There is a phrase I have used for a few decades now, and I generally use it when trying to give people advise when they are at their most indecisive.
"Sh*t or get off the pot!"
Nope, I can't take credit for the phrase. Many people my age, who liked a good double-dose of Indie movies, would know this phrase from the cult classic film, "CLERKS" by Kevin Smith.
It was a movie about people who work as clerks in what could only be seen as dead end jobs, the kind of people they have to deal with while also trying to balance their personal lives, messy as they can be, with the drudgery of working the same job day in day out.
Now, the only thing that remains important is the phrase that Randall uses when he gives his friend Dante a piece of his mind, "Sh*t or get off the pot!"
This is what I wish the government would do right now.
Make their mind up. Just either lock the entire country down, deal with the financial sh*tstorm, because it couldn't get any worse than it already is. Or just open everything up, let people go about their daily lives the way we did during SARS, possibly infecting each other until at some point it just gets to a place where it simply couldn't possibly get any worse and things will just be sh*tty new normal!
What we are seeing is that businesses are hurting, individuals are struggling to stay sane, and individual business owners must be losing their minds with stress. I can't speak for the rest of them, I know I am.
You know what its like to come in each morning to prep for service while not knowing whether any of it will be eaten? No matter how carefully you prep, trying your best to avoid buying one thing or another if it isn't entirely necessary, you cannot guarantee people will show up to eat.
Well meaning folks are always suggesting things like "why not put this on Deliveroo" or "I am sure people would kill for that if you made that to order" etc. Its all dreaming when everyone knows we are living through a nightmare.
You know how many times people have suggested, "Stay positive!" or "It will get better". And to me, its much the same as praying. We pray for someone not because they will heed our prayers, we pray because we need some reassurance ourselves.
I studied Religion Philosophy at University, that was my BA, arts degree, religion and philosophy. Yeah, you bet I had no grand plans on what I would do with that degree, I studied what I did because it interested me and it enriched my life in some small way. My professors, Jesuit priests with a love of learning, all encouraged me to go on to do a masters, and hey, you could do a PhD! Would be a shame to waste that keen sense for it all! All that talent!
Hmmm...yeah, then what? Then you hustle hard to try to get one of the limited seats at a good university and then you hustle harder to try to get tenure, all while dealing with lecture halls full of kids who are more concerned about their dating life and their alcohol budget than they are about what you are saying from that podium.
Nah, what I learned about world religion made me understand my mother better, that she converted from Buddhism to Christianity at the age of 15 because her life was in great turmoil. My grandfather had gambled everything, he was in debt to the Yakuza and so my grandmother had to sell their beautiful house and my mother moved into a small two room apartment with her parents. She was ashamed of where she was, she couldn't understand how things could have gotten as dire as they were, and so the one place she found solace was at the local Baptist Church in Kobe.
There they read the bible, all in English, so my mother looked at it as a silver lining, a chance to meet other people, communicate in English, a language she was book-smart at but had no opportunity to practice, and also, to find grace in the eyes of an all knowing, all loving God who had her back.
My mother is still religious, she still prays for me when things are going bad for me, and I know she means well, even if I don't believe anyone up there is listening. It gives her solace, and that is what matters. My mother loves me, its why she still prays for me and still believes I will head to heaven in the after life.
Right now, I understand why many people are returning to religion, big time. People are praying more than ever, those that lost faith, are coming back to the fold, and I say this in all honesty, heck, if I was ever the praying type, now would be a phenomenal time to start!
Instead of that, I deal with the reality of where I am, not just in my personal life, but with work. Work consumes so much of my daily hours that I sometimes have little else to give at home. I am wracked with the guilt of never being enough. Not for my children, not for my husband, not even for myself...because from the moment my head hits the pillow until the moment I wake, that is the only respite I get from work consuming my every thought.
I meditate, work crops up in my consciousness, and we can call those thoughts "clouds that pass" or whatever the hell we want to call them, but they are still there. From possible dishes and recipes to what more I could be doing to save us at a time when there seems to be no end in sight.
Sometimes when it gets too much, I lock myself in the bathroom, turn the shower all the way to cold, and I sit my butt down in the shower, hug my knees, and just cry my heart out. I call it my Wim Hoff Meltdown. It doesn't have to be bad. Crying is good for you. At least, that is what I read somewhere. Its important to cry, to get it out, because there is only so much you can keep leaning on the ones closest to you before you feel like you are being rather selfish for feeling this sorry for yourself.
Its not easy for anyone right now.
So why am I so different, I know I am not.
And in the hardest moments, I remind myself that although I may feel alone, I am not. Imagine those Chefs all over the world going through the same experience. Prepping without knowing if anyone will come in. I think of Chefs and restaurant owners who don't just have one restaurant hurting but several restaurants that they are running while lockdown puts most of their much loved and trusted teams on furlough.
At the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, I ran the shop with just 3 staff. Peter, my trusty first lieutenant, myself, and my eldest son, Jake. Three of us, only take away, and it was painful. We rode that out, returned with the whole "1.5m apart, no more than 4 people a table" nonsense, and things seemed to be slowly returning to normal and we became optimistic. And then came the second wave, something we thought would come in October! And here we stand, its not even October and we are riding the third wave, limited to "2 people per table", along with other bizarre requirements that somehow still allow people to sit 4 to a table as long as you put some half-assed board dividing the two halves of the one table to magically make it two tables!
Sh*t or get off the pot.
You know the place on our street that had a huge Covid19 infection spike? It was packed with diners with their tables divided with some sort of screen! Does the government think that helped? How is that acceptable practice? Are they all just winging it and praying? The virus can sit on various surfaces for lengthy periods of time, and when I mentioned this to the FEHD (Food & Environmental Hygiene) officers that came to inspect our shop with tape measure in hand, they were pretty confident that all we had to do was "disinfect the surface of the stand up board" as well.
Are they checking that places using these make shift dividers are disinfecting them?
You know what, who cares, because this is happening everywhere, I just do not see these piecemeal measures as being scientifically sound. Which leaves us right back where we sit there, limiting our seating to less than 50% capacity, two people per table or bench, all while knowing full well that by working in the service sector, we are in the "high-risk" category for exposure. Add that to the top of the pile when you consider "stressors".
So what does it feel like to be consumed by stress?
You can't sleep without help. In my case, I take high doses of CBD with melatonin.
You can't eat, you have no appetite. I try to at least take a protein shake from time to time, and if I actually feel hungry, I eat what I can when I can.
You sometimes break down crying for no reason. I have gotten used to this part, I have even stopped apologizing for it.
You struggle to get out of bed because you are so tired, but you do anyway, and you push through the day even when you feel the cortisol build up, the "Fight or Flight" response kicking in almost hourly. That is what its been like since February. Initially the stress was so bad that the rest of my team suggested I head to Holland because it was so quiet here that they were confident they could handle it.
So I took my kids to Holland and sat around for 6 weeks...I watched a tonne of post-apocalypse type TV shows, anything from a crazy virus that brought about zombies or vampires to horrible rain that could kill you. Yeah, lets just say it got so hard to tell the difference between what was fiction and the reality of how I was feeling about the world around me. As the numbers of Covid19 cases slowly began to pick up in Holland we made the call to return to Hong Kong, before the government went into mandatory quarantine for returnees.
Been back here ever since. Facing the music each day. And much like when the protests got too stressful that the whole team eventually stopped following daily updates, that time came for us with Covid19 too.
We get our information from caring customers, delayed updates from the FEHD, and it appears every newspaper outlet seems to know about what restrictions are going to be thrust upon us long before we actually hear anything from the government ourselves.
That can be pretty stressful. Having no clue whats coming, having no idea when you can bring the rest of the team back from furlough, hoping that no one on the current full-time crew gets ill because then we would be a man down at a time we simply don't have men to spare.
All of this is just work life. When I come home, I have two kids who are meant to be starting school and that too has been delayed, so it means more home schooling while paying full fees. All this while my wonderful husband, our current home-school teacher, waits to find out when he will be scheduled to work after nearly 5 months off work.
The future just cannot be planned for, that is half the anxiety here. You can wrestle with it all you want, you can even make peace with it, but that peace is short-lived. All you need is one call from home to be reminded that your parents are getting older, that you still have no idea when you will see them again, that you are no longer sure of your 5 year plan, let alone a 1 year plan.
What we are getting good at, my husband and I, is coming up with the 10-15 year plan!
I ain't kidding, but that is the only thing you can plan for right now.
Retrain, if you have to, go home to start from zero, if you have to, home school your kids until college, if you have to...all of it is possible.
First, you need to shit or get off the pot. The decision has to be made.
And sadly, no one can make a decision because no one knows whats coming. No one can make plans while we sit here in limbo.
