When I was born in Vietnam, my parents were young entrepreneurs. They opened a small newspaper stand next to the mail station. In a few years, that small stand became a small shop that housed the three of us. Soon, my parents saved up enough money to rent a small apartment where we lived for some time. Their business began to bloom. A few years later, my little sister was born. We became a small,and happy family of four!
But…everything changed when we immigrated to America, my parents were brave enough to start over and opened their own business with the little money they saved up within the 5 years of living in America. This made my sister and me, the entrepreneurs’ daughters.
My parents bought a small failing grocery shop near where we lived at the time and worked hard to rebuild it. All of our time, including free time, if there were any…,went toward running the shop. At age 14, I was old enough help out at the store. This includes memorizing about 1,000+ product prices (since we could not afford a system to keep track of the products), restocking products, providing customer service, and performing many other miscellaneous tasks, such as making ordered sandwiches and bagging vegetables. One time, we had a family emergency, and although both my parents wanted to travel back to Vietnam, one had to stay with the “kids” meaning my sister, me, and the shop. Since my mom taught me how to manage the shop, I was responsible for running the store by myself while my dad went to pick up the products. I would often get panic attacks when customers asked me to ring them up and it happened to be that ONE product that I forgot the price for it. Or, the situation when a customer gave me too much money and that made me nervous, causing me to give them back more change than necessary. I think the first few times I helped there, I accidentally gave away $100 change back to the customer after ringing her up for a bill of $100 dollars. It was terrible. I hated being at the register, I would rather restock products all day long if I could.
I often resented the shop because it placed so much pressure on my parents financially and emotionally, causing high tensions and fights would often spark at anytime. The “iron curtain” was drawn from time to time, my parents would not speak to each other for several days. My little sister didn’t know any better, and I always felt terrible when it happened. I often got stressed out because I had to play the role of the messenger. I often I wished that if the store didn’t exist, perhaps we would have been a much happier family. I suppose it was a selfish wish since it was the store that employed my parents, and put the food on the table. However, the amount of work and time it took to keep the shop running, was taking its toll on all of us. Truthfully, I thought it was a burden, a boulder chained onto my shoulders and I could not put it down.
One of the things I learned during that time was the meaning of sacrifice. At an age of 15, what valued most to me and other 15 year olds, were free time to spend with friends, relax at home, and…I don’t know what else, I didn’t get the chance to do much anyway. When I graduated from high school, I had no other choice but to commute to a college near home because I was needed at the shop on the weekends.
Once in a while I would get a chance to go out for a short break to hang out with my friends. But by then, I was so used to being at the store, guilt would eat me up while I was away from the shop. I remembered my cousins wanted to take me out to the movies after visiting a nearby Buddhist Temple, however, after about 1 hour being there, I started feeling antsy and guilt-ridden. I was so worried about customers piling up and my mom would be flooded with sandwich orders while multitasking on other things. As a result, I ended up pleading them to take me back to the store, can you believe it? I wanted to go back to a place that I felt trapped.
This went onto half of my college years, when the store finally closed its doors. My parents struggled to keep the store afloat while trying to compete with big chain stores like H-Mart and other large Asian markets. I kind of miss the days I helped my parents cleaned up the shop, restocked items, carried bags out for customers, rang up customers, and regurgitated product prices from memory. Those were the hard days, and suddenly it ended.
We all felt a sudden wave of freedom. The curse that bounded and tore our family apart, was lifted. We suddenly didn’t know what to do with ourselves because for the first time in 6 years, we have free weekends and week nights. We could finally spend time together without killing each other! Yay! Looking back, the store played a large part in shaping me. It made me a stronger person in times of great stressful situations when I had to managed the store on my own, and in times when my parents were at war with each other. I realized all the sacrifices however small they might be, compared to my parents’, these sacrifices were worth it to keep the family together.
It made me a bigger person who values those I loved over my selfish desires and needs. I now do not find it hard to give away or give up things for my family because they are whom I treasure. In addition, I find that it made me less selfish, more caring, and compassionate toward others. During all the times working at the shop, I learned so many sad and touching stories about each customer and his or her troubles. It was more than a store, it was a place to share life experiences in a 20 minute chat that would continued the next time he or she returned. Well, technically, I listened in to the conversations because back then, I was a shy kid. Having conditioned to work there for so long, I developed a sense of responsibility and self-discipline. Perhaps without the store, I could have been a total childish, selfish, destructive? person, but thankfully I was not. 🙂
Looking back, it was a love-hate relationship with the store but I recognize now that it made the family stronger. Through the tough times, my parents did not gave up, and persisted. Watching them, I learned to be a goal oriented, focused, and persistent person. Without the store, we would not have know how valuable free time and family time were to us. And although the times being at the shop together as a family provided us with many opportunities to bond, it was a bit too much…
BUT! The best part about being the store owners’ daughter was, I got “unlimited” amounts of snacks and drinks. Who wouldn’t want to be me? 😛