Why I Traded Traveling the World for Three Jobs
By Jessica Quach
Since completing my bachelor’s degree, my friends say I’ve become as elusive as my nickname, Sasquach (Sasquatch)--constantly on the move. Many assume that I’ve been continuously wandering the Earth and quenching my wanderlust. This was true for a couple of weeks. I travelled to Kentucky and Chicago to visit my roots and reunite with cousins, and then spent some time with them in the Bahamas.
Before I left, my dad requested this: “Take lots of pictures and videos so I can see it through your eyes. Enjoy seeing all your family again and meeting the new ones. This is a once in a lifetime trip I’m letting you go on.”
And while those trips were amazing, those times have since been put on standby. Instead, you will find me working 50+ hours a week at three different jobs. “For what purpose?” you may ask. To return more than just a favor.
22 Enter. 16 Depart. 6 Scatter.
For a long time, my father had two dreams in life for himself: 1. To be an extra who dramatically dies in the background of a blockbuster war movie and 2. To see his oldest sister one last time before she reunites with the 16 family members they’d lost in the Cambodian Genocide.
By the end of the darkest time in Cambodian history, the reign of the Khmer Rouge, my father, a 12-year-old boy at the time, had brutally lost a sister, a father, a mother, and 13 other loved ones at the hands of death, which seemed more amiable than living under the Khmer Rouge. Facing famine, intensive bone-breaking labor, and constant threats on their lives, my father and his 5 remaining sisters (out of 22 family members) escaped Cambodia after several years of suffering (a story I hope to author in the future).
Like petals from a beautiful but damaged flower, separated and carried by a forceful wind, my father and his sisters scattered across the world, landing in places like Australia, New Zealand, Tennessee, and California. They rooted themselves and started families; regained their lives. Yet, because they have been busy starting over, re-building, and ensuring good lives for their children, they have barely seen each other in more than a quarter century. My father has not left the country since he set foot here, and this could very well be the last chance my father gets to reunite with and hold his oldest sister.
My oldest aunt lives in Australia and with each passing day, she has become more and more detached and unresponsive due to having two major strokes and a series of minor strokes. Like retreating wave on a beach, grains of what she used to be are slowly being washed away by her condition.
When I met my aunt in 2007 for the first time, she was lively and well, and I was under the impression that she would be one of those elderly Asian women you’d see in the parks still haulin’ ass with her visor on. I was under the impression that even though she was like a grandmother figure in my life, she wouldn’t age so dramatically in just a few years.
Ten years ago, she was caringly hauling my younger sister and I around on an Asian tour bus during a trip. I recall wanting to get a toy chipmunk for my sister and me to share but not being able to do so because I was a jobless middle schooler. She ended up noticing me eying, which I thought was discrete, and bought us one. Before she went back to Australia, she did what most Asian aunts did and tried to forcefully hand me cash. I declined time and time again, but eventually gave in because both of us were struggling to hold back our tears. She left that night, and as a child with a strict bedtime, I could only imagine her passing through the airport gates. Once she stepped foot out of my home, I sobbed quietly in bed because it felt like she was never coming back. Little did I know, the seemingly excessive amount of crying was warranted.
That night was the last time I would get to see her in person and healthy, both in mind and body. I have come to terms with this. I am fortunate enough to be able to Skype with her, even if all she can do is stare and wave.
Like Father, Like Daughter
If you have ever met my father, you would say he is the epitome of a saint or Buddha, entirely selfless, kind, and patient. He always puts other people’s interests--especially his family’s--above his own. He has tirelessly worked blue collar jobs 362 days each year for the twenty or so years he has been in America; regardless of health or weather, to make sure that our family and his customers were more than okay. He has carefully saved and allocated his earnings to make sure his family doesn’t have to worry about the basic necessities of life. This meant making sacrifices, good and unconventional; little to no eating out, little to no vacations past a 200 miles radius, and certainly no luxuries such as gambling.
My Three Jobs
I filled my schedule up to the brim with three jobs: a pre-tester at an optometry office, an after school tutor, and a barista/cook at a crepe shop.
All of these jobs require a good amount of interaction with people: from patients and students, to foodies and tourists. They also require a good amount of patience. There’s a lot of running back and forth while sweating (keep in mind that I am someone who rarely sweats at all), understanding and empathizing with people, and thinking of ways to explain concepts in their simplest and most accessible form.
I’m physically and mentally exhausted throughout the day and especially by the end of it. So far, I have been able to hunker through it. Like the Hulk, I have come to realize that my secret is that I’m always tired, and so I choose to remain in the condition I’m in.
A Bit Like Mulan
About a month ago, my dad kept feeling like he was going to faint at work. So we went to the hospital and the doctor told us my worst fear, “If we had not caught this heart issue now, you might’ve died in your sleep.” The thought of losing not only my dad, but one of my oldest and best friends was enough for me to put my entire life on hold and change my life completely. So, I amped up my hours and worked harder, longer, and more determinedly than ever in order to make sure that I was the one that took on the role of taking care of my family. I wanted to take the place of my father. You could say I wanted to be Mulan. It was my turn to make the sacrifices.
My family paid a hefty price when they were given the chance at survival. They were broken apart by miles of land and ocean. Although they may not be able to demand a refund and exchange for a better deal, I’ve tried my best to earn them an upgrade.
That is why, after several months of working three jobs, I get to say that it has finally come down to this: one ticket to Australia! That one ticket, rightfully, goes to my father.
There are many ways people learn to grow up; it may be losing someone they love, having a child, or having to take care of themselves. I’ve been fortunate to have someone care for me and yet, I’d like to say I’ve done quite a bit of growing up. Through my dad, I’ve learned to be humble with what we have, work hard for what we wish to earn, and, above all else, to care for those we truly love. As for whether or not I’ll be continuing my three jobs, the answer is yes, I will keep all of them. There is still so much more I can do.
Although adults told us as kids, “you will miss being a kid, enjoy it,” I couldn’t wait to grow up because that meant that I could return more than just a favor. I could make those sacrifices that would mean the world to someone who has sacrificed a lot for me. And you may ask, “why only one ticket?” I have worked a lot and could afford another one for myself. But I have to take care of my responsibilities, take charge of the family at home, and I know that time still stretches ahead for me, but it grows shorter for my dad and my aunt.
Once in a Lifetime
Fast forward several months later and I tell my dad, “Please take a lot of pictures and videos so I can see it through your eyes. Please really enjoy your time with her. Tell her, we love her,” because this truly is a once in a lifetime trip.