The Struggles of a Cafe / Restaurant Owner :(

Hells Kitchen

‘Exquisite’ has been in operation for 5 years now.  It has been 5 years of hell!  Other than the lifestyle we seem to have become accustomed to, small shopping sprees, fine dining treats and sponsoring anyone and everyone that has come to us for money… that is the only thing we have had to show for in the past years.  We are still without children, without a home, without happiness and most importantly with nothing to show for.  Therefore, it begs the question… why and what are we still doing here?!

I have decided, enough is enough!  After losing two of our long-serving staff members, firing another from stealing and hiring 3 more that are giving us grief due to the lack of experience.  I am dreading the thought of training these new staff members all over again and fuming at the fact that the ones we’ve lost have benefited other cafes!

Our biggest problem has been the kitchen.  Always looking for new chefs, and after training them they take off with our recipes, etc.  So when we gave up on that idea and decided to take on the cooking role ourselves, we have become tired, bitter, angry and depressed!  Trust me, the reality of starting at 5.30am in the kitchen, standing, running, burnt and forever suffocating in that heat is the truth and not the façade you see on television.

The much-dreaded term that keeps us all up, pushing forward unable to call it ‘quits’ has finally come down to a four figure sum and we were relieved!  Yes, our Mortgage was finally coming to an end and technically everything from now onwards would be ‘Pure Profit’.  We can finally think of ourselves and what we want to do with our hard earned money!  Do we start working towards a Home?  Do we start having babies?  Do we start a new business or expand the café?  I can guarantee you, it was definitely not the latter!  When we finally decided what we were going to do, we were ecstatic!  We were ready to finally plan something in our lives that did not revolve around catering, orders, customer complaints, early hour ‘preps’, cutting, chopping, cooking or baking!

But then it happened…again!  We lost more staff members due to their own personal aspirations (because ain’t nobody got time to be a waiter for the rest of their lives).  And so, the story of our lives… we were back at it again.  Stressed, Angry and Depressed trying to make everything work.  It was only 8.30am and six frying pans on the burners for a Steak Strip, Grilled Pork, Pan Fried Fish, Short Stack and the one European lady in the lot that ordered a Porridge (we Islanders love our heavy meals for breakfast).  Once done it was a race to unbutton that damn Chef’s jacket while patting down the frizzy afro with water before taking a deep breath and walking to the front with a big smile to whip up that Mocha-Chino a customer has been angrily waiting for in the last 15 minutes you were cooking!  Every time I get flustered like this I say to myself ‘This is the last F***** time I’m doing this! And 5 years later…

So many days I have cried myself to sleep.  Thinking about all the hurtful things I would say to my poor hard working staff because the Chicken was Raw, the customer was overcharged, the service was terrible and the waste was high.  Or how worried I was about the suppliers that have just walked out on me because I’ve called them out on bad products.  How my husband used to say to me ‘Why don’t you give them a break and calm the F*** down?!’  But nothing can stop a Perfectionist who understands the value of Money the way I do.  I see a Farmer, who could barely afford to pay for his market block to sell his taro come by and give us $12.00 of the very few he has just so he can have some soup over the $3.00 meals that surround him where he’s based.  I also see a Prominent CEO of a well-established company choosing to support us every day rather than the 5 Star restaurant we all know he can afford.  The point is, each and every one of our customers chose us over the hundreds of choices they have on a daily basis and for that reason alone I wake up every morning wanting to give it our all so that each and everyone is satisfied and has had their money’s worth!

Now with all that being said, I repeat, it has been hell and a hell my husband and I would very much like to walk away from.  So instead of reaping the benefits of five years of hard work, we have decided to finally choose ‘US’ over them dollar signs!  It is time to focus on our lives and start making a family of our own so that ‘some’ people can finally get off my back about it especially since mid-thirties isn’t exactly young anymore!

I guess after five years of hard work, blood, sweat and money… some battles are best left defeated.  For it is not that you have called it quits but rather you have learned from it and have walked away stronger and ready to push through and face any obstacle that comes your way.  So here’s to having all fingers and toes crossed for a more fruitful and less stressful new business venture!!! Continue reading

My Father, the Peoples Hero?!

indigenous-people

My father, an environmentalist and a strong advocate for speaking out for the people’s rights, climate change, abuse of power and corruption, has started yet another controversy in my hometown.  This time, it is about the people’s rights to their lands…their customary lands to be exact!  In the case you are wondering ‘What on earth is Customary Land?‘  It is land owned by Indigenous Communities and administered in accordance with their customs.  In other words, it is not solely owned by one person and cannot be bought or sold.  It is NOT a freehold land and it rightfully belongs to the community and can only be used by the rightful descendants of the indigenous community if it is in accordance with their customs and their laws.

