Ever notice how easy it is to give to someone, yet if the roles are reversed, one has some guilty feeling about receiving something? I am not sure if we are conditioned by the world to always pay our own way, or if giving or sharing something with another is somehow a sign of weakness? or a sad reality that with some people if you accept something in the world, there are people that keep a scorecard, much like a balance sheet for life.
A man appeared to stand near my table as I waited for two friends to arrive for my a dinner/my really belated birthday (March) that was hastily put together. the man asked, “You drink Sapporo beer?”
I smiled, “ I rarely drink at all, but one of my favorite fun meals in my life was at the Sapporo brewery in Hokkaido where we had plates of giant king crab legs, or bbq & beer. so whenever I have sushi or rolls, I have a Sapporo beer.”
He smiled, “So you have been to Japan?”
I really don’t know what, how, why, or for what reason, but the man and I started off on a geopolitical talk about Asia, the USA, immigration, Europe, Switzerland, food, ethnicity, customs, culture and everything else in between. I was cool mind barrage that I used to have every day but lately is a bit more uncommon with life. I introduced myself and asked his name, " I am Chung," shook his hand and then the two friend I was waiting for showed up. it turns out they are regulars in his restaurant they didn’t even have to order and their usual drinks and appetizer were brought to the table.
the man smiled, “So you were waiting for these folks? how do you know each other?”
Donna chimed in, "we grew up together, we have known each other since we were tiny kids."
What transpired over the next three and a half hours was the owner of the restaurant joining us and a meal, time, drinks, and discussion that rivaled some of the more magical and unexpected meals that seem common when I am outside the borders of the united states.
To say I had such an experience in the united states, I did not think it would be possible in a world that appears to be commodified, sectioned off with stiff personal boundaries, or comps that are given for reasons that are not altruistic, but more based on "celebrity" decisions. For example, why people pay for the world of VIP is beyond me.
time with Chung, reminded me of a similar to the start of a relationship I had with my friend Susan in Paris when we were working on her second apartment place. She had little budget to make her dream of space young women could travel to Paris, sleep a block from the Eiffel tower and not break their bank and enjoy the city years before the idea of Airbnb was hatched. We had a dinner budget of 10 euros each, which happened to be the price of each entrée at a new Italian café in the neighborhood. We ate there for several days, thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food and my treat was listening to her translation of a man’s memories who grew up as a teenager in Paris and what life was like in ww2.
One night the owner walked over and introduced himself, the next night, he came over and sat down with us with us and brought out every dish on his menu in his place and then a bottle of Limoncello. Then he handed me the bill for 20 euros. I said, “Really, how much do we owe you. we ate much more than this, several hundred more euro's, what do we owe?”
I will never forget when he said, “I have much. I can do with it, whatever I please. Few enjoy my food as much as the two of you do, so please accept my sincere gift.”
Perhaps I looked at the man like a mule staring at a new barn gate, as this experience had never really happened before in my life. My friend Susan tugged at my arm, “C’mon, he is serious, just say thank you.”
it was that day, that I realized, there are people on the planet that give and don’t necessarily want something in return like some tit for tat deal, a scorecard, a chit that is deposited in the bank for use later someday.
What happened is we simply started going back each night the two Americans and Jacque- the man we thought was Italian, that turned out to be Jewish and we would talk about the world, race, religion, creed, color, and of course food. I still don't know how he got his pannacotta to be so wonderful.
who knew my diplomat girlfriend in Romania who told me not to come only after I landed in Paris, would have god seem to open doors with amazing gifts for me to spend in Paris that year. what an amazing time.
each night after dinner, a “promenade digestive” (fancy term for a walk) back to the apartments. we were like two little kids, one that got dumped and another happy that she had just met a man in the states she would eventually marry. two friends helping each other with whatever…I still remember when she realized I now had some time free since I would not be going to see ms diplomat, ”Can you redo my 1840’s clay tile floor?”
“sure, looks like I have a few weeks to fill up since Bucharest is off the table!”
Tonight I had a similar experience with Chung and my friends. there was sake, then a Greek liquor, and then the foods kept coming out. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and then, Chung did something special, he brought out his own dishes, “try this, it is my own recipe” then a dish from his godfather who cooked at the Hilton in Hong Kong where there was a tailor shop we would get custom made clothes.