Go big or go home.
No chance of knowing what we can do, not right now. Maybe in the 4th quarter, we will know if we are contending with a 4th wave. Maybe as soon as air travel resumes everyone packs their bags and gets the hell out of here. Maybe that exodus will be the final nail in the coffin for most businesses being propped up by government funding in this false economy.
Why the government doesn't just make a sweeping move to force all landlords to cut rents by 40%, is a good question. Why not that instead of throwing us money that only keeps us from bleeding out sooner?
Why doesn't the government force banks to cut mortgages for a year by 40% so that landlords can also pay that forward to tenants?
Why give people 10K each in the hopes they use that to spend it back into the economy at a time when you know all they want to do is save it for in case they are out of a job?
So many things that are going on right now defy logic.
People are scared, but they are also tired of feeling scared, and so it goes. You watch the news and it depresses you. Hell, I took myself off Facebook over a year ago because I felt all it did was get me depressed. I looked at Instagram as being a place where everyone pretended to be happy as all hell, I was willing to live with that "positivity". But even that is all screwed now. You get on Instagram and you end up getting into sh*tfights with random strangers from around the world.
Racist, bigoted, hateful content is everywhere!
Like, what the actual F!
When did it become ok to be so hatefully racist and venomous?
I blame the wave of elections that brought absolute fascists into power, the world over. Its amazing that some of these people actually got elected, democratically!
If I thought Presidents were puppets before, I now believe we are living in a Truman Show of Wag the Dog nonsense. If I am not getting into fights in Instagram comment sections with "science" geeks who believe the earth is flat, I am losing my sh*t at people who think vegans are all going to die from a deficiency of some kind.
Everything turns sour, no matter who you follow in the hopes to get just a few drops of positive vibes.
I ain't helping, am I.
I just...I know I can't be alone in feeling this spent.
Its tough to try to explain to people that, "just hang in there" and "you got this" or "you know if you survive this you can survive anything" are all great sayings, but they don't pay the bills.
When you have to run every scenario, from staff member death all the way to "everything gets back to normal", you know you have exhausted every possible number crunch into that excel spreadsheet.
The landlords have been pretty adamant that they themselves are struggling to pay the bank on various property loans and hence can't cut us much slack. The landlords manager even gave me the "Oh, you think you got it hard, let me tell you how hard my life is" speech, like, not sure if he was feeling more sorry for himself than I was feeling for myself, what started as a "please help us" conversation became his chance to have a pissing contest about how much more his life sucked.
I had to leave it at that, I can feel sorry for the guy without liking him or his tactic, but the reality is that they ain't gonna be feeling sorry for me anytime soon.
So whats left to do but to just grin and bare it.
I've given birth three times. One of those times was without any pain meds.
I could say that if I could manage that, maybe anything is manageable, but I also remember that because of my "incompetent cervix" that birth lasted exactly 60 mins from water breaking to birth! So hey, that was like ripping a bandaid off a gooey cut! Its painful, but quick! This here...meh, not so quick.
Not wanting to be glass half empty kinda person, but this is gonna take us months to pull our sorry asses out of, and the global economy another 3-4 years to recover from all this insanity.
Call it what we want, the government funding, as helpful as it has been, once it stops, a lot of small businesses will fold. How much more money can they inject before they say enough is enough? The truth is that they aren't dealing with the source of the problem, the over-inflated property prices, the lack of any form of proper social security for all.
A friend of mine recently had to move out of his office because they landlord decided to raise the rent.
You read that right, raise the rent.
SMMFH. These people, out of touch, and that is where I think the government ought to put a freeze in place. Rental prices are stupid. When you are forced to drop down to barely 30% of your previous earnings because of government restrictions and the run up to that was over a year of protests (let us not forget that the stress that built up in many peoples minds will be hard to recover from, as many refused to go out of their homes in the evening or on weekends), and now half a year of a pandemic.
How do you recover quickly enough without doing something careless like trying to pack people into a place with dividers that don't actually do anything other than satisfy FEHD regulations without actually protecting people from Covid19?
I don't have an answer right now. I don't.
At least I am willing to admit it. I just wish the government would too.
And until they do, I will remain hopeful for yet another bailout to help us recover from this last month of restrictions and the possible month more to come.
It is what it is. I wish it were different, but right now, I do what I can to stay hopeful without being blind.
Until the next time, I hope I have a bit more of a positive outlook by then.
Time waits for no one.
Time keeps truckin, relentless, regardless of what goes on in the world around you, time waits for no one.
I feel like I have lived several lifetimes in the last 6 months.
Covid-19 gave us a run for our money, hoooo dawggy, did it!
If it weren't for Government funding, we'd still be up that creek without a paddle. So I have to say, thankful as hell that the government stepped in to help and thankful the help was swift.
How are we doing?
Good, could be better, but still better than it has been. The numbers are picking back up, slowly but surely. It seems that people are slowly getting fed up of eating cold-ish take away or eating their own food, and slowly, they are returning to dine out.
Our regulars haven't given up on us, and we are also seeing a fresh batch of new faces with grateful expressions after trying our food, its sometimes hard to believe that people have never tried our food, that they only just heard of us, but then again, thats what it can feel like when all you do, know and eat is our food, you know, like we do when we are working in the one place for over 2 years.
Now we are coming into the final stretch. Our lease was signed in March 2018. We signed for 3 years, with the option for 2 years after that. So at this stage, after a year of protests and nearly 6 months of Covid19...we are looking at 9 more months on our lease!
You have no idea how we have looked at the calendar, the days, the months, the years...since we figured out that personally guaranteeing the lease was a shit idea! Lol. Yep, if we make it to the end of the 3 years, then we are free of the personal guarantee, so bare minimum, that was the goal, to not end up saddled with more debt.
What happens next?
I don't know. Honestly. There are days I am so full of optimism, ideas, dreams, energy...and there are days, for lack of a better explanation, that I feel so tired I want to sleep for a year and not be bothered.
I believe in what we are doing. I am so fortunate to have experienced this tsunami, and still grateful for being able to wake up to Confusion every day. Its just a matter of what the market is going to look like in a year from now, what kinda hustle I will have to hustle to follow the path of growth, and how far I am willing to go to ensure the team grows, learns and accomplishes everything they would like to, with as little hand holding as necessary.
I remember when I started this, I was like, "Pshhh, I am 40, I got maybe another 5-10 good years of solid work left in my bones!" and then I did the work and thought, shit, do I? Lol. You see mentions of chefs in magazines, and they are young, damn, so young. And I read those articles and wince sometimes, wishing I had started earlier...much the same way that someone dreaming of playing the guitar like a pro, winces after seeing some guitar prodigy playing on YouTube and that kid is only 8! You know that feeling, like "Pfft, whats the point?"
I'll tell you what the point is, coz I have had to discover and rediscover this myself...
Thats the point.
Life is not linear, its an endless web of choices, but its always moving forward, it doesn't stop for you, it doesn't slow down for you, it keeps hurtling you forward. It doesn't give you a break if you lose a loved one. It doesn't care if you are emotionally fragile. It doesn't bust out the worlds smallest violin to play, "my heart bleeds just for you" when you feel angry at the world for the choices you made!
Life waits for no one.
Life is for living.
Living is all about experiences, the journey, not the destination.
So its tough to look at my journey right now and realize, shit, the destination, a destination by some definition, the end of our lease, is swiftly approaching, like some train station you get to somewhere in the middle of the night, where you aren't sure who is getting on or off the train.
People keep asking me, "So? When are you going to find a bigger place?"
Well, I gotto start looking first...and once I look, then I know how much money it needs, and once I know how much money it needs I have to figure out how I go about raising the money.
More than money, raising it, borrowing it, earning it, is the question, "What do you want to do with your life?"
Life is an endless roller coaster of, "Is this it?" moments.
Hedonic Adaptation, thats what its called. You find something, its good, you enjoy it, you keep doing it...and then you adapt to where it is just mundane now. You need something new, you want to chase that until you get that...and then you enjoy that...before you get bored again.
Its one thing to know this...its another thing to live with it and accept that its how life is, its how human beings are, its nothing to fear or reject, its just the way it is.
Bigger Confusion? Would be nice. Would also mean double the rent, double the staff, double the salaries, double the MPF....double the food costing...or more...double the set up...damn. When you are making that decision alone, without a crystal ball to see into the future, its pretty daunting. That said, its kinda a "kick the can down the road" decision at this point.
We are still dealing with the fear of Covid19 seeing an uptick towards the year end. As we slowly see the rest of the world ramp up towards the new normal, as we all wait for those first few flights to be confirmed as running, as we all wait to see the impact of our borders opened and quarantines lifted...its wait and see.