There is a village in my hometown whereby the community have been issued an eviction notice by the government to relocate elsewhere and away from their lands.  The one place they have grown up all their lives in, where their forefathers are buried and where they believed to be the future of many more of their generations to come.  It is, Customary Land!  Some of the people in the community have taken what little they were given and moved but the majority have taken to pleads and outcry’s for the injustice they have been served.  Their dilemmas have been broadcasted through the media and after a while, it became old news.  And although most people like myself felt for them and the situation they were in, I believed there was nothing I could do about it.  I mean ‘who am I to go up against the Government?!’  And does anyone ever stand a chance?  What they (government) say goes, obviously!  ‘It’s for the Good of the Country’ they always say.  The reason for the uprooting of all these people from their lands by the government is a ‘Waterfront Project’.  A tourism prosperity and the Government’s initiative to build an imitation of Fiji’s famous ‘Denarau Island’ (or at least that’s what I think!).

So what does my father do?  He speaks up…  This is coming from someone without any social, political or wealth stature.  Just another citizen who is tired of the corruption and the abuse of power.  This is a case of eliminating the minority so that the wealthy could benefit from their lands hiding behind a government that uses ‘Development Projects’ to line their pockets!  My father spoke up about constitutional, indigenous and birth rights through media networks, rallies, anyone and everyone who is willing to listen!  He finally gets Front Page on the Sunday paper (the biggest seller of the week) and people are starting to notice.  He is in no way or form connected, affected or related to these people other than the fact that like him, they are also indigenous people!  Through media, he has asked the people to come together and fight for their indigenous rights to their homeland!  It has stirred the peace, broken the silence, built the peoples confidence to fight and influenced a resilience from the community that was not there before!  So the battle has begun, lawyers were hired and concensus were signed.  It definitely got the government’s attention and he was ridiculed by the ‘powers that be’ (the Prime Minister to be exact) as a ‘nobody’ who just wants to be noticed, is short-sighted and oblivious to the future developments of the country!

My mother and I, often behind my father’s back complain about his insensitivity to the impacts it has on us.  My mother, brothers and I all work for the government.  My boss at one time jokingly said to me ‘Does your father have nothing better to do?’ in which case I merely uttered an awkward ‘I know right?’.  I did not defend him because like some people, the mentality was ‘If it doesn’t affect you, then Mind your own business!’  We were angry with him because what he was fighting for was affecting the way we were perceived at work.  A very wealthy business man who had taken an interest to my business project after a positive meeting eventually asked one of my colleagues who my parents were (we are a small island nation where your last name plays a huge part on your success) and when told who my father was he said ‘Oh that trouble maker! No, no, no!’ and just like that, he lost interest in my proposal.  So you can understand our frustrations!  (My father has also sued the Development Banks for high-interest rates and the impacts on low-income and small business developments…but that’s a whole story for another time!)

So lately, I have come across a few people who have given me a different perspective on my father’s fight for justice.  First one was my best friend.  I was having a ‘My Dad’s done it again!’ whining session when she straight up told me ‘Did you know, your father is the only person I know that actually gives a shit about what’s happening to our country?!  I wish you would just shut up about it and just be proud that he’s doing something honest and brave that most people wouldn’t have the balls to do!’   A couple of days later, I ran into a fairly old lady (maybe in her sixties) and as I said Hello to her she asked me if *Bob was my father.  I said yes in an apologetic manner expecting this to be one of ‘those ones’.  She totally surprised me by saying ‘Can you thank him for me?  I wish their were more people like your father in this country who are always fighting for us’ and as I looked at her confused she said ‘You know, there’s so many of us out there who don’t really understand why and how we end up on the streets when we had homes and lands before.  They use their fancy words, their corporate lawyers, and their politics to kick us out but your father has shown us that we have every right to stay and to fight!’ .  I am beginning to realise, that maybe the effects on us his family, is nothing compared to the effects he has had on people who have gotten a little braver, fought a little harder, understood a little more and found hope and resilience to hold on to what is rightfully theirs.  There was one anonymous writer who wrote an article about corruption and referred to my father saying ‘*Bob is one of the ‘Unsung Heroes’ of this country!’  Perhaps he is a Hero and one day I can be brave enough, if not to Fight with him then to at least Defend his integrity to all the haters out there lol.  It brings me back to a script he so often quotes:  Let the spirit of George Bernard Shaw remind us – “This is the true joy in my life, being used for a purpose recognized by oneself as a mighty one… that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. Life is not a brief candle for me. It is a splendid torch I have got hold of for the moment, and want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handling it on to future generations”!

