Chapter 46:

Jason Li: Introduction Part 1

New Leaf!


Jason Li… He is my co-worker and the oldest person not only out of the people in his shift but out of all employees. I thought that I’d be asked to call him by his first name, but he said that he was okay with Mr Li — in fact, everyone including Valerie calls him Mr Li. When I first saw him, I guessed that he was in his 60s, and I was right — he told me his age range, but he never revealed his precise age. He also told me that this is his sixth year working here — so he’s been working here ever since Valerie opened this place.Bookmark here

So other than Valerie, Mr Li is an Alente Bistro OG! I wonder why… I’m not insulting Alente or anything — this restaurant is undoubtedly charming and lucrative, but like most things, it was never like this. Valerie told me that for the first two years of operation, the business was doing poorly. Alente had barely any customers other than Valerie’s family, its location was in a barely visited area, and it was struggling financially. The few employees that Valerie managed to hire never stayed because Alente was doing poorly or because of Valerie’s supposed inexperience as a result of her age and never attending business school.Bookmark here

Valerie was understandably distraught about the whole situation. The food she served was delicious, but the taste did not matter unless there were patrons. It looked bad for Valerie, but fortunately, she received help from Mr Li — I’m surprised that it wasn’t Ren, but I think he was in university at the time. Mr Li was actually one of the first employees of Alente Bistro. After about a year of failure, Mr Li was promoted from being a simple employee to basically Valerie’s business partner. The two experimented with different business strategies, advertising strategies, and recipes. When they found a new approach that worked, they stuck with it and the restaurant suddenly started doing well. With their newfound success, Valerie managed to move Alente to where it is now, improve the menu with additional inventory, and hire new employees.Bookmark here

The main thing that still puzzles me is why Mr Li decided to stay. I mean, I don’t see a reason to keep working at a financially unsure business...Bookmark here

Bookmark here

One afternoon, I walked into the staff room for my lunch break. Compared to the dining area, the staff room was dull — having tiled floors and plain white walls — but I guess it makes sense since the public isn’t supposed to see it. The room was decently sized. There was a large whiteboard with information about things such as schedules and employee info. On the other side of the room were five relatively tall lockers for employees to store things. And in the centre was a square table with chairs on each side.Bookmark here

Alan, Elyssa, and Valerie were working, so Mr Li and I were on break. At the table was Mr Li silently eating his lunch. Eating lunch in the dining area is technically allowed when there is space, but we mostly avoided it because we thought it looked unprofessional.Bookmark here

“Ah, good afternoon, Camryn.”Bookmark here

“G-Good afternoon, Mr Li.”Bookmark here

Mr Li’s smile was pleasant — it made him seem approachable. I think it’s a common stereotype that older people are wiser and calmer while younger people are more rambunctious and dumber, and it’s true in this case — Mr Li is more placid, while Elyssa is more energetic. But overall, it’s just a stereotype that can be broken. Although Mr Li is mainly courteous, there are times when he can act relaxed — Alan also shows the ambiguity of this stereotype. Overall, Mr Li is a composed adult, but he can also make lame puns that we developed a grudging tolerance for — don’t worry, he does this very rarely and only towards Elyssa.Bookmark here

I sat in a chair next to him and silently ate my lunch. I was eating a simple fried rice dish I prepared before leaving. Bookmark here

Mr Li started a friendly conversation between us.Bookmark here

“So Camryn, how are you?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I’m good, thank you.”Bookmark here

“I see… That’s good!”Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah…”Bookmark here

A conversation, huh?.. It’s not like I hate talking to others — I enjoy it, but I don’t want to make the situation awkward… And, oh shoot, what do I talk about? It was easy with Alan and Elyssa because they are very close in age to me, but Mr Li? And it’s easier with Ren because we live together, but Mr Li? I don’t know much about him! And, he’s many times older than me, so our interests probably won't coincide. Hm… Well, asking is how I learn more about him, but how do I ask without making it awkward? Hm… Unless…Bookmark here

“So Camryn, are you enjoying working at Alente Bistro?”Bookmark here

Yes, please start the conversation between us! I’ll be interested in any topic, but will you be the same? I don’t know, and it’s fine if you aren’t.Bookmark here

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I like working here. The atmosphere is very cozy and the people are very nice.”Bookmark here

“Ah, that’s good to hear.”Bookmark here

Alente Bistro… Yeah, that’s a good topic to talk about considering that we both have this job in common. However, I think his knowledge is vastly superior. I’m just a newbie that started working here a couple of days ago, while Mr Li has worked here ever since it opened… Wait… Bookmark here

“Um, Mr Li…”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“Um… How about you? Do you like working here?”Bookmark here

Mr Li looked at me with a puzzled face.Bookmark here

“Hm? Yes, I enjoy working here.”Bookmark here

“I see…”Bookmark here

Why did Mr Li continue to work here for all these years? It wouldn’t have been a financially smart decision, right? I mean, staying right now would be fine, but six years ago? It makes more sense just abandoning a sinking ship than fixing it to stay afloat, right?Bookmark here

“Can I ask why you asked?”Bookmark here

“O-Oh?”Bookmark here

“It makes sense asking a beginner, but asking someone that worked here for ages? That’s strange. Is there a deeper meaning in asking?”Bookmark here

“Oh, um…”Bookmark here

I guess there isn’t much harm in asking. It satisfies my curiosity, but what would happen if I accidentally offend Mr Li? I… I don’t know...Bookmark here

“Mr Li, why did you decide to stay here?”Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

“You’ve worked here since its opening, and Valerie told me that Alente struggled during its first two years. This isn’t like a big restaurant chain, so a failure would lead to dire consequences. With all the uncertainty, wouldn’t it be smart to just abandon the place?”Bookmark here

“I see…”Bookmark here

Mr Li stared down at the table for a while with furrowed eyebrows. Did I offend him? I know how he could interpret me saying that he’s foolish from my last comment… I should apologize.Bookmark here

As I was about to do so, Mr Li interrupted.Bookmark here

“You know, that’s a really good question… Actually, why don’t you take a guess.”Bookmark here

A guess, eh? Well… Doing this type of thing was not smart… Maybe this decision wasn’t based on calculations, but rather… Bookmark here

“Um… Could it be that you know Valerie personally and decided to stay with her because of your bond?”Bookmark here

“Unconditionally, huh? Good guess, but prior to getting hired, I did not know Valerie. Sure, we bonded when I was hired, but I didn’t stay just for her.”Bookmark here

Hm… Well, maybe it has to do with something other than Alente Bistro. Well, this city is big, so maybe… Bookmark here

“Could it be that you couldn’t find other work in the city and your only option was Alente?”Bookmark here

“Oh, what an idea… But that wasn’t it. I’ll give you one more guess.”Bookmark here

Oh… Well… They were in an uncertain position at the time, so maybe…Bookmark here

“Could it be that you stayed on a whim?”Bookmark here

“A whim, huh?”Bookmark here

Mr Li chuckled.Bookmark here

“If I’m building up suspense for my answer, the reason will be more than a simple guess.”Bookmark here

“O-Oh. Yeah, I guess…”Bookmark here

Mr Li sat upright in his seat and cleared his throat. He was getting ready for the grand reveal of the reason… Bookmark here

“Well, Camryn, the reason why I stayed working with Valerie when her business was failing was that…Bookmark here

Mr Li smiled at me and tilted his head. I don’t know why, but his smile was slightly somber. Was he sad? Was he regretful? What was he remembering?Bookmark here

“It was because, at that time, I had given up on my dream…”Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
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