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.
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.