 

Road Rage!

Image result for angry driver clipart

So I’m an extremely safe driver, but a psycho one nonetheless!  If I turn off my Pokemon Go app, comply with the speed limit and stay in the wrong lane driving two blocks down before turning around because it was too late to get onto the right lane…then I expect you to do the same damn thing!  If I almost get into an accident and it was your fault, be sure that I will hunt you down and say something really nice!

So as they say, ‘Karma’s a bitch’ it happened to me one day.  I was on the outer lane on a double lane street driving at around 60mph, I don’t know how it happened as I had checked my review mirror for any cars behind me and there were none.  As I looked behind and thought it was clear, I indicated and jumped onto the inner lane at the same time… and before I knew it there was a Loud ‘BEEEEEEEEEEP!!!’ and out of the corner of my eye a Maroon Pick up behind me halted to a stop as I missed it by an inch (I swear it was an inch!).  The whole thing seemed to unravel in a slow-mo as a Rav4 which happened to be right behind the Toyota Pick-up almost ran into the Pick-up and the echo of their beeping got me into a total panic mode as I tried in vain to swerve back to the outer lane almost hitting another car which in turn ‘BEEPED’ at me (also no point at all as the cars behind me had all come to a stop!).  From my review mirror, I watched in horror as the line of cars behind the Pick up had come to a halting stop with the white Rav4 now facing a 90 degree angle in an attempt to avoid crashing into the Maroon Pick up and another car behind the Rav4 screeching to a halt directly behind it as well!  Because I didn’t know what to do, I sped off leaving the whole commotion behind as if I had nothing to do with it!  I made the first turn I came up to away from the main road I was coming from and did a couple of right turns and left turns in a very random street just to be sure that no-one from that very near accident was going to catch up to me.  When I was quite sure I was far from the commotion and wasn’t followed, I turned into a Supermarket parking lot in a secluded corner and parked.  I was shaking uncontrollably at the thought of what could have happened if the car behind me had not halted to a stop and if the car behind it had not done the same thing and swerved off or if I had swerved back into the outer lane!  As I pictured what could have happened and the cost of the damages to the vehicles involved (especially since I didn’t have insurance) and the potential injuries if not deaths (thank you, Lord)! I broke down and started to cry!  I had my arms wrapped around the wheel sobbing and thanking God for guiding all the drivers and for avoiding what could have become a huge crisis when a knock on the window made me jump.  With a failed attempt to hide my tears I slowly tried to wind my window down after the gentleman in a navy suit stepped back from my door.  ‘OhMyGod!’ the same Maroon Hilux Pick-up I was running from was parked right next to me and without a doubt, this man in his late 40’s was the driver.  Before he could say anything I jumped out of the car and apologised profusely ‘I’m so sorry, please I’m sorry I didn’t mean to do that…I got scared and took off!  I’m so sorry…’  The gentleman put both his hands up in a high five sort of way as if to stop me from talking and he said to me with a smile on his face ‘You know, when you took off I was so angry I drove like a mad man adamant I was going to find you and give you a piece of my mind.  But when I saw you in the state you are in, I just wanted to come by and tell you everything is ok…’  Before I knew it, my ugly cry started again and the lovely gentleman hugged me tight and told me it was ok and just make sure I was careful the next time.  After a few minutes of him consoling me, I had finally managed to stop crying and he got back in his car and left with a passing ‘Drive carefully’.  I managed to ask for his name so I could make it up to him somehow, but all he said was ‘Pass on the kindness my darling’.

