Monthly Archives: July 2012

My authentic Chinatown experience

We went to Chinatown last night because we wanted some really authentic Chinese food. This one place came highly recommended by coworkers and by the Internet. It’s just really popular for whatever reason. Finding it was pretty easy. It looked just like all of the other Chinese places densely packed on this tiny street, but it was the only one with a line out the door. It was so hot out that we really considered just going somewhere else, but how would we pick which one? There were too many choices, and all of the signs were in Chinese. Even if we picked one at random, my subconscious would have been making all of these subtle calculations, so it wouldn’t really have been random at all. It would have been a controlled randomness, a fake-decision cloaked in chance.

Anyway, we waited, and while we waited, outside, because the place was too packed to wait inside, we read all of these newspaper articles from major newspapers raving about this place’s Chinese food. “Ask the servers for recommendations!” these articles told us, “They’re really passionate about the food!” So I’m thinking, OK, I’ll ask for something cool to eat, something special. Because surely this newspaper article written in 1996 won’t steer me in the wrong direction.

We sat down at a giant communal table with a bunch of other people already eating. Fine, that’s cool. I’m a friendly guy. I’m not going to get weirded out sitting next to strangers. But I’m not going to talk to them. I’m just going to act cool. I’m just going to act like I don’t even know I’m sitting with anyone else. The waiter showed up immediately and asked us if we want soup dumplings, one of the specialties of the house. Everyone talks about the soup dumplings. They have these comic strips posted at each table showing the correct way to eat them and the perils of going about it in any other unapproved way. He asked if we wanted pork or crab. We said crab. He brought us pork. Whatever, we didn’t find out until we made it past the first scalding hot bite, so it was way too late to complain, and we were hungry, and the pork was fine.

Then the waiter showed up again and asked us what we wanted. “What do you recommend?” I asked him, like an idiot. I’m a waiter, and I know the I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-order look, and that’s what he gave us as he pointed to the “house specialty” dishes written on a menu insert in English. Fine man, I wasn’t asking for that, so I tried again, this time telling him to bring us out two dishes of whatever he thinks is the best, if he were eating. He shrugged and walked away. He came back in ten minutes with a fancy plate of beef-and-broccoli and another fancy plate of shrimp-and-broccoli. Fine. Thanks man.

The food was, like I said, it was fine. It was nice. It was definitely better than the whatever-and-broccoli you get at your neighborhood Chinese place, but only marginally better. I probably could have sucked it up and enjoyed my meal, but the Chinese family sitting right next to us started an actual round of applause as their food came out. And it looked awesome. There were crab legs sticking out of dishes that I don’t even know how to begin to describe. They were eating all of the stuff that I wanted to be eating: exotic Chinese foods that I would never be able to order in my own neighborhood. And they were loving it. It just made our dinner seem so, well, come on, it was beef-and-broccoli.

One time I went to a really cool Chinese place in a different Chinatown with a big group of people, and this one guy in the group totally knew how to order. I don’t know how he did it. He called the waiter over and they had like a private discussion for maybe ten minutes. The next thing I know, servers are carrying out trays of fried jellyfish and seared duck tongues. It was the coolest Chinese food dinner I’ve ever had. And here I was, trying to do the same exact thing, talking to the waiter, trying to convince him to sell me something good, and he’s just not into it at all. Was it me? Was it him?

I lost my appetite. Check please. Thanks dude. Thanks for already adding the fifteen percent gratuity. You totally earned it. Come on, I’m not even close to being a great waiter, but if a group of foreigners come in and ask for recommendations, I’m not just like, “Hamburger. Chicken. Check.” And as we left the restaurant, I looked around at all the other white people scattered amongst the giant round communal tables and I saw plates of broccoli, large bowls of plain lo mein. Am I reading a little too much into what was going on here?

On our way home, I stopped at a Chinese bakery to buy some steamed pork buns. I asked for my buns, paid the money, and left. The whole interaction took maybe ten seconds, no pleasantries. I don’t think the cashier said one word to me. And the person I was with commented on why everyone working in these places seems to be in such a bad mood. And I’m thinking to myself, it’s probably because they work in Chinatown, and they have to deal with groups of annoying tourists all day long.