I reckon we will have an idea by October...what the plan for Confusion's future will be, and we will know by December whether we will take a break, stay put, or move into a bigger place.
Speed of implementation is not a worry for me, its just money. It almost always is.
If we continue to see the numbers pick up the way we are right now, it looks good for the future of Confusion and a probable expansion. If we get hit with a double dose of Covid19, we may have to take a break or stay put...either way, I want to ensure the whole team stays employed, a break would simply mean shifting the concept from dine in to pushing delivery/dark kitchen...but for now, its October to see where we stand financially and then December to pick that shit up and run with it!
So for now, know how grateful we all are for your continued support. Without the Confusion community, we wouldn't be this upbeat (even if you don't know it, I am, I am very upbeat!) about the future. We've made it this far, and heck, its been one hell of a ride!
To see chefs/restaurant owners who have been in the industry 10+ years, sharing their anxiety over the pandemic, it gave me some perspective. Even the top ranked, Michelin starred, genuinely successful and noteworthy restaurants and chefs were struggling. I believe Hong Kong has been shockingly resilient, to say the least.
Our FnB scene may have taken a beating, but it sure as hell hasn't died.
Do not look at Soho for proof though, damn, those streets look like the end of the road. What once was door after door of bustling nightlife is now a ghost town. No doubt because of the abject greed of landlords in that area. The funny thing about Hong Kong and the hyper inflated property market, those guys don't care if their property stays empty for years, as long as when it does get a tenant they get the over inflated rate they were aiming for.
How the hell does it work? They own a portfolio of property!
Yep, so who cares that the marketability of one location on a street full of empty locations is so unappealing, they genuinely don't see it that way.
The government needs to put a cap on property prices, they need to stop allowing for 30% rental increases...and who knows, I could think of several other ways they could "boost the economy" without giving us free money and government backed loans! They could put some of that money toward subsidizing restaurant rent! But they will never do that, coz if they did, then the rental values would also skyrocket and we'd still get screwed.
You know what I dream of? Going off grid. I said its what I dream of, coz for now that plan is so far in the future its almost invisible.
I just want to unplug from society and go live on the ocean, land in far flung places, stay a while, then leave again...never to return again. Home school the kids, read voraciously, free dive...get old while exploring the world...
I need to build Confusion up to a place where it can sustain the team first...then I will be happy. I want everyone to be taken care of, and if there is a bit of cash to help subsidize my family while we bob about on the ocean, harvesting rain and solar, that would be good, it doesn't have to be much.
All that dreaming is build on a bedrock of hard work. I know it isn't easy, but at least I am grateful that its fun. I love my team. I love my family. I love all of our supporters. Most of all, I have learned to love myself for who I am, not for who I wish I could be or should be...its a daily struggle to make peace with how my day has been and how I wish it was. Who I am, though, I am all good with that.
I see myself in the eyes of my husband, in the eyes of my children, in the eyes of my team, in the eyes of my closest friends, and in the eyes of regular customers...I am so much more than I ever gave myself credit for. And for that eye opening experience alone, that has been the last 2+ years...I have immense gratitude.
Gratitude for seeing myself through the eyes of my beholders. I am complete.
Come what may, I will always have that.
The first confirmed case of Coronavirus in Hong Kong was on the 23rd of January 2020.
Today, nearly 2 months after the fact, we are experiencing part of the second wave of infections due, for the most part, to "returnees", all the folks who rushed back to Hong Kong, before the spread of the virus got out of hand where they were sheltering abroad, in Europe, the US, because of their initial fears of getting the virus in Hong Kong!
Many of the returnees came straight off a plane and headed to a gym or the crowded night life district of Lan Kwai Fong, go figure, the numbers spiking yet again has something to do with these healthy, hearty, silent two legged petri dishes not practicing social distancing or self-quarantine!
So whats the end result?
We are experiencing record low turn out to the restaurant, understandable in this time of concern for social distancing and decreasing chance of exposure. My concern, beyond the numbers, is for the safety of the team.
We have chosen to close the shop for the time being, and please let me explain why we chose this position, difficult as it has been to come to the decision.
Oftentimes its easy to just put the importance of making money above the health and welfare of the staff. We have one team mate who is pregnant and one with a underlying thyroid condition, so as the numbers rose, I immediately took the decision to keep them home, refrain from coming to work for two weeks, to self-quarantine. The rest of the team are heading to the A&E tomorrow in the hopes we can get tested for the Coronavirus and then armed with the facts, we make a decision from there whether to reopen the shop or to self-quarantine the entire team.
Its not been easy to figure where to get tested when you don't have symptoms. It seems almost a luxury to head out there to test when asymptomatic, but we are in an industry that keeps us all at the front line in this epidemic, hardly the people in hospitals, but we certainly come into contact with a lot of people and we are cleaning their plates, cutlery, tables, and even their used dining napkins and used tissues (yes, people still leave those on the plates).
We can mask up, glove up, use disinfectant till the cows come home, and anyway we are washing our hands after every contact with these above mentioned items, its still a scary place to be while we remain unsure of our collective health as a team and ensuring public safety as well.
We cannot control the situation of every customer possibly being an asymptomatic carrier, one thing we can control is whether or not we are all in the clear and safe to serve. Once we have that solid baseline we can ensure that hygiene protocol is followed by all staff and we can provide assurance to our customers that they are in a place where all the staff are Coronavirus negative on top of us disinfecting the premises frequently each day.
Of course, the safest bet would be to completely shut the shop, but in an economy where jobs are hard to come by, where people are taking pay cuts and unpaid leave, and in an economy that has already been in recession from 6 months of political upheaval, we are left with little choice when landlords refuse to put a hold on rent, where government rates on rental properties still need to be paid...and where being open brings in money to cover all of that or at least part of that, is the only thing keeping many small, independently owned businesses from going under.
We are waiting on the government subsidy to help cushion the kick in the nads that has been what economists are calling the biggest crash since 2008...and well..that could buy us maybe 3 months of rent if we didn't have to pay anyone at all!
Well, lets just say at least we remain upbeat, the shop is closed as of today, we all go to try to get tested at a public hospital tomorrow, if they turn us away coz we are all asymptomatic, then we have to go the more expensive private route, which would cost an arm and a leg, so lets hope we get accepted at the public hospital!
Will keep you posted. And please, take care of yourselves, stay safe, focus on the good out there in the world, and remain optimistic that everything will slowly crawl back to normal, even if it takes a year!
We got this.
You know, I am kinda saying that more for myself than anyone! Lol.
"I'm tryin' to tell you somethin' 'bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all, yeah
Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety 'til I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores
And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine, yeah
The closer I am to fine, yeah"
I was sitting in the shop, after lunch rush, in the two hours we stay closed so the team can take a break before prepping for dinner shift...and this song played on one of my playlists...
It gets me every time.
You know, I grew up in boarding school. Its weird to explain to people who haven't been to boarding school. Many people may look at it as this uppity place to get educated, but in my experience it was layers upon layers of reasons for why I ended up in boarding school.
But that is for a later discussion...what I am trying to get at here is, I grew up in boarding school, and its pretty insulated...back in the day, before cellphones and computers in every home, the only exposure you had to music was radio or what your parents listened to!
If you grew up in Australia or Europe, like my husband did, then you had pretty decent access to radio, and radio that was worth listening to! Me? I grew up in India. Back in the 80's, we had, at best, scratchy reception to the BBC, which was mostly news with a lot of "beep, beep, beep" going on. And then there was the stuff my folks listened to.
Outside of what my folks listened to, which is all we listened to when we were on holiday from boarding school, on vinyl or cassette tape, we had what the cool kids would bring to school to play on cassette players their parents were rich enough to entrust them with!
Mixed tapes! Yeah!
So home was where I learned to sing every lyric to Simon & Garfunkel and of course, John Denver!
Don't laugh. It was easier than learning all the lyrics to songs by Julio Iglesias or Astrud Gilberto! I mean, I love music in Spanish & Portuguese, as obviously did my parents (!) but I can't guarantee what I am mimicking is legit or even makes sense!
My father was and still is an avid Jazz fan. Bossa Nova, all that old stuff with Joao and Astrud Gilberto, that "Girl from Ipanema" whatnot, my Dad absolutely LOVED that kind of music. So I learned to sing a lot of those songs, you know, to make my Dad love me more, lol, but also because the English versions of those songs were easy enough to memorize. I also learned to sing a lot of the songs from musicals like Cats (which, to this day, I have never seen, ever!)
I grew up on musicals.
A lot of musicals.
Any movie that had singing in it, I have seen it...and any movie that happened to have singing AND dancing in it, you betcha, I saw it!