About a month later, believe it or not, a Silver ‘Nissan Bluebird’ did the exact same thing to me.  Without indicating, this Silver Nissan jumped right in front of my car missing me by an inch (or more but it was pretty damn close!) as I came to a screeching halt causing everything I had on the passenger seat to fly forward and all the belongings in my bag a total disarray on the floor.  My car now at a complete stand still as I watched this Nissan Bluebird drive off as if nothing happened, not even a beep to acknowledge his mistake!  I looked back through the review mirror to see a very angry Lady glaring at me as she came to a screeching halt directly behind me.  As if it was my fault, I politely waved at her as I quickly got the car back into gear.  I told myself to let it go, but as I caught a glimpse of the Silver Nissan  up ahead I got angry and I wanted them to know!  So after overtaking two vehicles to get in line directly behind them I was happy to see that his window was down.  I drove up to the side from the inner lane and wound my window down, the driver of the Nissan, a middle-aged man must have noticed I was speeding up to them because he slowed his car down and looked at me in a remorseful manner as if he knew I wanted to get something out of my chest.  So I did!  I yelled out ‘Watch where you’re going Asshole!’ and before I could say more he merely nodded in agreement and mouthed the word ‘Sorry’ as a young boy in the passenger seat sat there bewildered looking at me and back at his *father trying to understand what was happening.  Of course, in my anger, I did not notice the little boy until it was too late.  I slowed down so he could drive ahead of me and I quickly made yet another random turn into a random street embarrassed by what I had just done!  How shameful and disrespectful that was, and after the kindness shown to me by a total stranger when I was in the wrong, this was how I repaid him.  That guilt when you do something terrible and cannot make it right is weighing heavy on my mind hence the reason why I am writing about this.  We are always so quick to act on our anger wanting to prove our right and yet, when in the wrong how remorseful and humble we become.  I cannot say that I will never do it again as psycho drivers are always psycho, but hopefully blogging about it will help remind me to at least check first if it was warranted, if it’s worth it and if it were you how would you feel.  Overall, Lesson Learnt is ‘Don’t be an Asshole when you’re driving!’

 

 

Blogging with my ‘Secret Identity’

 

secret-identityIt has been exactly two weeks ago today since I stumbled across WordPress (sorry I have been living under a rock) and since then, boy have I been busy!  The stories about the truth, the lies, love, loss, battles, advices, experiences and life itself written by some of you have been so inspiring it has glued me to my computer for hours (and not to the likings of my husband lol)!  I am already following over 30 bloggers and I start the day with my Reader and end the day following someone new!  I have been passionate about writing for as long as I can remember.  Before Laptops were a thing, I have had in total sixteen diaries starting from when I was nine years old.  I sometimes wish I still kept a diary just thinking of all the writings I have lost from constant Laptop upgrades and virus infected hard drives :(.

So, I live under a rock  (I know, I’ve said it before…but its true if you justify it to a Less Developed Country lol) on a tiny tiny island in the South Pacific with a population of 190,000 people (thanks to the Stats option on WordPress you probably already know where that is even though I am subtly and purposely not mentioning it).  So anyways, if you have lived ‘here‘ all your life like I have been, you tend to know a 100,000 of that 190,000 people.  And very unfortunate for an introvert like me!  I hate crowds and I stress out all the time when there’s too many people.  When I see someone coming towards me I start to panic and my brain goes into overdrive outlining my ‘what to say and when to say it’ safe words.  Like ‘Oh hi! How are you? How was work? Oh really? Wow, that’s great!’ and then awkward silence…  I can never hold a decent conversation with a stranger (and sometimes even our close acquaintances) because I over-think the situation.  ‘Did I ask her that the last time?  Is she getting bored with what I’m saying?  OMG I don’t get it but I should laugh anyway…please someone join the conversation so I can go’ are some of the questions and statements that runs through my head while I stand there talking to someone.  I’m not quite sure if that puts me in a ‘Severe Introvert’ category or just plain snobbish (as my husband always says lol).

When I stumbled upon WordPress, I was ecstatic!  Finally, somewhere I can truly let it all out without revealing my identity!  You see, I know a few people who are on WordPress in my small country and they often share their work on their facebook pages and so it is one of the common convo starters for them ‘Oh I read your blog! It was beautiful *Shirley!’ and then it always follows with ‘What made you write about that?’ or ‘Has your Mum read it?  She would love it!…’ and that my fellow bloggers is the main reason why I prefer to have a secret identity!  How on earth am I supposed to talk freely about my life (or yours lol) if you know the person that’s writing it…and then judge!  I love that I am anonymous!  I have no boundaries and I am free to write truthfully (and exageratedly) about everything and anything I want!

Until today… I customised the Design for my page to one of the free themes they have available and a few hours later I noticed the Facebook icon on the top right hand…Nooooooo! My Facebook page was directly linked to my blog!  And already I have received a message ‘Hey that so doesn’t sound like you! Lol! Wow girl!  The Invasion blog you wrote…you should so send it to the Observer!’  I am beside myself and begged my husband to do something about it (I am also non-tech savvy hence the SOS call)!  ‘Please come right now! I need you to get this link off my page! Please come right now!’

Link is deleted (or so I think) and now I am contemplating starting a whole new blog again :(… What should I do with my secret identity…my dilemma for the night.

A Childhood Memory… and its impacts!

