This past Saturday, two weeks after Rice House closed its doors for good, I called a reunion of Team Rice House.
I wanted us all together again for a last meal. I wanted to show my love and gratitude for their hard work. I wanted to convey to them that they could use me as a reference in any future endeavors. This was the best crew a Korean Takeaway mama could ever ask for. And I’d hand-picked every one of them over the years.
Clearly, the one in the middle with the furry hood and mischievous smirk is the youngest of the bunch. My son Noah truly believes he did as much work at Rice House as my paid employees, and he may be right. He was there, after all, when Rice House was conceived…
On the left is Indra, whom I’ve known since he was a chubby ten-year-old boy little who dressed his dolls in his own fashionista designs. I hired him first as a babysitter when he turned fifteen, and then a year later hired him at Rice House as my very first part-time employee. He took on his job at Rice House with so much care and diligence, because he said “I never want to let you down. I never want to disappoint you.”
He’s all grown up now and the baby face fat is long gone, replaced only with fabulous bone structure.
Indra just recently turned eighteen and he’s probably the closest thing to a second son I will ever have in my life. I hope that he knows and believes that he has been a disappointment to no-one, least of all me. Because let me tell you, Indra’s seen some shit growing up…shit no child should have to see. He’s witnessed enough adults being anything but grown up, yet he has prevailed. And he is set to graduate at the end of this school year and take on the world.
Watching him grow up into a caring and responsible young man makes me hopeful for Noah’s future too.
Anytime Indra was on shift with me, I felt the weight of all the rice in the world just lift off my shoulders. My shoulders appreciated that every time. He was my go-to. What more could a boss ask for?
Indra eventually trained every other employee who walked through the Rice House doors.
Next to Indra is Melissa.
Melissa’s family were customers from the get-go. And when Melissa’s parents telephoned their orders in to Rice House, Melissa usually tagged along with her dad to pick up the food. I’d be packing up their order and out of the corner of my eye I’d see her and her dad rolling up on their bikes. I don’t even know how to ride a bike, so Melissa already had one-up on me in life as far as I was concerned. But after many trips to Rice House, I noticed that she barely ever said a word out loud – let alone to me, and she kinda hid behind her dad as he paid every time. I’d wondered if it was because she was hiding from me, or perhaps from the world in general. To me, she looked a bit smaller than everyone else her age, and she seemed to hide behind her pretty curls deliberately.
But one day I noticed she was following me on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and I thought, oh she’s just shy but the girl’s obviously brilliant. She knows what’s up. So the next time she came to pick up food I asked her if she wanted a job, and she jumped at the opportunity. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Melissa was the coolest and calmest employee of all, even at times when Rice House seemed like it was busting at the seams. My eyebrows could have been set on fire on the stove and she would have been the only one in the house keeping up appearances and handling her business like nothing was amiss. I didn’t learn until later where her perseverance and level-headedness came from, that she was a true survivor. Melissa had gone through open-heart surgery almost as soon as she came into this world eighteen years ago, and I have so much love and respect for her strength and take on life. She’s a warrior, and it’s been a pleasure watching her come out of the shadows and hiding no more.
It’s also probably why she is one of Noah’s favorite babysitters too, because she can handle his wild imagination and explosive energy levels, they just click.
Kudos, girl, kudos.
Next to Melissa is Anastassia.
Anastassia comes from mixed blood, the blood of her fierce Russian mother and calm Belgian father, and there are facets of both parents in her personality. I first met her through Indra because they both attend the same high school together, a school of Arts. One of the things that stood out to me about her was that she avoided eye contact as much as she could with anyone who crossed her path. Usually I’d think that’s shady, but I realized quickly that she was anything but. She was a brilliant musician, one who could compose a piano concerto in her sleep, and over the year I’ve seen her perform and have felt inadequate in her presence. The girl has talent. So after a couple months it was clear that the pace and intensity of Rice House did not mesh with her character, and proved to be too much for “Nastie” – pronounced “Nah-stee” – and I chose to employee her as a babysitter instead. And it was the best decision for everyone involved. Noah adores Nastie and Nastie is able to lose herself in his imagination. It’s a beautiful duet to behold.
Last but not least, the lady in pink (hair), Yashin. She happens to be the last employee to join the ranks at Rice House, and for that I’m sorry to have not had more time spent with her. Because she pretty much rocks. She’s a year ahead of everyone in school, the only college student, and it was quite easy to see from the start that the girl had brains. I first met her about a year ago when she popped in out of nowhere with her then-blue hair, and her dad, and seemed to know quite a bit about Korean food already. This was a rarity in Evergem. So was she, it turned out. Yashin carries herself with a certain grace and maturity, making me forget she’s still in her “teens” and her open-mindedness and humor was a breath of fresh air for me at Rice House where it was usually fried dumplings and soy sauce that permeated the air. I’d wish her luck in her studies but I don’t believe she needs it. She is bound to succeed on her own accord.
I rarely write blogs like this, about “others,” but Team Rice House was like no other, akin to Noah’s sisters and brother. I plan to forever stay in touch, and allow them to see Noah just as much. For the love of rice. For the love of family. Always.