Suffice to say that I may have known how to dance and sing every scene from A Chorus Line by the time I was 13, but I had not heard of U2! Yeah...or Queen...or...well, anyone worth listening to, really. And yet, I will be the first to admit that I was devastated when John Denver died.
My first exposure to real music, you know, like...U2, Bon Jovi (some may disagree on my liking them) and Crowded House...was when I moved to Hong Kong when I was 13. I had a friend, well, we are still friends, who dreamed of being a radio DJ...so she knew EVERY song out there! She was the first person to really open my mind to the world of recorded music worth being proud of having listened to...and for the longest time, my biggest joy was to go window shop at Tower Records!
My parents were extremely authoritarian, my mother believed that giving us pocket money was only going to lead to us getting up to no good, so we were given something like HKD40 a month, my brother and I, all the way up until I graduated high-school. Maybe by the end of high-school it was more like HKD100 a month, either way, it was not enough to buy anything more than a movie ticket or a cassette tape! So you bet your ass all I did was buy empty cassette tapes and record stuff off the radio! That was as good as it got. Then from there, edit, cut and paste, rerecord and make a good mixed tape!
So this brings me back to the song I have mentioned at the very beginning of all this...Closer to Fine.
I didn't learn about the Indigo girls until I moved to North Carolina.
I learned about their existence from a friend who was stationed there, she was from San Bernadino, California. She was also the person who shared with me her love of Fleetwood Mac, again, another band I had never heard of. The Eagles, I knew of their songs, I just never actually heard them on tape or actually sung by them until I was a teenager! Prior to that, I had heard my uncle sing Hotel California when strumming his guitar...that was about that!
You realize how weird it is to actually share this?
Kids today, or even adults who were born a mere 5-10 years after me, or even at the same time as me but on a different continent under different circumstances, simply may not be able to relate to a lot of what I am sharing.
Boarding School was like a bubble. I may have grown up in India, but I tend to say I grew up in "Boarding School in India", somehow hoping people can then understand what all that meant. It meant seeing your parents on holidays, it meant washing your own underwear, it meant uniforms and very little exposure to media!
I didn't experience India like many other people who grew up there. For me, I grew up in a Christian household, so we ate beef, which tends to be the first thing non-Indians ask you about when they find out you grew up in India, "Oh, so you didn't eat beef, right?" as if that was the one thing that set Indians apart from the rest of the world!
I also grew up in a household with a Japanese mother and an Indian father, so for me, we didn't grow up speaking an Indian language, we grew up speaking English and Japanese, but thanks to boarding school from 4 years old, I forgot my Japanese and spoke English only for as long as I can remember.
So outside of growing up in a very non-traditional home, the majority of my life lived in India was first in a Catholic boarding school and next in a military boarding school, so really, its not quite the same as growing up with exposure to the country and culture.
Boarding school was about growing up with friends...very little exposure to radio or TV (at least back then) and so...we read a lot of books, by the time I was 11, I was reading "grown up books" because, you know, I loved the experience of being transported out of the mundane and out of my life...I miss that thirst for the written word. In this day and age of Netflix and everything on demand, its kinda evaporated and become something I one day dream of recovering.
The last book I read was one on Stoicism, and it was pointing out how important it is to have a Philosophy on Life. To actually know what your philosophy on life is and to live it.
I don't know...sometimes I am lucky enough to even know WHERE I am going in life! Lol.
Where do I see myself in 5 years?
If you asked me this bog-standard question 5 years ago I wouldn't have had an answer for you, but I know exactly where I am gonna be in 5 years from now!
And I hope to high hell that it won't change.
5 years from now, I hope to be sailing around the world with my two youngest kids.
Everything we, my husband and I, are doing right now is leading up to that plan for our future.
To go off-grid, to home-school our kids who will be 11 and 13 by then, old enough to be capable deck-hands and to teach them in the stream of what is called "World Schooling", Teenage years can be hard, I know this, so does my husband, we have very similar childhood experiences of being uprooted from one culture and dropped into the deep end of another culture at the age of 13. Neither of us remember our school years as being a positive experience.
This isn't the why of our plans, this is just an aside. In the end, family is all that matters in life. Money is great, it helps, but its not the be all and end all. And even the word family, I view very differently than I did when I was younger. I no longer worry myself silly about maintaining my ties to my siblings or my parents, because for the most part, we live so far away from each other and we have so little in common, much of which I can trace back to us growing up in boarding school, in the same school, but essentially apart from each other, but also because we now live in different countries and have our own families and individual lives that are in no way parallel.
For me, where I stand, I have only a limited number of years to truly share in my kids life journey, its a finite number of years before they grown up, find love, and share their lives with someone they can then build their own family with.
I will cease to be the center of their universe, that day will come and I am neither sad nor in a hurry to get there, I am well aware that day will come and all I can do is hope they will have a life they are proud to have lived.
But back to the whole "journey around the world and stay off-grid" plan...I would love to have that opportunity to really bond with my kids, share the experience of a lifetime, be involved in their learning and daily life in the most claustrophobic ways, lol, for the short time I can experience all of that, I will take it. Because, one day, and make no mistake, that day will come, they won't need me anymore, and I am gonna be totally cool with that, because I will have no regrets.
I want nothing more than to live a life with no regrets.
I would love to experience the full throttle claustrophobia of family that I myself was denied, for whatever reason that was, mostly I just want to be able to really get to know my kids at the most crucial time in their lives, and to give them some semblance of support and guidance to prepare them for the world they will one day endure through.
How long do I hope we will sail the world?
No but seriously...whats so wrong with aiming for that?
Maybe 5 years seems more realistic...I mean, how old would we be? I would be 53 by the time we are done with 5 years of sailing, my husband would be 55...hmmm, that kinda sounds a bit rough for climbing up a mast, but I could be wrong! I used to think 43 was ancient, and look at me now, I may have a bit more of the aches and pains, but I still feel young! This here doesn't feel like what I envisioned 43 to be, you know, all bifocal sunglasses that changed color in the sun and dull colored jackets with shoulder pads!
I am not the 43 I used to shudder at! Matter of fact, the older I get the more I find myself saying, "But he was so YOUNG" when someone 70 dies!
20 years ago I would have thought that 70 was a damn good age to make it to!
Now I have a mother turning 70 and my Dad is almost 75! Both are still working coz they love to, not because they have to. So my whole, "that's too old" radar is kinda busted! Don't get me wrong, I sure as hell hope I can stop working by the time I am 70, but I doubt I would lose my sense of purpose unless my mind goes first!
What appeals to me about sailing around the world is not the sailing itself. I will be honest and admit that much of what can go wrong on a sailing vessel scares the shit out of me. Mending sails, scrubbing decks, gently scrubbing off bird poop, tying a million different knots, chipping barnacles off the rudder in between breaths...all of that is not much fun. Even the prospect of sleeping on the ocean, taking turns at anchor watch or just watch, if you are drifting, that doesn't sound like fun to me.
What appeals to me is being far away from the rest of the world, having time to read, having time to write, and having time to be creative. I just don't think that can be achieved if I am jobless in an apartment while still having access to everything that comes easy.
Am I wrong to think that this kind of life would be exactly what my kids will hopefully appreciate? Can a child who has been exposed to the mind rotting world of YouTube actually be able to recover some of his humanity while out on the ocean? Can a child who has been expected to be the same as every other child in a school classroom finally thrive when given the world around him to learn from? How much would my children learn to respect the planet they live on if they learn in a classroom vs if they learn while sailing its vast oceans? What is my life's philosophy then?
To respect the planet, I want my children to learn first hand that a life is a life, no matter how small and no matter what earthling lives it. To see the oceans, to see the damage being done to the environment, and to hold some sense of responsibility for the future as much as they can be responsible for their place in it. This is what I hope to teach my children.
Our lives, our days, my days, they are finite. My days are numbered, I have no idea how long I will live, and I sure as hell hope its at least another 10 years so I can make it to our "lets sail the world" kick off and also to a bare minimum of "gee, we managed to sail the world for 5 whole years" point.
I guess what I am getting at is this, life is short, I kinda know this, because I always come back to when I was so sure I was going to die and I did everything I could to learn how to live. I can say with some certainty that I now do everything I can to maintain my focus on the why of what I am doing and the where of why I am doing what I am doing is gonna take me.
This shop, Confusion, I hope that in 5 years we have more than one or that we just have one good one that is financially sound. I hope that my team are all taken care of and that should they still be with me, that they are on good salaries supported by the sound foundation the years prior have built. Me? I don't actually have any wishes for myself. It would be great if the shop and its operation actually paid dividends, but its not something I am counting on because I hope to be doing everything I can to ensure I am financially self-sufficient through other creative outlets such as documentary film making or writing...who knows, the future is wide open, right?