At six years old I learnt at such a young age that the power of words was by far more hurtful than the scratches and hair pulling I was accustomed to from home with the siblings and cousins.  I had started Year One later than most kids as I was enrolled half-way through the first term.  By then, all the kids in my class were well acquainted and I became the odd one out.  As Mrs Tufue introduced me to my fellow classmates on my first day she also asked the class captain Susana Tani to sit with me and be my companion until I found my way around. What happened next, my innocent six-year-old mind could not comprehend.  Susana Tani’s face had turned a bright pink and the smile she had on before as she said ‘Hello Christina’ in a sing-along welcoming tone had vanished as she blurted out loud ‘But I don’t want to!’.  Mrs Tufue with her back facing us swirled around suddenly with a very surprised look on her face and stormed towards our desk (my butt was half-way on the chair when Susana got dramatic so I stood back up confused) I stood there next to Susana with imploring eyes towards Mrs Tufue silently willing her to make me sit elsewhere.  But instead she glared at Susana and asked ‘Why not?!’ and Susana with a frown on her face shook her head and looked down at her desk furiously scribbling circles in her exercise book without saying another word.  I assumed Mrs Tufue was satisfied with the silence and took it as an indication that Susana understood being my friend was not optional.  When Mrs Tufue returned to the writing board and I slowly sat down next to Susana, she with such evilness in her eyes (according to my six-year-old memory) sneered at me and whispered to her friends ‘Because she’s a Loser! Aaaaand (with a sideways glance towards me) she’s ugly!‘.  Which resulted in muffled giggles and nods of agreement from the other girls and boys in class.

And so growing up from Primary School through to Uni, I believe that little episode paved the way for me throughout the years.  The need to ensure I was surrounded by a group of friends and wanting to give everything I had to people so they wouldn’t want to leave me or stop being my friend.  I would beg my mother for extra lunch money so I can buy lunch for someone who couldn’t afford or to get extra’s so I can share.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t because I cared but rather my way to get noticed and have everyone wanting to be my friend.  Yes, I was that girl.  The one who bought her friends rather than earning their friendship.  Anyways it dawned on me years later as I drifted apart from most of my friends that we were never compatible and obviously they were in it for the money while I was in it for the fear of walking alone… ‘Thank you, Susana!’

Twenty years later, with those childhood memories haunting me, I was making the same mistakes over and over again.  From work colleagues to bosses to boyfriends and new friends made.  They say jump, and I say How High?  I was becoming everyone’s puppet!  I knew what I was doing, and I knew I was weak but I just didn’t know how to stop and say ‘No!’  I got dumped twice, sworn at by my boss, became a Corporate Manager (because I was smart) but spent all my mornings and afternoons picking up and dropping off my General Managers kids to school and home (because according to him I was great with his kids).  The people working under me were always out partying and I always had to do their jobs for them and I could never tell them off.  Then there were my friends.  Friends who only called when they needed a larger crowd to go out in but when it comes to heartbreaks and miseries I was never invited for the comfort talks and pick-me-uppers they often had at Jamie’s house.  I was their backup girl and I was content with that…

Until one day… she pulled into our driveway and got out lifting onto her shoulders what seemed to be a year old toddler.  She was a beautiful baby girl and I somehow felt connected to her as she broke into a happy smile with hands clapping as I walked up to her and whom I presumed was the mother.  ‘Can I help you guys?’ I asked with a big smile on my face wondering if they had gotten our house mixed up with the lovely young couple next door.  The young lady who would not look me in the eye and was extremely uncomfortable eventually broke her long awkward silence and asked if my fiancee was home.  I said yes and invited them in as I went to get David.  Long story short (to avoid reliving my nightmare), the toddler was my fiancee’s child from a Christmas fling when I was away on a business trip.  I packed up and left him that night after five years of compromises and sacrifices.  I went to work the following day (puffy eyes, red blotchy nose and all) and was summoned to my bosses office.  Without asking if I was ok (like two other colleagues did), he dove straight into telling me that the new Human Resources manager is requesting a company vehicle and given that we did not have the budget for it and that I already had a private vehicle if I minded giving my office car to her until they could afford to buy me a new one.  Also, that they have already told her she can take it today after I have the car washed!  Four years of more compromises, sacrificing and ass kissing and this is what I get.  So, I politely stood up (or maybe I was dismissed I can’t remember exactly) and walked out of his office headed straight to my desk packed up all my personal belongings and walked out the door.  Within twenty-four hours my life was turned upside down, partnerless, friendless and now jobless!  And yet, for some weird reason, I felt light and free.