The restaurant I work at gets its fair share of tourists, and I’ve noticed that certain groups of people act in certain ways. I’m not saying anything bad about how any groups act, but I’m making a judgment, inferring through a noticeable set of patterns, that restaurants etiquette is different in different cultures. I lived in Ecuador for two and half years, and I can definitely tell you that it took a couple of months to really get how to act in a restaurant. But it takes time. You’re just programmed your whole life to behave a certain way in a certain environment. And just because you’re on vacation, even if you have an open mind, even if you’re a nice person, it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to know how to act on the spot in a foreign restaurant. And even if you do know, even somebody warned you in advance, that knowledge isn’t going to make much sense out of context, it’s not going to translate into you acting as if you weren’t a foreigner. If someone tells you to grab the waiter’s arm in a different country, that, go ahead, it’s not rude, it’s how they do it here, there’s still going to be a huge amount of resistance on your part. There’s still going to be that fear that you’ll grab his arm and he’ll stop and stare at you and say, “Did you just grab my arm?” You just won’t get it.

But people who work in restaurants don’t get that either. They don’t get how different cultures and etiquettes and norms can be. So a different group of people comes in and they act differently and we take it as rudeness, condescension. We’re just annoyed. We have to work outside of our own routines to accommodate their not knowing what’s going on. And I’ve noticed a lot of my coworkers, how they get annoyed as certain people sit down, even before they have any interaction with them. They see them and they just already know it’s going to be annoying. So when you start out any exchange with that attitude, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Chances are they will be annoying and now you’re already annoyed. So it’s going to be even more annoying.

So then I look at it from the Chinese Chinatown worker’s point of view. All day they have to deal with American tourists coming in and behaving differently and asking stupid questions and wasting so much time and just being really annoying, disrupting the flow of normal everyday life. I can totally understand how by the end of the day you want as little interaction with someone else as possible.

I don’t know. It’s really hard putting myself on the other end of any situation that I’m normally used to being the other way around. I wanted some authentic Chinese food. Maybe I should have looked up the menu online and done some research in advance instead of placing the whole burden of the success of the meal on whatever waiter I happened to get. All I’m saying is that all the time I think I’m this progressive open-minded guy, but I still find myself getting annoyed at a Chinese restaurant, just like everyone else. Maybe we’re all just collectively really annoying as a species. Like it’s built into our DNA to wander around finding other human beings and unintentionally wasting their time by asking them stupid questions. I think that, with restaurants, it’s always going to be worse, because hungry people are really annoying, and picky eaters are even more annoying, and then you throw in miscommunication and preconceived notions and overcooked food and, didn’t I tell you I wanted this burger medium rare? You know what? Just go get the manager. Just let me speak to somebody in charge here.

The five Keys to Success

There are so many keys out there. But only five of them will lead you on a path to success. And there’s only one path. Look yourself in the mirror. Say to yourself, “I’m going to find all five of those keys! I’m going to find those keys and be successful! I’m going to get so rich from all of that success!” You have the key to finding those keys! But that key isn’t one of the five keys to success. That was more of an inner key that everyone has. You can think of it as six keys if that’s more helpful to you.


1. The first Key to Success – Time!


How are you supposed to be successful if you don’t have the time to do it? Even if you somehow find success, if you don’t have any time to enjoy it, well then as far as I’m concerned, you’re not really successful. Make some time for yourself. Show up to work an hour late and tell your boss that you got mugged. Do it again the second day. Tell your boss that you’re being stalked by the same mugger. Go file a police report to make it look convincing. But don’t do this unless you absolutely have to, unless your boss totally doesn’t believe you. Because what’s the point of having all of that extra time if you’re using most of it waiting on line at the police department? Seriously, cops are great at fighting crime, but have you ever seen them try to do paper work? You know they don’t want to be filling out forms. They want to be out on the street, battling evil, seeking out justice.