I just want to spend time with my kids, really live a life in condensed form, thick with a fog of awesome memories so that when they move on to their individual lives as adults, they can look back and regret nothing. I don't want them to feel guilty for not calling me or not spending Christmas with me...I just want them to be happy, I guess, and if anyone knows how fleeting happiness can be, its me.
Sailing, the great expanse of the ocean, that to me spells good times and bad, stormy weather and calm, it spells mending and fixing...it spells a lot of lentils and beans! I want my children to weather all of that with me, with US. I can't imagine what the whole experience of sailing the world would bring for my husband and I, we would have to learn to rely on each other in a whole different way. And I especially, would have to learn to be reliable and self-reliant in a whole different way! Lol.
The more I focus on what I want to achieve in the next 5 years, the stronger my resolve becomes. I want to achieve growth for the company and stability for the brand we build. I want to achieve a sense of grounding for my children, before I take them out there on the ocean and beyond, its why we let go of our helper, no help has meant that the kids are having to rely on us and vice versa. They are learning how to be independent earlier and to be self-reliant too. By the time we make it to the 5 year mark, 2025, they will have learned how to sail solo, know how to be part of a crew, and hopefully I will have taken a sailing course by then, although, looking at my schedule as it is, I doubt that will be any time soon!
One step at a time, or as they say, best not get ahead of myself!
When I focus on the here and now, with the Corona Virus and general panic buying of toilet paper and hand sanitizer around me, its hard to feel positive, but the more I focus on 5 years from now...well, the closer I am to fine.
Sometimes it takes something that far in the future to help one get through the now.
Well, I just wanted to share that...where I am at right now...I am focusing on something so far in the future so that it makes everything I will go through until then seem like a worthwhile "Paris-Roubaix"!
Its been a while since I last considered writing. Mainly because I didn't want to be super down about everything, and well, its not been easy, let me tell you this!
We continue to operate in a manner that makes me feel like I am piloting a space ship, I am floating into the endless expanse of deep space and I have no frikken clue what lies ahead of me, suffice to say that its a vast expanse of uncharted territory. Captains log...day, who knows how long this has been! Lol.
Things were going rather poorly for about 6 months and then we started to see a slow uptick, as if the average Joe on the street had gotten some sort of protest anxiety fatigue and just decided to live life as normal and not check Reddit every 15 minutes for an update!
So we were feeling optimistic, we began to breathe a little easier, we began to smile more often and even laugh from time to time...then came Christmas, we took a nice long break because, well, its not the best month for income anyway, so the math was pointing in the direction of costing more to be open than to be closed.
And when we came back from that, all enthusiastic about hitting this out of the park, a new year, a new sense of purpose and all that, and then comes the bad news.
Having personally lived through the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, way back in 2003, I was initially, "Hey, Bring it!"
Back then though...I was 27! I had a 4 year old, I was a single mum, co-parenting this crazy little minion who refused to wear a mask because he hated the feel of it on his face, I had a helper who was super paranoid and constantly anxious she was gonna die, and I worked for an American Brokerage firm and my direct superior was a high strung germaphobe with Bipolar Disorder! So those were some interesting times to live through.
The entire team at my office moved to New York for a few months, maybe it was two, maybe it was three, but they operated covering Asian Markets during American Vampire hours...eating Pizza at their desks and just loathing life.
I didn't go with them.
Would have loved to, but someone had to do all the updating the markets and confirming trades, plus, local staff were just collateral damage if they were to get infected. The only people who were stuck in the office here were myself, the back office girl who did all the settlements, and one American guy whose wife was heavily pregnant and in no shape to be moving half way around the world.
What I remember of those times? Well, everywhere you went people were wearing masks and gloves. My American colleague would come to work wearing an expensive 3M mask that looked like it was out of that movie, Contagion...and he had gloves and goggles on. He loathed me for not wearing all of the above, and well, what can I say, I didn't think any of it made a bloody difference if you were gonna get coughed on when you least expect it.
Membership only night clubs suddenly didn't need you to have a membership, great times! No more crazy lines for a cinema ticket. There were discounts happening everywhere...it was a great time to be alive as long as you had a job.
And now, look at how our city is coping.
I am not 27 anymore.
I am not employed by some American brokerage firm that can afford to move an entire team to NY for a few months and then move them all back.
I am self employed and I have to pay the paychecks of a bunch of staff who are also going through these times of great anxiety and uncertainty.
I also have two small kids who have to remain home for a month and I recently let my helper go! So here I am, with the most supportive husband in the world, but who is gainfully employed, me thinking if I just juggled my staffing right I can totally handle the day to day without domestic help, and then my kids have been given a month off school!
It keeps getting better, eh?
How do you not go nuts under these circumstances? Forget masks or gloves, I don't even have the energy or the time or the freedom to hit up a club to drown my sorrows in a lychee martini!
Somewhere in all of this, I keep telling myself, is the lesson of a lifetime. Yep, the lesson of a phenomenal lifetime!
Lets not forget that getting older, you know, as a woman, 40 plus, it sucks, big time.
Your hormones are reminding you that you drew the short straw, not just all your life, but doubly so now!
Depression has always been this shadow I cast, but as I have aged, its become almost unbearable. And I have to say, this shit-show, the protests, the fear of the next big pandemic, it ain't helping!
I crack jokes sometimes that if someone had told me this is what it would mean to own a restaurant, I would not have done it. And yet, I am glad I did it or I would not know half of what I do now. I don't genuinely regret any of it...and yet, sometimes, in my darkest hour, I wish I could just pull the plug on it all, not just the shop, but on life itself.
Its irrational, I know. I just want to share this struggle, candid as I can be, that nothing in life comes easy, but the whole crazy freight train of what it means to operate a restaurant, its a whole different level of madness.
You know how it is?
Someone hogs a table for 5, they are just 2 people...so they are a little reluctant to share their table even though they know its all shared seating, I mean, look around, its a small cozy place. And so they half-jokingly moan, "When are you getting a bigger place?"
You know what I say in my mind?
"When are you gonna pay my bills for the next one?"
I hear this question from people that genuinely mean well, like, you know, they are emotionally invested in seeing us succeed, and I hear this question from people who may, deep down, simply be selfish about sharing their personal space.
The honest answer is, think about how much this space costs to operate, and then double or triple that.
That is how this will happen.
Time and time again I hear from peers in the industry, they were doing so well with the first one, so they took the gamble of opening a second one, and then, lo and behold, it didn't do as good as they expected, then they had to shut one or the other or both.
Its an insane struggle, and its not fear that prevents me from taking the plunge, its plain old reality.
I am realistic about my expectations. I am no longer unaware of what I am doing or what is possible. We can always try to maximize the way things work out, but there is still no magical button that fast tracks success while also guaranteeing it!
We have shit landlords, we didn't know this when we signed the lease, of course, but we do now. They are terrible. We were conned into believing it was some "little old lady in her 70's" that owned our place, but in reality there is no little old lady, there is a corporation, a company that has an investment portfolio, one that they are losing money on thanks to everything that has happened the last year, but also likely because they are crap at taking care of their investments!
When we begged for a reduction in the rent, seeing as our income had dropped 30-40%, they didn't give a damn. They were losing money across a portfolio of crappy decisions, so it was our problem that we made our own crappy decision to believe their little old lady lie!
Well, I ain't making the same mistake twice, let me assure you.
Even when things were good and there was a point in time we were looking at other properties for a second shop, we got the "little old couple in their 80's" story from estate agents, as if the threat level wasn't low enough, they even added the extra, "practically dying" kinda story line.
Little old people, they seem so harmless and possibly easy to negotiate with, right?
Frail, old people, so harmless! Lol.
Yeah, not this time, mister. The next shop, be it bigger or not, I am not gonna fall for that. I won't let them screw me into a personal guarantee either. The renters market here leans heavily in the favor of the landlords, its important to be savvy and know your rights...I realize now that we were not given the logical options when it came to the lease agreement.
Anyway, I know now. I am not bitter, its a hard lesson to learn, the one that there are bad people out there and people lie for money, etc, but its not a NEW lesson!
I have had to learn this lesson with suppliers, staff and even the entire industry I am a part of. Its like doing a Masters degree and it kinda costs about the same, lol.
There was a point where I considered doing a Masters Degree while also running this shop. I was looking at it as "doing something for myself" and all that nonsense. To focus on myself vs burning the candle at both ends, sending myself to an early grave.
But then I thought, how the hell will I manage it? Part time degree, 2 years...with the instability of staffing, I couldn't guarantee I would make it to every class, let alone how on earth I would pay for it!
Its funny, coz people look at you, they see how hard you work, they see your busy space, they make assumptions about the sheer truckloads of cash you are just making it rain at the bank. The don't actually know how much you make or how much it all costs. And they certainly don't know how much you earn. And I couldn't care less in the end, coz at some point even I had to give that up.
