Yesterday was my seventh time working at a certain Taiwanese cafe. I never imagined myself REALLY working there, but a minor discouragement at a nearby coffeehouse led to it. I had looked across the plaza and told my friends, somewhat seriously and somewhat halfheartedly, “I need more work experience…I’ll even work at that Asian place!” A disclaimer about myself: For some reason, Chinese/Taiwanese places are horribly unpleasant for me…I was never too fond of loitering groups outside such restaurants and these Chinese/Taiwanese groups always seemed so exclusive that it seemed off-putting to my Americanized self. Surprisingly enough, Steph, Krystal and Lucy went along with my declaration and I felt more compelled to actually go in and ask if they were hiring. The next night, I was called in for my first training session on April 15th.
The first day, it was kind of fun. M and D were really nice to me and made small talk. D could not believe I was not around his age (16)…M somehow already knew I was 22 and a college student. The times after, I met G, N, J, R.L. (both of them), L and R (in that order). I got the feeling that the Boss Lady sort of liked me because she was impressed on the first day that I did not have previous restaurant experience. Even though I messed up orders here and there, she atypically gave me a portion of the tips despite the fact that I was still training. Around my third time working there, M went from friendly to sort of tolerating, and I suspected it was both the work stress and the fact that I had communication problems with him because of his accent. I was still learning the ropes and threw off M who knew his way around the drinks and outside kitchen. G was the first to really make me feel a bit more comfortable when I worked with her the first hour of my night shift before she went off. R came off as intimidating because she was Boss Lady’s daughter, but at the end of the shift, I got the feeling that she was a nice girl.
When I met R.L. (the Taiwanese one) and L, I was put more at ease. My first time working with R.L. last week, he was very helpful and kind to me. In a lot of ways, he seemed familiar to me in that, accent and cultural background aside, we had some similarities. I thought he was a high school student, but I found out that night that he was the same age as me. His friends visited and I noticed how much relationships meant to him as he paid for their bill. As I swept the floor at the end of that long night shift, out of the blue, he said it was really nice working with me. His extreme openness and niceness struck me as odd, but also endearing (I am pretty open when prompted, but I otherwise show rather than say my feelings). We even had a heart-to-heart, and I felt that as a newbie in that restaurant, I at least had one person rooting for me to get the job. When I met L, this feeling was once again ignited. We hit it off pretty well before our shift got crazy. I was able to work with her two times this week, and both times, I learned so much from her. She kept me afloat by answering Mandarin-speaking to-go phone orders (as did R.L. and the Boss Lady) and taught me a few tricks (like stacking placemats with napkins ahead of time and asking if people wanted dessert to prompt them to ask for the check when there was a waitlist). My second time working with her, we arrived at the same time, even parking next to each other, and she noticed me first. She flashed a really big smile and wave, then waited for me to come out of my car so that we would go in together. R.L. and L…there is something about them that I really like, and I suspect it has to do with their Taiwanese background and their optimistic, bright smiles.
Yesterday was probably my worst shift, but a good bonding experience with my coworkers. The shift had started off so well…Kriz and Jason surprised me by showing up to my workplace. For some reason, I was so happy to see them. I did not see Jason since the beginning of this quarter that I had a fleeting desire to hug him—-but Jason hates hugs. Also, we both tend to dislike physical contact in general. That aside. M and R.L. were also working the shift and I knew I could depend on both. I knew that R.L. had my back, and I noticed that M had started warming up to me again since the last shift with his joking/teasing. Things were going well…until around 7PM. Then hell broke loose. I messed up one order in which I ordered three fish katsus as opposed to three pork katsus. I had written it correctly on my paper, but punched in the wrong code on the machine. I probably pissed off the chef and Boss Lady, possibly even the customer (who later came up to the register, got change, deflected my apology and directly gave me a tip…what a nice lady). They stayed way longer because of me, holding up that table despite our waitlist. I remember that for a few split seconds, I almost cracked under the feeling of failure. M and R.L. (who are rarely both outside of the kitchen) were cleaning up a table and both happened to look at me at the same time, and I knew my face showed those emotions. Afterwards, M and R.L. kept checking up on me, asking if I needed help, and it was M’s randomness of going out of the kitchen to check on me that made me realize their sudden tenderness. I lost a receipt (later recovering it in the back of a pile of placemats after Boss Lady and the Big Boss had gone through a lengthy discussion regarding if that bill was paid). I messed up a snowy ice order because green snowy ice was not green tea but green bean snowy ice—-but luckily, R.L. covered for me because he knew what I meant (“We are a team,” he reminded me). I felt bad for my mistakes, but I also felt so grateful and cared for by these two guys; they had my back.
At the end of the day, we actually ate dinner together at a table, the three of us. M got R.L. his bowl of rice while R.L. was busy, and I thought that that was really nice of him. M made small talk with me, asking if I had a boyfriend and why I did not have one. Yes, a little personal, but I did not mind answering openly and honestly. I was tempted to return the question, but thought better of it because I did not want to imply anything. I learned that M was a jokester and a little sarcastic but a big, towering softie at the end of the day. The “Oyster Pancake Prince” (as R.L. had explained to me during our heart-to-heart), who rolls his eyes when I mess up an order, who apologized to me suddenly the shift before, was a big softie. And a jokester. Hard to believe, but true. There was a questionable-looking, dried up/fried meat on the plate in front of us that I did not touch (but I did dare to touch several of the fish fillet katsus I messed up). When R.L. took a piece of that weird meat, M innocently told him it was ren rou (human meat) and the two exchanged a few laughs and words. M and R.L. were very supportive, suggesting to me that my Mandarin got better. I got up to get us some napkins and when I came with them, dabbing as I sat and took another bite of my rice, R.L. boyishly beamed at me.
An aside…maybe it is a culture (Taiwanese?) thing, but I find that R.L. and L have smiles that make me think of cute little children. Innocent and sincere. I wish I could do that because of the positive feelings it induces, but alas, I am one heck of a sarcastic American individual.
Regardless, I felt really blessed to have M and R.L. as coworkers.
M typically disappeared when he finished his part of the closing up, but this time, he stayed because I found out that he biked home and being a bikehead, requested to see his bike. He and R.L. helped me out with the last bit of my duties in cleaning out the restroom bins before we all headed out to see M’s bike. I was quick to point out he had no light and should get one because it was dangerous. R.L. suggested he could also opt to wear a bright green (reflector?) jacket. I looked at M, R.L., then back at M and asked, “C’mon, can you really see [M] wearing that? I don’t think so.” M’s look confirmed my suspicions. I offered to get him a bike light from the newly-opened Daiso. The three of us then parted ways after a bit more chatter.
Why all this recollection? This is my first job procured of my own accord and hard work. I got myself out there by doing this, and the independence of this is amazing. Despite the stressfulness at times and the pain I sometimes feel at the end of the day, I love this job. I love my coworkers so far, particularly M, R.L. and L., and I look forward to bonding with them, knowing the others better and making shifts more interesting and positive. I am becoming more accustomed to and understanding of these Chinese/Taiwanese groupies—-they move from their homeland to an English-speaking society, starting from scratch—-who can blame them for associating with people immediately in their comfort zone? It is not a matter of exclusivity but convenience and perhaps comfort and preference. I feel that I am learning a lot out of this experience, socially, mentally and financially.