So many people complain of their boring jobs, of their dead end careers, of their ever-growing mountains of soul-crushing debt. Take it from me, the only way that you’re going to tap into your inner potential, and your inner success, is if you make the time to do it.


2. The second Key to Success – Money!


Success ain’t cheap folks. You’ve got to buy it! I know what your thinking, “Rob, if I had money and time I wouldn’t be reading about your five keys to success.” Well, you’ve got to spend money to make money. Money doesn’t grow on trees. A penny saved is a penny earned. If I had a nickel for every time. What do all these cliché phrases have in common? That’s right, money!


Listen, you don’t go to a restaurant and not get an appetizer. So think of this second key as your success appetizer. Just go get some money. Sell something in your house. Sell your TV. Go sell some blood. And then buy something successful. Go buy a new pair of expensive sneakers. And then sell those and buy a flat screen TV. You can keep this up indefinitely. You’ll scream success! Everyone who sees you won’t even see you anymore, they’ll just see the living embodiment of successful living!


3. The third Key to Success – Business Cards!


I’m sorry what was your name again? I’m sorry you don’t have a business card with your name on it? What are you some sort of a loser? Welcome to the twenty-first century! Success today is all about personal branding! You’ve got to market your personal brand! You’ve got to get out there! You’ve got to network! Networking! Business branding! Get those business cards. Print your name on them. Print a link to your twitter on them. Go on twitter and tweet something about your name. Link to a picture of your business cards. Now!


4. The fourth Key to Success – More Money!


You’re out of money already? Get some more! What kind of a success story do you think I’m talking about here? Do you think I’m referring to some sweeping general idea of success? Do you think I’m trying to redefine the words success in terms of personal fulfillment or inner peace? I’m not! I’m talking about getting rich! I’m talking about using your personal brand to maximize your success through networking and marketing and personal branding!


Call up your mom. Call up your brother. Tell them you need to borrow five grand. Tell them it’s an emergency and you don’t have time to explain. Tell them to stop asking so many questions and to just trust you. Tell them you’re fine and not to worry. And there you go! More money! Ask your boss for an advance on your salary and then quit! More money and more time! More success!


5. The fifth Key to Success – Write your own “How to Succeed” blog post!


Nobody’s going to believe that you’re a success if you don’t believe yourself that you’re a success first. Is there any better way to show the world how successful you are than by writing your own “Steps to Success” blog post? I don’t think so! Write it up! Talk about networking! Talk about that personal branding! Use some of those marketing skills! Just write up the list. It’s easy! You don’t even have to be paying attention. Just write a bunch of numbers and then write a bunch of sentences. You’d be surprised how quickly those sentences turn into paragraphs, and then turn into a whole blog post, and then turn into success!


Put a picture of yourself at the top. Put it on your web site. Make sure you’re wearing a jacket and tie. Go around to other successful people’s web sites! Market yourself! Write stuff in the comments section with your web site! Business! Show off your success! Start giving advice! Give advice to everyone! You’re as successful as you want to be! Get some more money! Go out there and network! Go out there and succeed!


6. The sixth (secret) Key to Success – Send me some money and I’ll mail you the first five keys!


Just send me some money. I don’t want to say how much. How much is success worth to you? Just not less than twenty. But I don’t want a bunch of twenty dollar bills showing up at my house. You’re never going to achieve success by just giving in the bare minimum. But if you only have twenty, I’ll take it. You send me your cash, and I’ll send you the five keys. They might just look like ordinary keys, but nail them to your wall and label them like I labeled the five keys above. And visualize it. And make it happen. And send me twenty more dollars and I’ll send you five more keys, doubling your success. And then eventually you might have enough keys that you can start your own success-key blog.


Just remember, you’ve got to succeed to be successful!


Rob G. is the founder, CEO, CFO, COO, and PCP of Five Keys to Success, Inc., Living Embodiment of Success LLP., and Successful Succeeders Succeeding Success, Ltd. For speaking engagements, send him twenty bucks, or just shout “SUCCESS!” out of your window really, really loud. He’ll be there in no time.

Hanging out with my bros!