Money makes it all happen, but its not like some sort of oil well, its more like mining for mammoth tusks in the Siberian wilderness at this point! Its messy, its back breaking, and there is no guarantee that all the money you put into it will amount to anything. If you aren't careful, it can wreck your health and set you back even further.
So investing in oneself, in a lesser way, nothing too garish, works, or at least, I am counting on it working.
I bought myself a meditation cushion.
A frikken meditation cushion stuffed with buckwheat and lavender.
Why lavender for something under my butt, who knows, its what they were selling...my husband jokes coz its the seat of a thousand farts, and I for one know that girls don't fart, ask my sons, they will tell you this! Lol.
So I have this meditation cushion, and I am all geared up to get back to my meditating as soon as I lose the urge to drown my sorrows in a bottle of Prosecco!
Next week seems like a good time. Not for Prosecco, but for meditation.
A customer who regularly comes in to the shop, a lovely gentleman with eyes that sparkle and a smile that warms the heart, well, we got chatting, and it turned out he is a psychologist who focuses on Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Practice. Basically had all the tick boxes for exactly what I need at this point in time.
I am done with being put on meds to deal with depression, I gave those up ages ago, but I am also at a loss on how to help myself without leaning so painfully on others. So this here chit-chat I had with this here one dude who is always in the restaurant, it just seemed to have come at the right time and the right place.
Months of serving this gentleman food and I had no idea what he did!
And all along, he was doing exactly what could have helped me, mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy, and so I have signed up for his course, along with a small group of other participants, that will run for 8 weeks, and hopefully give me the tools to cope while keeping me accountable in my practice.
Its not rocket science, I know this will work, I just didn't know it was out there and I honestly can't say I can depend purely on myself to keep myself practicing mindfulness. Excuses always crop up, self-care takes a back seat to the running of everything, managing my own expectations take a back seat to managing the expectations of everyone around me.
I read an article about a chef who was struggling with depression, and it made me cry.
It hit a nerve, all raw like...coz everything he was communicating may well have been coming right out of my own mouth.
We serve, we care, we do so much for others and we bask in the positivity of those who appreciate what we do, but we can't even figure out how to take care of ourselves or how to feel good about ourselves. Its a vicious cycle where working harder is somehow lauded and you genuinely believe that no amount of work would be enough, there has got to be more that you could give.
I wanted to create a place where staff didn't have to work insane hours, that they got fair pay, etc, but I didn't actually factor myself into that! Sometimes I work on Sunday, making sure stuff is prepped for Monday so that the team finds it easier to navigate. I do stock take, I do every crappy errand there is, I could work from start of the day to end of the day if it wasn't for my family and the guilt that comes with actually remembering I am part of one.
When you don't work, you feel guilty about not being at work, when you do work, you feel guilty for not being home.
Somewhere in all that is where I understand the problem I have to work on and how I need to change my perspective, to have what they call a paradigm shift, and to just learn to live and let live.
No amount of reading books about stress and dealing with it are gonna make a bloody difference if I don't learn to let go.
Still...the situation in Hong Kong right now is just plan awful. No words to really describe how much uncertainty we are wallowing in. And yet, we are here, and catch me in a year and lets hope our existence speaks as a testimony of our resilience...
Whatever that may be worth! Lol.
Much love, much gratitude, and much cautious hope for the future, that is all I have for you today.
When you walk into a restaurant, what do you notice most? Maybe you have issues with the decor, or the menu design, and you think, "Oh, my Gaaawwwddd, how hard would it be to just IKEA this shit nicely?" right?
Ever known an architect? Or an interior designer? How much do they earn? Ever gone to buy fancy light fixtures? Or even bar stools or custom photo frames? Now consider doing all that within a super tight budget and with what may well be money you later regret spending!
Well, you could try to figure how much the rent is for any given space, knowing how rent is in Hong Kong, first...maybe, lets say, 80K...hypothetically....then figure how many staff they have, you may only see 3, but more will be in the kitchen, still more will not have come on shift yet...so lets imagine a nice round number for a small place is about 10 staff. Lets assume they are each paid the same wage and its a fair one, so lets go for somewhere between 15-25K, which really is quite a broad average, but ok, lets assume.
That makes salaries anywhere between 150K and 250K a month, and don't forget to add on the MPF contributions for them, the insurance for the shop to ensure everyone is covered in house if there is some insane fire or the building falls to the ground. Then you got electricity, you do the math on how much your apartment electric bill is like in the summer, and then multiply that by about 8 to 10...and depending on the size of your apartment, maybe you can just double it...some people live in nice sized apartments here in Hong Kong.
Then maybe consider your budget for food costing on top of that, aiming to plan for at least 100 covers a day. Which is very small really, but its realistic if you think how many seats the place has, how many times you see those seats change over. (You will see where I am going with this).
Now do the math on the average price of a meal there, and figure out how many meals that particular restaurant needs to sell in order to break even, even on your most conservative guess or your wildest guess.
Margins in FnB are pretty tight. You have one month with holidays and it brings you right back to where you started, then you have three good months, and it is supposed to carry you three other shit ones. This is very much the same with weeks and days...in the past, Friday and Saturday carried us through the week, it would help pad the week up, and over the last few months, the weekends have becomes, at times, worse than weekdays. So you can figure how this is for not just our place but for all restaurants in the same position.
Its no wonder that the Li Ka Shing Foundation has considered this and is generously pledging money towards small businesses in FnB. When you think about how government rates have gone up after they stopped subsidies, when you consider the cost of electricity, the cost of water, gas, and manpower, you will figure out exactly how asking for something you think is "cheap" for free, isn't actually free for the restaurant.
You will genuinely not take more than you need, you won't waste usage of the cutlery or the napkins, you will think twice to ask for something extra without offering to pay for it. Many times we get asked about substituting something for another, which is cool, we are happy to help when we can, but sometimes people don't get that one thing costs more, maybe not simply in ingredients, but in manpower, and what looks like a tablespoon of it, still has an intrinsic value.
When we started, none of it mattered because none of it made sense. I was so new to it all, I have had to learn everything the hard way. Its also phenomenal how easy it is to go from the ups to the downs and right back up again, and the only thing you can count on is that life will be unpredictable.
What else costs money? Paper bags, napkins, toilet paper, cleaning products, meeting the MOQ on every suppliers list, laundry, dishwasher rental, more cleaning products, packaging, more packaging, breakage of crockery, condiments, spices, and on and on...
If you take a napkin to your table, we have to throw it away after, even if it looks untouched...its purely a matter of hygiene. Same with forks, spoons, knives...it has to be washed even if you haven't used it, purely coz you took it to your table. More washing needed.
We talk about zero waste and sustainability, it comes down to every last choice and it can be exhausting. Like, isn't it good enough I went vegan, dagnammit? Lol.
So sometimes I have to step back from the guilt of running a restaurant and try to figure out the balance of the good it serves vs the carbon footprint of its existence. We are still working with a much smaller carbon footprint, but the longer I operate the more I notice the flaws in the system and I am constantly considering how I would do it differently the next time.
I am happy, learning as I go, we all are, as a team. And I know, what we do, its good, it just costs so much money and I wish more people knew this before they decide to underestimate the cost. Its about knowing each seat has an intrinsic value and a time stamp on it.
I remember my husband and I sitting in a ramen shop in a Tokyo suburb once, we had ordered a ramen and a beer. Once we were done with our ramen, we were sipping our beer and talking, you know, like people do, just chatting. The owner leaned in and said, "Excuse me, this isn't a bar, please, finish and you can leave." Super polite, but quite clear.
You can imagine what went through our minds, the place was empty except for us. That said...sometimes I get what he's saying. Not the exact thing, but sometimes when people try to bag spread or sit on a computer with only a coffee for hours, that can kinda make my eye twitch and I lean inwards much like that Japanese ramen shop owner, and I don't say what he did, but I certainly feel like he must have.
And of course, this brings me to the final thought I wish people would think.
How many hours do you reckon your server works?
Not just waitstaff, but chefs, line cooks, prep cooks, the lot.
How many jobs do you think that one person holds?
What do you quantify as worthy of a service charge or tip? And if you are billed service charge, do you check to see if it goes to the staff? The number of times we see big groups who expect service and even praise it, then leave not a single cent as a tip. Astonishing.
Some staff hold down two, maybe three jobs. They may have small kids who ensure they sleep shit at night. They may live a whole hour and a half commute away because this was the best paying job they could get.
So when you treat service staff like crap, know that you actually have no idea how long that persons day has been, how small their apartment may be, how many household members they are supporting, and how they carry all that along when serving with a smile. Some may not serve with a smile, some may be well spent on service altogether, lol, but know that there is only one thing you can be sure of, you actually don't know.
