Some food for thought on job morale

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO -

Al­though a for­eigner, I’m truly Chi­nese in one re­spect: I see food, from prepa­ra­tion to con­sump­tion, as the corner­stone of good liv­ing.

This love goes back to my mom’s cook­ing, and to the many res­tau­rants in my home coun­try, as well as in China and across the globe, where I’ve en­joyed the bounty of the fields and the fruit of skilled la­bor.

In Bei­jing and else­where in the food-ador­ing Mid­dle King­dom, you’ll find chefs who, judg­ing from their scrump­tious re­sults, work mir­a­cles each time they light a fire in the kitchen.

Yet, de­spite the fact we rely so heav­ily on their good graces, th­ese of­ten un­sung he­roes — who bring joy to our break­fast, lunch and din-

This Day, That Year

ner ta­bles — gen­er­ally work in seem­ingly in­tol­er­a­ble con­di­tions for pay and ben­e­fits far be­low what they de­serve.

None­the­less, I’ve no­ticed that th­ese work­ers who sweat and toil in steamy kitchens, who serve us and clear our ta­bles and who en­dure so much to en­sure our daily din­ing hap­pi­ness, have some­thing in spades that most of us in other lines of work do not.

That char­ac­ter­is­tic, my friends, is ca­ma­raderie.

I re­al­ized this re­cently when, well past clos­ing time, I passed a shrimp hot­pot res­tau­rant near my home and saw the doors fly open as the em­ploy­ees, fi­nally fin­ished with their clean­ing and count­less other chores, emerged and be­gan to walk home.

They had a bounce in their step, they walked arm in arm, and they gen­uinely liked one an­other, teas­ing and pok­ing and laugh­ing.

I re­called my own days work­ing in a ham­burger res- tau­rant, lean­ing over a hot grill and scrap­ing it clean af­ter each batch of burg­ers, gar­nish­ing buns with pick­les and let­tuce and onions whose scent clung for hours, and stand­ing over bub­bling grease wait­ing for french fries to reach per­fec­tion.

When our shift ended, we gath­ered as a group and headed off for the same bois­ter­ous ban­ter that I wit­nessed that re­cent night in Bei­jing.

In con­trast, a good friend in China told me of her boyfriend’s com­pany, which or­ga­nizes “team-build­ing” ex­er­cises each week­end in an ef­fort to cre­ate this very ca­ma­raderie.

Good luck with that. Cir­cum­stances, not plan­ning, make th­ese bonds that seem un­break­able.

We all prob­a­bly wish we shared this mag­i­cal trait in the work­place. But aside from the mil­i­tary, fire­fight­ing, po­lice work and the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion — all of which in­volve high stress and life-or-death sit­u­a­tions — the res­tau­rant in­dus­try is one of the few places where true ca­ma­raderie seems to man­i­fest nat­u­rally.

They meet the pub­lic’s ev­ery de­mand (prefer­ably with a smile), end­lessly strive for qual­ity and clean­li­ness, and en­dure ex­treme tem­per­a­tures, loud noises and con­stantly spat­tered, soaked or stained cloth­ing. But no­tice next time you dine how res­tau­rant crews gen­er­ally draw to­gether.

Ca­ma­raderie, that elu­sive work­place com­mod­ity, usu­ally comes at a high price. Th­ese friend­ships, af­ter all, are forged in a fire most of us could not en­dure.

Con­tact the writer at jameshealy@ chi­


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Olympic cham­pion Usain Bolt of Ja­maica greets fans at the in­au­gu­ral Nitro Ath­let­ics se­ries in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, last week.

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