What’s in a Hand Roll Anyway?
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Sometimes I wonder why we meet the people we meet and why some stayed too long while others left too soon.
Here is my story:
I met Dr. Jerry for the first time on May 19, 2017, at 12:30 pm at his dental office. He was an “important person” that I had to meet because he served as Board of Trustee at San Jose Museum of Art and would be joining the Vietnamese Initiative Committee, a project I was working on for SJMA.
I didn’t recall much else about our initial meeting except for his California sun-soaked, hot Porsche, prepped with burn-your-skin-off leather seats. I did my best to avoid touching any of my exposed skin to the leather while he drove a few blocks to Kubota for lunch. My goal was to get to know him better and discuss the upcoming project. I didn't know why we couldn't meet at the restaurant for the sake of efficiency but had to meet at his dental office first before heading to lunch. But efficiency was not his style. Dr. Jerry was about building long-term relationships.
The older hostess saw Dr. Jerry and lead us straight to the back section with all the windows immediately. It was probably the loudest part of the restaurant where voices bounced off the glass from all directions. I ordered the seafood sushi combo while he had the salmon plate lunch and a Coke. In Asian cultures, sharing a meal revealed a lot about a person. I was surprised when he ordered a Coke. It was not a typical choice for an older, Asian man.
I observed his daintiness, fluffy white hair, thin frame, a half-cocked smile, and butterfly eyes.
As an American, I was taught to look at a person’s eyes when speaking to them to establish trust and rapport in business lunches. But Dr. Jerry was not your ordinary American. I found it difficult to catch his eyes, but when I did, I saw a trustworthy, young soul inside immediately.
I felt frustrated as thoughts came in and out of Dr. Jerry's mouth in groups of connected words, but I couldn’t quite capture their full meaning. The speed of the conversation accompanied by an orchestra of voices from hand-shakers, engineers, tech-workers, movers and shakers, and a few politicians were a perfect backdrop for "Flight of the Bumblebee" on speed. While my A-D-D kicked into high gear, I prayed no one would recognize me so I could avoid meaningless chit chats. He, on the other hand, shook hands, smiled, and said hi to everyone who came by our table to greet him!
I tried hard to follow his thoughts to understand what his ask was of me. People always wanted something. Didn’t they? I couldn’t figure him out so I decided to enjoy my lunch, hot tea, and ice water instead. I focused on not getting any seaweed stuck between my teeth while he talked about everything. He kept gesturing and asking why I didn’t eat the hand roll that came with the combo plate. I never told him why. As quickly as lunch started, it also ended. We had many meetings similar to this one for the next two years and they were always at Kubota. He never let me pay for lunch even when I told him we had an entertainment budget. I tried to give the older hostess my credit card in advance many times, without him knowing, but she always refused. She was the gatekeeper to the lunch payment mafia police.
Somehow, after two years of lunches, meetings, texts, and phone calls, we magically formed a friendship. I eventually gave up my formality and business-like listening mode and just went with the flow. He also became my dentist when I didn’t care anymore if any seaweeds were stuck between my teeth. I started to eat all the hand rolls during our meals. I thought he liked being a dentist because that was when he got to do all the talking. I was sure it was his strategic plan to get us all to shut up so he could share his ideas without interruptions. I learned if he wanted to accomplish something, he would get it done. He was relentless that way.
The last meal we shared was sometimes in June of 2019. I stopped adding our meetings to the calendar because we just met whenever our schedules were open. Our last lunch was not at Kubota. It was somewhere else in Japantown which I’d rather not name because I will never go back there again. I often wondered if things would have turned out differently for him if we didn't break our lunch tradition?
He just came back from India and complained of his unsettling stomach and couldn’t eat much. I ordered the grill mackerel bento box, it did not come with any hand rolls, while he ordered a bowl of noodle soup he hardly touched. He didn’t talk as fast and had the energy of a “normal” person and not his usual superspeed self. We even joked about how slow he was that day because I understood everything he discussed, unlike other times when I couldn’t quite grasp all the ideas and thoughts pouring out of him at full speed. It was shortly after this lunch that he was diagnosed with cancer.
Dr. Jerry had a creative thinking mind whereas I was a linear thinker which made it initially difficult for me to follow his thoughts. Jody Michael defined creative thinking as “an intuitive, creative, artistic and emotional thinking style known as right-brained (the seat of creativity). It’s less-restrictive thoughts expand in multiple directions which allows for multiple points of logic rather than just one answer. Non-linear thinkers don’t work in straight lines or sequential manners. Instead, they make connections and conclude unrelated concepts or ideas.”
After his death, I realized besides the loss of an irreplaceable friendship, he left me the most valuable gifts of them all. He left me his people, his community, his friends, and his family. Because of him, I’ve met incredible individuals who continue to guide my journey on this plane.
Every sushi hand roll will always remind me of my thought partner, advisor, supporter, loud lunches, and a gentle soul.
See you on the other side.