The people I have seen who have been the kindest and most helpful, regardless of their current prosperity in life, have been those who grew up helping parents who owned restaurants. There is a quiet pride in their eyes, for you, like, legitimately, they take pride in seeing you succeed while running an independently owned restaurant, purely because they know the life. I see them, lookin at me, saying, "You got this!" all unspoken, I see it.
I suppose there is something to be said about helping your parents clean grease traps and ventilation hoods coz you are small enough to get in there! My own son has had to learn the hard way what it takes to be the one picking up the slack in a running restaurant. I sat him down ages ago, "Son, I want you to KNOW, truly know what hard work is, so you will work hard to ensure you one day have an easy life!" Ha!
My husband grew up with dish washing jobs, and its why when I need extra help, he comes and helps me even though its way below his pay-grade, he gets it, he knows how hard it is and how much a team being strong matters.
I think it ought to be mandatory for all kids when graduating school, to do a job that involves service to others. Humility in the face of adversity. To learn what they are capable of, genuinely, I think working in old age homes, or FnB, or even doing military service, would shape a young mind and fortify one to be resilient as all hell!
You know how many kids have come through our door and simply didn't last? A lot. Unable to consider cleaning a toilet because it was beneath them, or clueless about how to sweep a floor or wash dishes. I was cooking meals for our family at 15, if my mum let me...they weren't good meals, but they were meals nonetheless.
So somehow, where in all the fray, as people sit on smart devices, connecting away, are they connecting the dots of what it all costs, economically, socially, sustainability wise...
I remember the days when they had Archie B's, a deli in Hong Kong which was located somewhere in Soho. Even back then, I would see the owners, slaving away, and I would be in awe! For me, it was as close as I could come to personally knowing superstars!
I kid you not.
Taco Loco was another one of their small restaurants...what an inspiration! Both places really are likely my original inspiration for a good, wholesome, no-nonsense place to eat. Where food made with love was key, and understanding that food has to taste good, mattered, dagnammit! Flavor, spice, devil in the detail!!! They had NY style deli items and pickled green tomatoes! Back then I was never a pastrami fan, but the pickled green tomatoes! Woah!
I loved the owners too, genuine people, kind, generous, and hopelessly overworked back when I knew them. Legends in my mind, hands down, absolute stars! My kid (who is 20, so not a kid anymore) STILL talks about our Sundays at their restaurant.
I've lived in Hong Kong a long time. I think this coming birthday will make the count about 30 years, give or take a few away, but I still say that is about right because even if I left, to Texas or Tokyo, I never really left.
My kids are born here, all three of them, so when people ask me where home is, this is it. Hong Kong is my home. And one day, somewhere else will be, maybe, coz really, the only reason I can afford to continue living here is because at least one of us in my marriage has a good paying job, and it ain't me! Lol.
I thank my husband regularly for being the awesome human he is, and mostly for affording me the opportunity to follow a dream, no matter how insane, and I express gratitude for his fortitude in enduring my dreams.
I truly am a lucky person. Lucky to have learned so much, lucky to be surrounded by kindness and generosity, and lucky to be alive. If I died tomorrow, I reckon I wouldn't even know, and I hope that someone somewhere will remember that I cooked a damn good meal for them...if that is my legacy, I will totally be happy with that!
I have just started on two books. One is a "book" book, one with actual paper pages made from trees, the other is an Audio based book. Audible is a rather new thing for me. I first discovered Audible when I bought the book "World War Z" which came with a CD, which I was then able to upload into my computer and then onto my iPhone as a file in my iTunes.
At the time, can't quite remember how long ago it was, but I am sure it was when I was traveling in Japan, because my memories involve sitting in a bathtub that was way too small while listening to someone narrate, and me laughing hard while listening.
World War Z is an easy one to listen to on Audible because its AWESOME in its uniqueness. Its not narrated by one guy, the way that Harry Potter is, or some other such. And even better, its not narrated by a computer, which I can assure you, I have come across that in my sheer misfortune of buying an Audio book called "Grain Brain"!
World War Z is almost like those old school radio plays. Before Movies and TV became a thing. Its even got Alan Alda doing one of the voices! So you get quite sucked into the actual listening experience, your mind makes clear and precise pictures in your head, you can visualize something with ease because you are actually engaged.
The same cannot be said for EVERY audio book out there.
Like for instance, I have listened to "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k" and I have to admit, I have yet to get past the midway point.
Not because I give too many "F**ks" but because it isn't quite that riveting in its content. Yes, its well read, yes, it can be funny, but at times, it just makes me want to fall asleep. Audio books, in some way, are only as good as the person reading you is capable of holding your attention. Its like the worlds longest lecture if you are someone who devours books.
If I read a proper paper book, I need to be on holiday, because then I can read from start to finish without giving too many "f**ks" about what time I need to sleep (I always sleep early when on holiday, its like this thing I do!) or what you need to do the next day.
Ah well, I am not on holiday, all I managed was to make it through Sunday. We closed the shop early on Saturday when we learned that the unapproved protest that had started in Causeway Bay was moving swiftly to Central. Videos and whatsapps showed us people flaunting the face mask ban, clad in black and legging it through the main streets of Wan Chai. Yeah, not going to stay open in the hopes that one person rocks up to eat while at the same time putting the team at risk of having to spend the night on my couch or in a capsule hotel like last time.
Reality is, I put a tiny note on the doorway to clarify why we were closing at 5pm on a Saturday vs 7:40pm. And I then posted the amendment of closing time to Google (which is supposed to be the bastion of all that is legit) and then I also posted to Instagram (being as we aren't on Facebook) and finally here on our website.
Now...you tell me this, is it my responsibility to find everywhere else on the internet that people have decided to post about our existence and our operating hours? Like openrice, happy cow, and lord knows what other place we exists at that we have no clue about?
I think that would sound like finding a needle in a haystack and its a lot for ONE person to manage at the same time as managing closing tasks, planning frantically for the week ahead and doing something that, anyway, is out of the ordinary for all of us as a team.
So you can imagine my surprise to find, on Sunday evening, a scribble at the corner of my note on the doorway saying, "Traveled an hour to get here, Peace".
Now, if I hadn't just spent the whole Sunday switching between two very incredible books vs just sitting around on Netflix, I may have really gotten upset for no reason.
My first feeling was guilt, then anger for feeling guilt, then anxiety for where on the internet this person would go to vent their frustration because they obviously wouldn't know if I made a reply under their scribble. And the scribble, would we say its passive-aggressive? Like...Arrrrggghhhh, I just traveled all this way to find you closed!!! Followed by "Peace" almost like a deflated....Aaaaiiiii.....sigh.
I dunno, how do you read something like that?
Well, good thing for me the two books I am stuck in to, in tandem, literally switching between the Audio book and the Book book...helped me not freak out and descend into anxiety.
One of them is a book recommended by Sam Harris, and this one is the Audio one, because, something told me I would find the content quite dry to keep going if I attempted to read it, what with my ADD and my workload.
The first book is called: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (William B. Irvine) and I can assure you, its been enlightening as hell.
The second book I am reading, the actual paperback book, is called: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari, Derek Perkins, et al.).
Both books work great in conjunction, reading one when it reminds me of the other and listening to one when the other has gotten way to expansive for my human sized brain.
Upon reading the note that ended with "Peace" I actually took it to heart.
Anger serves no purpose. Fear, rides in the back seat with me every day. Anxiety is what wakes me daily. Matter of fact, I woke up so anxious this morning I thought I was going to die. I had to sit down to meditate, my third actual attempt at meditation unguided by Sam Harris' soothing voice dripping in through my headphones and into my human brain! And guess what:? After meditation on stoicism, meditating about saying goodbye to every single team mate, every person who comes into the shop, losing everything from my shop to my health, resulting in my imminent death...I was then about to gain some perspective on how none of it matters.
You know how in the past I have said, "Whats the point?"
The point is, we are all fragile, and we are only as strong as our minds are fortified, and we are only as confident as we let ourselves to be.
I have struggled for all my life, to distinguish the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem, and now, as I approach my 43rd birthday, here I stand, knowing that my self-esteem is only just beginning to see the light of day. People may see me as confident, or not...but I have been fairly assured that I appear self-confident at times and self-depreciating most of the time...but self-esteem has been something that I have sorely been lacking.
And it wasn't until a recent effort at meditation when I focused on "Metta" or Loving Kindness...not towards others, but towards myself, that I broke down in tears mid meditation.
There I was, sitting cross legged on my sofa, my cats meowing loudly to get my attention, and I began to realize how little I actually love myself and how little faith I have in myself. Most of my external expression of who I am is about showing I got this, but a lot of the time, I am eaten alive by anxiety about the things I have little control over.
