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Simmering Regrets

Working in my family’s restaurant meant that my childhood experiences were different than my peers.
Bee Whalen
Art by Bee Whalen.

Growing up, my parents weren’t in the best economic position. Since they immigrated to the U.S., they knew no English, not even the most basic phrases. This made it practically impossible for them to get any office job, so they worked in Chinese restaurants as the managers were more likely to speak Mandarin, and eventually, they opened their own here in Ann Arbor.

With this, they were able to buy food and a home for me and my sister to live in. Now, this sounds amazing, being able to sleep in a warm bed and not needing to worry about food is something I am really grateful for. But maybe not so much for the younger me.

Owning a restaurant takes a lot of work and time. My parents worked from daybreak to nightfall, coming home at midnight. They did this every day, every month, every year. I remember going to sleep and staring at the pitch darkness of my room, asking the ceiling light why they couldn’t just take a day off. It never responded.

Since my parents weren’t able to take care of me, my grandparents did. They would spend half the year taking care of me, and the other half in China.

When they weren’t in the U.S., I would be picked up late from school to the restaurant by my dad and spend my time there until closing to go home with my parents. It was extremely boring, but I had no other choice as my parents had no time to take me home.

As the years passed, I started to work. My mom thought it would be a good chance for me to get more experience and skills. I thought it was a waste of my time. It started off simple; peeling carrots, wrapping wontons. It was an endless cycle; go to school, get picked up to the restaurant, go home late at night and sleep. Each day would end, with the ball reaching the top of the hill for it to just roll right back down the next.

Do you remember visiting family up north, or going to the football game with your dad on the weekend, or maybe even going on vacation to Disneyland? All I can remember is going shopping at Costco every Sunday for food supplies and the occasional mall trip during Black Friday. And to me, that was more enjoyable than any field trip, or any friend sleepover.

I remember throughout all of school, my friends and teachers would ask: “Where’d you go for break?” I would just say that I stayed home, when in reality, I was packing the dozens of queued orders waiting to be delivered and listening to customer complaints about how their food was too dry. And while I played it off, I knew that I did actually hate it.

And before long, fifth grade became sixth, sixth became eighth, and so on. I got more extracurriculars and became more busy. I got to stay home to do homework and practice piano, and I went back to that place less and less.

The end isn’t anything grand. I didn’t have a big talk with my parents about how I felt. I didn’t call the police to report them for child neglect. I just grew out of it, and I think my parents did too.

I don’t think the kitchen is a place for children to be.

In fact, I don’t think any workplace is. But the truth is, at the time, it just couldn’t be helped. No one could take care of me, and I couldn’t take care of myself. They tried their best, and young me was simply too young to understand.

People often ask the question: “If there was one thing you’d let your younger self know, what would it be?”

For me, it would be seeing the dark red blood from my fingers after accidentally cutting them, feeling the searing hot pain from the angry oil when it splashed on my arms, apologizing to enraged customers when they found an item missing from their order.

It wasn’t all for nothing.

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About the Contributor
Wilson Zheng
Wilson Zheng, Journalist
Wilson is a sophomore and entering his second semester on staff. When he's not at school doing work in the library, you can find him playing video games and melodies on his piano. Wilson is looking forward to advancing as both a writer and photographer this year.

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