For a slow-motion car crash of reasons, I ended up solo on a Christmas Eve in the market town of Surrey called Dorking. Like many English place names, this one grows on you, and has certainly since grown on me after a night that could have been one of my loneliest—but, because of the kindness of strangers, gave me reason to think of it fondly.
I hadn’t been to England over the winter holidays before, so I didn’t realize how thoroughly the high streets shutter on Christmas. While it’s a common trope to find Chinese restaurants open in the States on the holiday, every window was dark as I walked through the town center in search of food.
…until I came to a window strung with sparkling lights. I noted they wouldn’t be open yet according to the hours posted on the door, but I knocked anyway, hungry, and quickly losing any inhibitions. A man with a kind smile opened the door and ushered me inside. “We’re closed! But we’re having a party. Come in!”
That night I joined the greater family at Sang Thai—and a few other odds and ends and friends—for a buffet of chile-intensive, colorful Thai home cooking—clearly the dishes the family made for themselves and kept off the menu. I washed down my plateful with a succession of what are possibly the three trashiest beers in Europe. I laughed when someone handed me the karaoke microphone, and I launched into some tune from Grease.
How fitting to be welcomed in on a Christmas Eve, out of the cold, into a family.