I have little control over what people think of me, I have little control over what someone may say about me, and I have little control over what the future of Hong Kong will bring for me or the shop financially.
What I realize now, something I knew but didn't actually meditate on, is that the one thing I do have control over is my integrity, my virtue, my skills and my labor.
Like...as in, the food I create, all I can do is keep doing my best.
It literally is the only thing I can control.
I can control how much we spend, I already do that.
And just...do my best.
So I am at peace, much like the note suggested. Because I do my best, to make decisions that are rooted in integrity. I do my best to take care of the human beings in my life who I genuinely love and respect, my team, my family, and I am starting to realize, this includes myself.
I do my best to keep innovating and creating food that makes people feel joy.
The rest, I have no control over. And Stoicism is what has made me realize this more than logic, and meditation is what brought me to that awareness of one branch of Philosophy.
When I studied Philosophy, I remember my Jesuit professor telling us "Philosophy is about the love of knowledge, Philo...Sophia...and even this fine University you all are attending, is named Sophia..."
*Etymological meaning of Philosophy. ... Philosophia means 'love of knowledge', 'pursuit of wisdom', 'systematic investigation. English word 'Philosophy' comes from a combination of two Greek word, which are 'Philo' and 'Sophia'.
Hmmm...I went back to university in my 30's and I have not stopped in my pursuit of wisdom ever since...and let me be the first to admit that I am slowly forgetting something as simple as why I walked into another room, but it eventually comes back to me, like, "Oh, yeah, carrots!" and I worry unnecessarily about what will happen to my mind the older I get, because, lets face it, I am halfway towards a foot in the coffin, maybe more than half way, who knows.
But for now, I will recommend both these books so you too, if you are like me, can find some people, some self-acceptance for all your beautiful imperfections, and some self-love for all the integrity and virtue you carry in bucketfuls.
Much like I am telling myself now, you got this. Don't give up, meditate daily on losing everything you love, so you can find the love you do have around you.
We aren't closing the shop, but I meditate on it now, what it would feel like to lose my business, and I am grateful as all hell for having this business. I meditate on losing Peter, Swati, Clara, Jake, Anh, and even my family, my kids...my husband...and then I am immensely grateful for their part in my life and in my worklife.
Finally, I meditate about losing my life...to something like a quiet heart attack or a slow and painful cancer, and I become immensely grateful for every single day I have with my children, my husband, my customers, my team....just...being alive, in this world with made up constructs, money, corporations, nations, all make belief...
Ok, Now, I need to head to work, its 7:20am, I have been writing for an hour...and its Monday!
Here's wishing each and every one of you an incredible week ahead, much love, peace and happiness...and mostly, gratitude for the ones you love and who love you back.
You know what popped into my mind the other day as I was falling asleep?
"Creativity, to me, is like a ball of twine...unless I am wound up tight, there is nothing to pull out of me."
Yep, I could literally see myself as a ball of twine right now.
And I had to pop that down on my iPhone notes before I forgot it because I felt pretty happy with that analogy. Most of the cool stuff I think about is just as I fall asleep, and I have learned not to count on remembering it without writing it down.
I wish I could write everyday, I wish I could plan my writing, I wish I knew where I was going with it when I want to write...but the thing is...unless I am truly feeling miserable or emotionally wound up, I don't feel like writing.
Creating dishes comes easier to me than writing. Its more tangible, I guess, its more...multi-sensory.
Like, here is a mystery box full of vegetables, grains and pulses, create!
I would love that kind of day!
Often Mondays are like that for me, although it can sometimes feel like this mad rush rather than a joyful adventure.
Mondays are super hectic for me, well, for all of us, because its a mad race to the opening time where we are having to stock the entire menu because we are all out of everything due to being closed on Sunday.
Monday is also the start back to the lunchbox deliveries for the week, running Monday to Friday, we deliver lunches to a select handful of eager desk bound plant eaters in the Central business district.
Generally on Sunday I do everything I can to not think about Monday, but as Sunday evening rolls around I get that same feeling of melancholy mixed with anxiety that I remember having when I was a kid and the Sunday evening cartoons began to play on the television. As I'd sit there watching the Disney Afternoon, I'd feel that sinking feeling in my gut because I knew my weekend was over and tomorrow was the start of another week where demands would be placed on me, tasks would need completing and sleep would become a timed must vs something that eventually rolled into my consciousness after hours of play and fun.
One day just isn't enough time off to rest. And yet, I keep reminding myself, I am doing something I genuinely do enjoy doing, I just wish it were easier, or that I had more hours in a day.
People for the most part don't know how a restaurant is run.
Like for instance, if we say we close at 8pm, and last order is at 7:40pm, that means that we hope to get out of the shop by 8:30pm ourselves, if we are lucky. Opening tasks in a restaurant are a whole different number of tasks than closing tasks, and generally, closing tasks are more time consuming.
Here is how "Opening" goes:
Roll in, turn on all the lights except the ones that make people think you are open for business!
Switch all the equipment you will use on, then dive into filling up filter water jugs, cutting, dicing, roasting, simmering...that basically goes on for hours until opening hours roll in.
I get to work anywhere between 5am and 7am, depending on what needs to be done. On Mondays, always an early start.
Lunch often kicks off anywhere after 11am...and ends somewhere around 4pm. We take a moment to eat our own late lunches before getting into further prep for the evening shift and the day to come.
Then you roll into dinner, and hope to get out at a reasonable hour.
All this depends on the closing time, the closing tasks to complete, and the customers.
Closing involves clearing all the dishes and cutlery, washing, wiping, sweeping all floors, cleaning all floors, scrubbing down the kitchen, scrubbing down the stove, oven, grill, pretty much anything that has been used. Stacking stuff away into fridges, and generally ensuring there is nothing left out that could attract pests. Basically the whole place has to be degreased, mopped, toilets cleaned, bins cleared, recyclables sent to recycle...its a lot that needs doing, including cashing out the till. Its not as simple as "closing time means closed and everyone goes home" it takes an hour plus if there is still stuff undone, sometimes it can take 2 hours.
If one receipt is rung up wrong, it can eat into that time as you try to find it in the fray.
I never knew how to do any of these things until I opened this restaurant. It was people I hired who taught me how to, and its taken me time to come to terms with the sheer grit it takes to keep a restaurant running smoothly. Sometimes I get impatient with folks who don't get it, and I have to remind myself, I used to be one of those guys.
Its been a learning experience, all of it. Understanding time management, understanding myself and being patient with myself so that I may be patient with others in turn.
I can only hope that by the time I get to the 3 year mark I will be able to look back on this here midway point and marvel at how much I have learned and how immensely my knowledge has grown. If this is how I feel about everything now, how will I feel in another year and a half?
Even more calm and confident, I hope.
I am finally meditating daily and practicing yoga, thanks to the gentle nudges of a few yoga teachers who happen to be regular customers. Its tough to find the time, and I can tell you, I am fighting the urge to make excuses, practically on a minute by minute basis.
I figure if I can just commit to a daily practice from Monday to Friday, that would be a good start. I managed 2 days last week at a yoga studio...and today I practiced at home. So if I can get in the yoga habit, I am certain I can find that balance between that feeling of being wound up tight like a ball of twine vs feeling flat like a day old soda.
Its a toughie, coping with feeling low when you have no time to take a break and lick your wounds, so to speak. I sometimes think about having something like a support group for others who feel the way I sometimes feel...and then I worry that maybe I won't be able to take on one more thing on top of everything I am already taking on. I get a lot of joy out of helping others, and yet, sometimes I fail to help myself. I neglect to pay attention to my inner voice as it begs me to slow down and just breathe.
So I guess, one step at a time.
Yoga, meditation (that I was already doing, months now) and working on getting adequate sleep (which is a challenge I am slowly inching towards).
The one biggest challenge I have set myself is to try to spend more time with my kids in the evening. I feel like I am missing out on so much of their lives by heading to work early and coming home late...and I feel guilty when I am away from them but I feel guilty when I am not at work too.
I guess I need to work on somehow forgiving myself for not being everything to everyone and everywhere at once.
These last few months have not been the best, and its no wonder that I am anxious when everyone in my industry is anxious. The average person on the street is walking around with so much on their minds, a fog of unsettling emotions.
I guess, much like everything in life, it will pass...its just a matter of when, and until then, I guess its just a matter of grit and tenacity.
That much I can guarantee I have in spadefuls.
My name's Lisa. I love to cook, I love to laugh, I love to write. I don't always believe I have the time for creating, and now I am going to work on simply going with the flow, with the food, the restaurant, the writing...and if I can, for one moment, spread a little joy along the way, well, its worth the effort.