Growing up in Mississauga, a visit to a nearby shopping mall is a must. I am referring to Square one, a major shopping mall at the heart of the city.  It could be shopping for the latest outfit, watching a movie (when the movie theatre was still there, ok I am really dating myself now) or meeting friends to catch up or hang out.

For me, it also meant growing up and learning in my first ever job, at my parents’ fast food restaurant, Made In Japan.

Many often asked me which job has given me the greatest learning throughout my years of career in pharmacy. I could not name one job that made me learn as much as my first job there.  I started helping my parents after I turned barely twelve. I remember helping to get the beverages ready, making sure I understood the orders correctly, efficiently getting the correct beverages ready for the customers. It could be a small size diet cook, a large Spirit or an orange juice bottle and in the odd times, a cup of coffee or tea. Many were quick to leave me with their changes as tips! I must have looked so young that they felt sorry I was working! Just to put the record straight, there was no free child labour going on. I willingly helped my parents as a volunteer. They later paid me wages, which was great to have some pocket money to spend in my teenage years. My parents also made sure our priorities were to focus on our school and academics.

Then I started helping to put rice on plates before the chef would add other food items.  I also helped serving customers their fully prepared meals asking them if they would like Teriyaki sauce or other condiments on their meals.  The famous final phrase “Would you like some Teriyake sauce?” would come to be so ingrained in my head during those few years of my life.  Later on, I would be in charge of the cash register, ensuring there were adequate changes to get through the day, closing the cash register, ensuring the sales generated matched the cash value needed to deposit to the bank.  I also learned to place orders for supplies to keep the operations going, inventory management and sometimes supervising staff who were twice or three times my age. Even throughout my pharmacy education, I would help out at the fast food restaurant on Sundays, giving my parents some time off.

I also learned that some customers could be very nice to serve and others could be difficult no matter what.  I have developed good relationship with some frequent customers, knowing their exact orders and other special requests.  There were some who were just miserably. No matter how politely and apologetically I explained their requests could not be honoured, they would just be upset, complaining to my parents the next day, changing the entire story around to fit their agenda.  Of course, the customer is always always right!  Later when I started working in a pharmacy wearing my lab coat, I would still go back to help my parents’ at their fast food restaurant. That was when I realized people treated me so well when I wore my lab coat, but as soon as the lab coat was off and I was behind the cash register at the restaurant, the respect was gone too.

My parents have sold the place shortly after I graduated from pharmacy but my memories at that place are still very much fresh in my mind and in my heart. Every now and then when I need to eat at a food court in a mall, I would still visit the Made In Japan, just to reminisce the past memories.

Few months ago, I was back at Square one, having an informal highschool gathering. The place has changed so much I could hardly recognize it. I have also learned that the food court has changed drastically after undergoing some major renovation.  Made in Japan is also gone!  It is a different time now.  There is also a different generation of people at the mall. The place looks foreign to me.  But the experience I have gained there has forever shaped the strong ethics I continue to carry in my pharmacy career.  I know it wasn’t glamorous work and my parents certainly did not enjoy running the place. But the sacrifice they made there have helped me learn and develop many life skills that continue to be important in my every day job as a pharmacist.  So back to Square One is what I enjoy both physically and figuratively.