I really can’t describe this amazing dish with wide noodles, lobster, Chinese bacon and mystery spices that created a flavor that I simply never have experienced before. I asked why this was not on the menu:
"people won't pay the price for how much it cost for the ingredients here."
when you get food like this, it is a gift from an owner that appreciates someone truly enjoying his food and cuisine. I simply said, “I can’t repay you for such an amazing dish that you made with your godfathers recipe. perhaps i can cook for you before i leave?"
at that moment, you saw in his eyes, that this was payment enough. and I was shocked when we asked for the bill that he said, “it is taken care of.”
this is the odd part of gifts in the world and giving. earlier in the day I was getting beaten up by others for trying to figure out how I could help make a friends dream come true in Tanzania. maybe I am odd, If you are helping someone, or if you are giving someone something as a gift, how they receive it is up to them. they can love it, hate it, cherish it, throw it away, or sell it. it Is a gift you gave. once it leaves your hands – it is simply not yours anymore. giving is part of the equation – do you give freely and openly? or do you have some odd motive behind the gift?
the same is true of how you receive a gift. do you receive it freely and openly? or do you look at it, as if a gift horse and first decide to check out its teeth? do you think, “what does this person want from me?” or do you sincerely say, “thank you. that was unexpected.”
my friends tonight are good people that grew up in a world where the old school feeling of guilt with receiving such an amazing gift. it really was interesting to watch the dynamic of psychology play out. I can’t think of two more deserving people to get a nice gift like this, and what I found odd, is that inside our denomination of religion, there is a lot of religious rule and regulations and talk about love and gifts, but with humans, it doesn’t play out that God gives his kids love freely. no price, nothing owed, no need to do anything, but simply learn to love back and maybe one day you will be led to buy someone who needs something for them because you have more than enough to help.
this is where the confusion can easily happen with humans and religion. and I have to confess, where it is really easy to harden your heart behind the rules of legalism and religion and not walk out in the world with actions of love beyond yourself. when I walk down the streets in the USA with all the panhandlers, and beggars, I found myself last week wondering, “I could give away everything and there would not be enough.”
and perhaps that is where the experience of last night and the idea of receiving comes forth. it is like God saying, “what? I made all this, you don't’ think I have enough? don't you want my gift?
we left money on the table, but it was not what the meal probably would really cost, it was more than enough to cover the materials and labor…it was a sincere gift from the owner to us.
I can’t remember having quite so much fun except that time in Paris with Susan, myself, the Jewish man name Jacque, his Italian food, and the infamous limoncello. Last night butchie, Donna, Chung, and I took an adventure to Korea, Greece, China, and Japan.
while this doesn’t happen every day, i rack it up to the creator of the universe giving you a gift. much like he gives you grace and the greatest gift to have a relationship with him and learn to love. I am not sure where all the guilt and shame comes into play with man’s teachings on receiving, but like the meal tonight…a man did not have a clue all the crap happening in trying to help others and went back and cooked us two of his personal recipes, of which one was a dish his godfather taught him in Hong Kong. it was very special, and I am simply thankful to have experienced it.
our world if full of noise and with our technologies, a seemingly increasing sense of fear and insecurity leaves humanity with a choice we can make. I always say there is enough for everyone on the planet, it is just that humans have created a very skewed distribution system.
we get the choice to share and help each other, to give freely, just because you can or want to, no need for anything in return, something owed or a favor. it is a concept that is hard for many people to grasp the way humans have been conditioned. we tend to look at the gift and wonder, “what do they want? am I on a tv game show? what is wrong with these people…just giving me something? what is wrong with the teeth of this gift horse?"
we get a choice in how to receive, be it freely, and with no strings attached, where the simple “thank you” is more precious than anything you can give that person in return for such a gracious act. instead of, "what do they want from me?"
and that is about all I can say to god, Chung, butchie, and Donna this morning as I replay one of those rare meals that had a lot more going on between people that just eating food.
Perhaps the bigger question, one that is a mystery, is the human question of, “why do we have such a hard time to receive god's actual gifts. When he gives them to us freely?”
is it that hard to love back? unconditionally, no selfish motive or desire?
if i hadn't met a few people on the planet that actually walk out this trait where they look in your eyes and see everything broken and imperfect inside you, yet, simply loved you - i might not believe this idea is possible. but it really is. but alas, it is each of our "choice."