365: Day 44 – Lesson from Sushi Chef

There’s a sushi restaurant across the street and I often see the Chef stay after the restaurant has closed to clean up, water the plants, and do other chores. Later still, he is looking at his phone or on his computer. Now, before you think I am creepy and this is all I do late at night, let me assure you that these observations have happened over the course of a year and half during many quick glances out the window and the countless times I walked past the restaurant to pick up my car from the free charging station in the building next to it.

Last night was a different story as I took a look out the window and found myself staring for about 10-15 minutes. This sushi chef is a Japanese man who seems to be in his forties who moved about very purposefully. He cleaned his patio area, cleaned the tables, and watered the plants. Then he went out to clean the floors around the other establishments, the sidewalk, and watered the plants in the common plaza. It was surprising and nice to see.

As I thought about it some more, I realize that it was surprising to me because I have been raised in this very individualistic culture of the United States where often times we’re hyper-focused on improving ourselves and forget about the community around us. I’m generalizing of course, but we do live in a culture where cleaning up after other people is an inconvenience and something we don’t have an obligation to do. We create these complex rules through homeowners associations and chambers of commerce to make sure everyone contributes their part, but we are very often unwilling to volunteer to do more than our fair share. My mom (not born in the U.S.) would always clean the street in front of our house and then clean the street in front of several of our neighbors. As I started getting older I began to “realize” this was strange and not something most people did. I am sad that I lost that somewhere along the way of me growing up and it is something I want to incorporate more into my life.

In the bigger global picture at the moment, you see the consequences of our individualism here in U.S. in the surging number of COVID-19 cases. Compare our control (or lack thereof) of the corona virus with the Asian countries and you’ll see just how embarrassing the situation is here in America. I remember the first time I visited Asia, I felt like I came back to a third-world country after that trip and I feel that way once again.

I am fully aware that I am generalizing, but seeing this one Japanese man’s work ethic and care for his community reminded me of why I fell in love with Asian culture and how they prioritize the greater good over the good of the individual. I wish we would emulate it.

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