Great learning happens at the table. My grandmother always reserved an extra plate in case a family member or friend unexpectedly showed up for dinner. I kept a portion of Greixonera fish or squid rice with fried garlic in the kitchen in a safe place, and when we ate desserts, the graceful and grateful guest would appear. Generosity makes life pleasant. Who receives it, and who practices it?
In my house, it is not good to get up from the table and take only your own plate with you. Even when we were little, we were taught that when visiting, it’s convenient to make a trip to the kitchen. Not only to save trips from here to there but also to do the seat neighbor a favor. This attitude makes living together friendly.
Not being a free rider and sharing, patiently waiting to be served, having good manners, understanding hierarchy, respecting elders, saying thank you, and knowing how to skip the best portion or the last olive are behaviors that you learn at the table. I will always remember the lobster stew my friend Pili and I shared with a self-help and personal growth guru. Pili and I managed to eat an occasional scrawny leg while the supposed priest of compassion and emotional intelligence swept away all the crustacean chicha. We may not have realized that tonight’s lesson was, “I am the center of the universe, and you are my satellites.” What delusions! We’ve learned that it’s bad to surround yourself with free riders. However, a table is an agora of knowledge and, in my wise mother’s opinion, the best letter of recommendation. How can I disagree with her and double her bet with the following statement: Tell me how you maintain the outside porch of your home, and I’ll tell you how you are?
In my town, a Thai girl opened a massage parlor. The poor thing had to put up a sign proclaiming in all caps and bold that her services are non-erotic, but that’s another story. I see him watering and pruning some flowers that the council planted years ago. How he removes trash from the ground floor and how he spends his morning tea time cultivating public space. The gesture says a lot about them and their respect for others. In its antipodes, two streets away, a lady sweeps every morning and throws all the trash to the neighbors and onto the street. He leaves his square meter cleaner than a whistle, but the one next to it is a mess. Her civic sensibilities are level with the cigarette butts she spreads outside the next door, and I hope I’m not sharing a stew with her. My neighbor across the street trimmed her bougainvillea, packed up the leftovers, put them in the special garden waste container, and gave a bouquet of flowers to an elderly lady who lives a few houses down the street. I would share a table with her and stew. In fact, I did it indirectly because his grandfather was one of those who came to eat the plate my grandmother reserved for belated friends and relatives. The twists and turns of life