That was three years ago! I have found my way since then started up my own finance company which is in its third successful year, a partner that I love and respect with both feelings reciprocated and new found friends who I genuinely enjoy spending time with!  The only thing that had changed from that fretful day was the promise that I made to myself.  ‘Enough is enough!  Focus on yourself and do what makes you happy’.  I have finally learnt to say No! After all the tippy toeing and the people pleasing nonsense that I lived by for over twenty years, I came face to face with my worst nightmare.  The fear of being Unwanted and Unloved!  It is possible that everything that happened to me was my fault!  I was fake, I was too scared to be myself so I became the yes person to please everyone.  My ex-boyfriend cheated on me because he just assumed I would be ok with it, my ex-boss abused me because it was easier to tell me what to do then it was to tell a junior staff member who would have eventually said No.  And my old friends never wanted me around because I had nothing honest to say and only said what they wanted to hear rather than sharing my perspective on the situation, etc.  So yes, I learnt my lesson the hard way and after twenty years of living a lie I have finally seen the light and I am constantly pushing through.  There are times when someone would make me feel so small and I would forget who I am and immediately recoil back into that scared little girl with a low self-esteem.  But I refuse to be defeated and with an all time favourite saying of mine from the movie ‘The Help’ I would close my eye and quietly say to myself… ‘Christina, you is kind, you is smart, you is important!’.   And that has been my divine intervention!

I am happy and I am finally truly living!

 

 

 

The Invasion…

Twenty years ago in my small island nation, I saw you in our markets, at our hotels and then lastly at the departures lounge. I said to myself ‘thank you for visiting my country’.

Ten years ago, you moved into our homes and you opened up chain stores and brought cheaper and affordable produces that made me say to myself ‘thank you for giving us choices and freedom of purchasing’

Five years ago, you migrated your parents, your siblings, your cousins and all their extended families into my country and have taken over our business communities and I said to myself ‘How did this happen? How did you become so rich with my peoples money? What are we going to do about it?’

Yesterday, you fired my mother, over-worked and underpaid my father, married my sisters, took away our lands, built your mansions, killed our traditions, sold us expired goods, fed us your left-overs, robbed our banks and walk freely in our streets.  Our pleads have been unheard, our cautionings muffled and down-played, our cries for help unanswered by the one man who can do something about it.  He can no longer save us because twenty years ago, we were desperate and we were naive.  Now, we standby on the sidelines and do nothing, as the invasion of what was mine is now yours.  The sadness and the hopelessness is all that remains for the future of my unborn child and that of my beloved country.  #StoptheInvasion!

 

Eating Etiquettes

‘Good Morning Amber Rose!’ ‘Morning Mike! Another day another dollar is it?’ I called out  ‘Yes Maam!’ Mike too old to still be working, lightly chuckled and hurried on to lift out his ‘specials board’ for the day.  Mike like many other eateries I know is fighting a losing battle to remain open amongst the larger, trendier new restaurants on the block.  Not because their service is terrible (because his warm smiles and sincere thank you’s always brings you back for more), and most definitely not because their food is unedible (because they cook from the heart and use recipes passed through and through generations which they have perfected).  No, they are fighting a losing battle because society is no longer supporting the struggling minority but rather appearing where there is a majority at the latest and the most popular venues.  People like ‘places to be seen’ and are paying for the decor more than the meals in itself which totally misses the plot of experiencing a good hearty feed!

I have encountered people who claim to Love food, appraising different cuisines and travel the world to taste authentic flavours and then out comes the phone and snap… Selfie in Madrid posing next to Spain’s World Famous Seafood Paella (you looking fantastic next to an untouched seafood paella pot)!  Ten selfies later and twenty minutes into uploading and thinking of the perfect caption you turn to your near cold meal.  Well? How was it?  Did you indulge in it?  Did you remember the aromatic scent of those delicious spices?  Did you taste the broth emanating from the lobster, the crab, the prawns?  Because if you didn’t notice any of those details then according to my standards, you do not appreciate good food!  I have come to realise there are two types of Food Lovers, the one’s that love to taste different flavours at moderate portions and the one’s who genuinely love to eat.  Yes, the tasters and the eaters!  The tasters can genuinely be picky but the eaters (and this is a personal perspective) the eaters aren’t fussy about the where’s the eating will take place. I have a friend who loves Food, but I wouldn’t say as much as I do lol.  You see, Charlotte and I share the same passion for food.  We love it so much we would try every new restaurant that opens up in the city, and we have also done a bit of travelling to try out new flavours.  Now the difference is, Charlotte loves trying out new dishes based on the how and the where it is offered.  For example, we went on a vacation to Vietnam we’ve heard so much about their authentic flavours and we wanted to taste (amongst other things) the Vietnamese Banh Chung (a Banana-leaf Wrapped Parcel which is traditionally consumed during the lunar new year celebrations).  It is a glutinous rice bundle tightly packed with pork, mung bean and other ingredients.  There we both tried the Banh Chung and loved it! Only thing was, I had the Banh Chung off the street sellers along the Hang Gai Street of Hemp while darling Charlotte ordered it from the Menu at the Sofitel Legend Metropole where we were staying.  I ate from everywhere and at all times of the day whereas Charlotte only ate at certain places known for their Vietnamese Pho or Banh Mi or one of the five-star restaurant’s that received an award for creating a phenomenal dish.