Boys’ night out! I’m hanging out with the dudes tonight. Things are gonna get cuh-ray-zee! It’s going to be a par-tee! OK I’ll stop it with the weird spell-ling!

I love hanging out with my bros. We always have such a great time together. No girls to drag us down. We always start out the night by shotgunning a beer and then slamming our chests together while we chant the words “Guys!” in unison. And that’s just the start! From there it keeps getting crazier and manlier. Who knows what’s going to happen?

One time my brah Steve took a can of beer and bit into the side like an apple. Everyone ducked for cover, just waiting to get sprayed in brew, but nobody got wet! It turns out that Steve-O had frozen an entire twelve-pack! And he still ate all of them! Chomp chomp chomp! Even the cans! It was the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m telling you, it can’t get manlier than that.

Well, that’s what I thought, until my best friend Marty told us he was taking it easy that night, something about a big job interview in the morning. We spent the whole night making fun of how much of a loser he was being. But then one of my other pals, Jimmy, thought of a great idea. He went out and bought Marty a bunch of tacos from Taco Bell. And then he took a bunch of pills from his mom’s medicine cabinet and crushed them all over the tacos. Twenty minutes later Marty’s not looking so great. And then we all tell him: hey guess what Marty? You’re wrecked! It was hilarious. He got into it, like really into it. He started drinking beer, vodka, ketchup, everything! He got so fucked up!

When we were all in college, this group of nerds down the hall always played this game called Edward Forty Hands. The idea was that they taped a forty-ounce bottle of beer to each hand, and they couldn’t take them off until they finished them both. It sounded really childish and immature to all of us. So we took it to the next level, made it a real adult game. We basically did the same thing, but with bottles of bourbon instead of beer. It was ridiculous! And then we told our spotter – the person who’s supposed to watch us all and take off the bottles when we’re done – to take a hike. Every man for himself!

So my best bro Cliff, he thinks he’s the toughest, he finishes off his whiskey and then starts breaking the bottles against his head. What an idiot! There was glass and blood everywhere. I’m the smartest out of my group of friends, so I told my friend Hank, I told him, listen, we’ll finish our last sips at the exact same time, and then we’ll say, together, on the count of three, “Wonder Twin Powers: Activate!” you know, from Super Friends? And then we’ll smash our empty bottles together in the air. It would be hilarious! And we wouldn’t get all cut up like Cliff did. So we did it and it worked! Well, it worked for me. Hank still got cut up a little. I think I overdid it on my end. I’m the smartest and I’m also the strongest out of my group of friends.

I just love getting together with the fellas! One time my best friend Stan locked himself in the bathroom for like an hour. “What the hell Stan?” we all cried out. “Let’s get going! You’re taking forever!” and Stan came out of the bathroom, finally, crying, and he had peed his pants. So we all started pointing and laughing, like the laughing was just escalating, like I thought I wasn’t going to be able to laugh anymore, but then I’d look at my friend Larry, and he had snot coming out of his nose he was laughing so hard, so I started all over again. But then we looked at Stan and he was still crying. He was really upset.

But we’re bros. We’re not going to go out knowing that Stan’s left behind, humiliated, embarrassed. So we all peed our pants. It was my idea. Well it Adam Sandler’s idea, but it was my idea to do it just like in the movie. We all stood around in a circle with a can of beer, and the plan was, we’d all shotgun that can and immediately pee our pants. Because that way it would just look cooler, and that way nobody could back out. Or nobody could start making fun of somebody else because that person peed first. Nobody would be able to say something smart like, “Whoa! Looks like Enrique didn’t have any trouble peeing his pants!” So we’d all do it together. And we did. And it was pretty cool, a real guy’s moment.

And then Stan started laughing. And he ran to the bathroom and changed into a clean pair of pants. “Where’d you get a clean pair of pants from?” we all asked. And once Stan finished laughing, he told us that he never peed his pants in the first place. It was just water. And he wanted to trick us all into peeing our pants together. Because he knew we would. Because he had just watched Billy Madison like two days ago. And it worked. And he started laughing again. But we all got real quiet and slowly moved towards him, ready to give him the beat down of a lifetime.

