escorted out of Aberdeen harbor to an undisclosed location, Jumbo capsized and sank deeply into the South China Sea, gone for good.
Maybe it was fitting that I heard the news on Father’s Day, as one of the greatest memories I have of the Jumbo (and there were a lot) was the time my dad tricked me into eating the eyeballs of the fish we had ordered. He had me believe that doing so was good luck and a rite of passage for young men in Asia. Never one to question why and being a naïve ten-year-old celebrating my first double-digit birthday, I ate those eyeballs like a champ. Realizing I had been dupped and wanting the rubbery taste of eyeball gone for good, I reached for the closest beverage at the table, chugging my dad’s frosty San Miguel beer much to the surprise of my dad and the entire wait staff. Suffice it to say the rubbery taste was gone and replaced by a solid head-to-toe buzz.
But enough about my first beer, as this is supposed to be my goodbye memoir to a floating restaurant. As an ex-pat kid growing up in Hong Kong in the 1980s, Jumbo represented so much more than just a good meal. It was a metaphor for the times, as it was half museum and half nightclub. More than anything, I remember the energy of Jumbo as no matter how many times you went there for a meal, no two visits were ever the same. You knew you were in for a culinary treat and cultural experience as soon as you arrived. Jumbo was a go-to for birthdays, friends and family that were visiting from out of town, and many other celebratory occasions. Realistically, there was never a bad reason for enjoying Jumbo, but that’s not to say we went there a lot. Jumbo was mystical and intriguing, even for someone as young as I was.
Decorated in neon lights on the outside, the inside was full of fancy Asian artifacts, colorful paintings, round tables, and oversized chairs. The amazing smells of Cantonese cuisine coming from the main kitchen, the sounds of patrons enjoying both loud conversations and laughs, and the sight of the wait staff moving in sync as they took orders and delivered meals to the many. As fast-paced as those nights and meals would go, for whatever reason, the memories I go back to appear almost in slow motion in my mind.
While I was fortunate to visit Hong Kong a few years ago, I never did make it back to Jumbo. Like so many of my childhood memories of Asia, I just assumed it would always be there and I’d eventually return. What I would give for one more round of Dim Sum, or sweet corn and crab meat soup, or king prawns, or Peking duck, all washed down of course with another frosty, albeit legal this time, San Miguel.
To borrow a quote from a family friend, “Jumbo was truly a fixture of life in such a magical city.” So very true. Goodbye, Jumbo, and thanks for the memories.