Banh Chung / Banh Tet

Like Charlotte, there are many other’s out there who love food and pay for authentic flavours but only if it’s on a silver platter (sorry Charlotte).  But what if you’re like me?  What if you’re all about the eating experience?  What if you love food because you appreciate the time and effort put into how each meal is made regardless of its location standards, and the cook’s qualification?  Given that you can see where the meal is prepped from and it surpasses all hygienic and health requirements, shouldn’t that be satisfactory enough to support a small entrepreneur?  Does your dining experience necessarily rate five stars if it’s consumed in a flash restaurant?  What if I love food as much as you do but can’t afford the extravagance of a bite size entree charged at $45.00USD?  I was told once that I was a ‘Quantity over Quality’ kind of girl, and you’re probably thinking it too. But for example, Mike serves the BEST Country Fried Chicken on the planet (and I can say that with absolute conviction!) and sells it for only $8.00 for a ‘2 piece chicken’ served with mashed potatoes and gravy.  Mike is only charging for the meal.  But, if Mike was to be based in a fancy building with all the fancy frills, using the same ingredients and renamed his Fried Chicken as something fancy like ‘Lightly Seasoned Battered Drumstick with a creamy mashed potato topped with a honey mustard gravy and rocket salad’ I will still pay $45USD for it.

My point is, people are paying more for the ambience and its latest trendiest decor more then they are paying for a well-cooked meal made by a hard working under-payed Chef in the background who is never given enough credit for the passion he has put into creating that mouth watering succulent Eye-Fillet that you probably won’t end up ordering.  Instead, you would probably settle for a Caesar Salad because it’s an appropriate option for the fancy restaurant you are in and the business men you are having a meeting with.  But whatever happened to the support for the lone man on the side street selling Kebabs on a Stick, Crispy Corn Dogs and the small restaurants on the corner that makes the best beef soup and steak strips on the planet!  Why are we choosing the objects of our surrounding over the rumble of our tummies?  Think about it, and don’t get all snotty on me because you can afford!  Judging me for eating from the streets, stuffing my face with a juicy burrito across the road from that gold pleated lounge suite you’re sitting on with your shrimp cocktail in hand. Because all I have say is, we only live once!  Forget the ambience, let go of that diet, and ignore the judgemental looks!  Enjoy Life, support the less fortunate and order a Damn Steak!

 

A Chance to say Goodbye…

“HELLO?!” every time without fail after the 2nd ring.  My grandad answered the phone with a loud, excited and curious tone.  It always made me sad when he picks up the phone on the second ring, and it was an obvious indication of how he was carrying it around with him hoping it will eventually ring, and someone was checking up on him.  “Hi Pops…” and immediately “Who’s this?” came the loud, warm voice that was my grandfathers. “It’s me Pops, Gina.  How are you?” “Oh Gina, how are you? How’s Mum? And David? Are you treating him well? You better not scare the poor man away, you know men like him are very hard to find these days…” And before I could reply to any of his questions he would tell me all about how Mama would treat him like a king in public places but in the privacy of their home he was her very own personal ‘bum boy’ (oh how he loved to use that word).  “So it’s your 70th next month Pops, you wanna come over for your birthday” “Oh is it next month?” he asked nonchalantly.  “Yes, Pops it’s next month” and again casually he replied, “Maybe next year, I have no money to pay for my airfare.” “Don’t worry about it; Mum said she’s paying for it” I jumped in quickly before he could make up his mind. “Your mum’s got you, kids, to spend her money on, don’t worry about me I’m ok and besides who’s going to come with me? You know I can’t travel by myself anymore…” it was hard to hear him this way…sad, defeated and almost like he was giving up with nothing to look forward to in the future.  “No Pops, it’s all been sorted! I’m coming to get you and then you are going to stay with us for three weeks and then Mum is going to bring you back just in time for your doctor’s appointment.  Don’t worry Pops we’ve got it all sorted” after much convincing which also involved Mum telling him it was too late to cancel because our flights were already booked, he finally gave in and agreed to fly home for his birthday.  A four-hour flight to Samoa.