“Wait!” Stan cried right before we threw our first punch, “Jack didn’t pee his pants! Look!” And it was true. Jack hadn’t peed his pants.

“I can explain!” Jack said, “I have a shy bladder! I was trying! I swear!” But it was too late. Bros do everything together, and we just found out the hard way that Jack wasn’t a true bro. So we beat the shit out of him and tossed him out the front door. And then we started giving each other high fives, but then I noticed Stan giving out high fives too. And then everyone else noticed. Think you’d get off the hook that easily, huh Stan? Not so fast. And then we beat the shit out of Stan and gave him the boot.

Man, hanging out with the guys is the best! You never know what kind of trouble you’re going to get into on a bros’ night out!

The first one hundred

You ever hear of that “first hundred days” thing that the press always talks about when judging a new President? I think it’s ridiculous. The guy has four years to show us what he’s got, but for some reason the first hundred days gets its own milestone. Why? Because one hundred is a nice round number? Anything to make a headline I guess.

I wish that I could be judged in a similar way. If word got out that the first hundred words of everything that I wrote were the best, then I could just concentrate on writing one hundred really great words, and then I’d phone it in for the rest of the essay, piece, article, whatever it is you want to call this stuff that I put up every day.

Or at work. From now on I’m going to put all of my effort into the first one hundred minutes of a shift. After that I’m going to hang out in the kitchen and eat ice cream for the rest of the day. I actually do that a lot. Most of the time I’m a pretty hard worker. I’m always in and out of the kitchen, checking on my tables, making sure everything is OK. But with one exception: when my staff meal comes up, I don’t care what it is I should be doing. I always stop right where I am and eat. Honestly, if I can’t enjoy a plate of food in the middle of a crazy workday, I’d rather quit. I’d rather be homeless. So if you’re waiting on a side of fries and I promised I’d be right back but you haven’t seen me for a while, I’m either dead or finishing up my sandwich. In either case, keep your shirt on.

You want to know another one of my little restaurant tricks? Every time somebody asks me how many of something comes in an order, like how many chicken wings, or how many shrimp dumplings, I always answer with one less. It doesn’t list how many come on our menu, so you have no way of knowing if I’m telling the truth or not. Then I wait for your order to come up in the kitchen and I eat the difference. Please, don’t act all offended. Chances are you’re only going to leave me a twelve percent tip anyway. And come on, if one of your friends at the table asked you to try your food, you’d say yes, right? And I’m friendly, so it’s kind of just the same. If it’s really such a big deal, don’t ask me how many are served on a plate, because all I’m hearing is an invitation to have a little snack.

Anyway, back to the hundred days thing, I’m actually starting to think that it’s a great idea. Let’s say I make a new friend. I only have to pretend to be a nice guy for the first hundred days. After a little over three months I’m basically a fixture in your life now. And now that we’re liking each other’s status updates on facebook and texting to see what’s up on Friday night, now I can start acting like a huge dick. And you’ll say, man, but he was such a great guy for those first hundred days. What happened? And if you confront me I’ll start in on this whole explanation about midterm elections coming up and, come on, I’ve already used more political capital than I can afford right now. Let’s just get through the next three years and I promise, if you choose to embark on another friendship term with me, I can guarantee another hundred days even more turbocharged with niceness than the first time around.

If I ever get pulled over by a cop for speeding I’m going to protest that I was driving within the parameters of the traffic code for the first hundred miles. The next time I get called for a foul at a basketball game, I’ll tell the ref that I was playing perfectly fair for the first hundred minutes. Wait, games aren’t that long. OK, first hundred seconds. When I go shopping, from now on I’m only paying for the first hundred dollars worth of merchandise. I’m just going to grab as much stuff as I can, and I’m going to make a run for it out the door, throwing a hundred dollar bill at the cashier on the way out.

I hope you stopped reading this seven hundred words ago. Seriously, right now I’m just coming up with enough words to make an even eight hundred. Go ahead, count them. I’m almost there. Almost at eight hundred. I don’t know why I picked eight hundred. It seemed like a good length. Eight hundred.