Hands

Grandad has always been my hero, during mum and dad’s separation he became a father figure to my brother and me.  Something he was good at and a job he fully committed to no matter the circumstances.  Pops took us everywhere with him, from the laundromat to church to the gym and sometimes to his favourite local bar!  We used to sit outside the RSA bar and play hide and seek with the other kids who like us were dragged there because we had no babysitters and it was grandad duties. We were all taught to play alongside the car park area, and if there was ever a brawl in the bar or outside the car park, we are to climb the mango tree quickly and on to the top of the roof until we are told to come back down.  Oh, how we used to get excited when it was Pops bar time!  When Mama got sick over ten years ago, they had to move to New Zealand to ensure they got the best medical support.  It broke my heart to see them move, and I was left behind.  Pops did everything he could to try and get my papers done so I can move to New Zealand with them but when the time came there was no luck, and I remained in the islands.  Since then, every year without fail they have made sure they flew me over for a visit or vice versa.

My grandmother passed away five years ago, and it hasn’t been the same with my Pops since.  He has gotten so frail and as of late, completely lost interest in everything he used to love to do so much!  Hence the reason why we are on a mission to get him on his next adventure to Samoa.  We have planned the biggest birthday party for him with exactly 200 Invites, and lots of his old friends were coming, whom he has not seen in years!  I can’t wait to see the look on his face!  Mum and I have been planning this for months! A week before my scheduled flight to New Zealand, my phone rang in the early hours of the morning and immediately I felt a chill spreading through my body.  “Hello…?” before my older brother Daniel could say anything I heard the most depressing wailing in the background and I knew it was my mother.  “What happened? Why is Mum crying like that?” and with a tearful tone Daniel said, “Pops is gone, Gina”.

How? When? Why?!  The same questions we asked ourselves and each other over and over again.  He was healthy, and he was happy, and he was coming home the following week.  I was heart broken, and my tears kept flowing.  “But I didn’t say goodbye, I didn’t get to thank him for looking after me, and I didn’t get to say I Love you…one more time.” The days that followed were a blur; my mother was a mess.  Because as much as I was struggling to bear with the loss of losing my Grandfather, my mother was struggling with the loss of losing the one person that she counted on when she had no-one to turn to for help. The immense guilt of taking him for granted, thinking that he was always going to be there was eating at all of us as we sat there in our depression.  The things I never got to say, the hugs I never gave and the kisses that were blown from the doorway ate at me.  I finally saw it all, the forlorn look he gave us as we walked in and out of the house rushing off to work, to church, to the gym, to the bars while he sat there… hoping? Wishing? Wanting someone, anyone of us to offer to take him with us like he used to when we were younger and relied on him to take us somewhere…anywhere.  But when time came with age and we were able while he was not… we did Not return the favour, we did not pay back the time, and we did not show the Love the way he showed us.  The regrets were weighing me down, and the ‘if only he was still here’ so I could tell him, show him and make him happy the way he did me.

Our beloved grandad passed away in his sleep on the 20th July 2015.  Two weeks before his passing he called upon an old priest friend and asked for a confession.  After completing his confession, these were his words to the family priest.  “Margaret left me five years ago without saying goodbye, and my kids were devastated.  When she left, she took my heart with her, and I have been longing to see her since.  I promised her I would wait five years to ensure my children and my children’s children are ok before I joined her.  Now, my job is done and I am ready to meet my maker.” when Father Moses reminded him to let the children know first he had chuckled and said to him  “I will make sure I say goodbye to each one of them before I go”.  Pops called and had spoken to each one of us throughout the two weeks before he passed, although he did not say goodbye.  When we last spoke he had merely said “Ok be nice ok Gina… I love you… Bye” and in a sing-along tone like we always do at the end of every phone conversation I had sang back “Byyyyeeeeeeeee Poooooops!”.  And that was the last time I heard my grandfather’s loud and profound ever so warm voice.

On his burial, we had said goodbye with a poem written by an anonymous writer that spoke volumes to us… “If Tears could build a Stairway, And memories were a lane.  I’d come right up to Heaven and bring you back again.  No farewell words were spoken.  No time to say Goodbye, You were gone before we knew it…And only God know’s why…” 

Remember, always cherish the times that you have with your loved ones as you never know what tomorrow may bring.  Regret is a burden that can weigh you down immensely especially when you cannot fix or make up for it.  Live life fully, Love everyone unconditionally and Make the most of the precious time you have with those that matter the most to you while you can!