dandelion, drop, light

I had an interesting encounter at the nail salon earlier this week. The salon owners are long-time family friends — a gorgeous Vietnamese couple with two beautiful children. The nail technicians there are also Vietnamese; however unlike the owners, their English is very poor and they are mostly recent immigrants to the United States.

When I sat down to begin receiving my manicure, I was welcomed by a new face; a soft-spoken Vietnamese man, who introduced himself as Stan. I assumed that his circumstances were similar to the other nail techs I had spoken to in the past. Yet, the tattoo on his left forearm told a much different tale. A geometric design — it looked like a sunburst, but the rays of the sun were traveling rectangles. I knew he had a story…

I can’t remember how our conversation started, but I certainly remember where it went. We spoke non-stop for the duration of my manicure. Stan’s story is truly remarkable. He was born in Vietnam and traveled to The States with his mother as a child. He did very well in school and after graduating, he went to university to study finance. After college he became a financial analyst. In his various roles in finance, he traveled around the world and lived in several countries, including China, Thailand, and Vietnam. After many years in finance, he determined that it was not for him. He was tired of being a wage slave. He was tired of working hard and earning a lot of money but no personal satisfaction.

He abandoned his final post as an analyst, took his savings, and moved to Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, Stan became a hard core party-er and gambler. He lived a life of exorbitance, some nights winning tens of thousands of dollars within hours — only to blow it all away again before sunrise. Not surprisingly, he eventually got tired of the party lifestyle, too.

A few years ago he moved from Las Vegas to Tampa. He wanted to live a simple, moderate lifestyle. He wanted to make enough money to live comfortably and enjoy life. And that’s when he became a nail tech. It was simple work that made him happy. He could create while meeting interesting people constantly. At the end of the day he had no headaches and no stress or high blood pressure. He could enjoy life, take small trips, and engage in meaningful relationships. It was his definition of a good life — no debt, no stress. (It sounds like a good life to me.)

After sharing his adventures, we moved to the topics of politics, philosophy, and religion. I know… heavy stuff for a manicure appointment. But Stan is not your typical manicurist (and maybe I am not your typical manicure recipient). We talked a lot about debt (particularly my student loan debt) and Stan shared an idea with me that I hadn’t heard before:

In the United States, he said, every right comes with a responsibility. However, most of those rights are not worth the responsibilities attached to them.

For example, a Bachelor’s degree with a $60,000 price tag. Or a three bedroom home with an adjustable rate, 20 year mortgage. Or a Lexus SUV with a lease payment that keeps you drowning for 72 months. What a concept and what truth there was to this idea! It is true, in the United States we have so many rights, but they all come with unrealistic or unreasonable responsibility. In other words — the juice ain’t worth the squeeze!

When we talked about religion, I mentioned the fact that (like most of my generation) I am extremely spiritual but not very religious. I got into my old “religion is responsible for more death & war than money, politics, and hatred combined” speech. Stan stopped me in my tracks. He hit me with another idea that I had never really considered:

War is necessary. There is a great balance in the Universe and all things are necessary. Without bad there could be no good. Without hate there could be no love. And without war, there could be no peace.

What an amazing way to look at things. It was, and is, hard for me to swallow. I find it difficult to accept war on any terms. It goes against every fiber of my being and every notion of righteousness that I hold. Yet. There is absolutely truth to his point. There is a great and necessary balance and perhaps, war too, has its place in it.

It was not long after that part of our conversation that Stan’s next client walked in and he finished with my hands (and mind). He very abruptly walked me to the dryer where I sat in a state of excitement and shock. Had I really just had this intense and wonderful conversation in the nail salon? With the soft-spoken Vietnamese nail technician? Yes, I had. It was amazing. Aside from giving me some incredible food for thought, it was also a great reminder of reality: Stop making assumptions about people because of their jobs, their backgrounds, their ethnicity, their level of education, or any other thing that you can use to make assumptions. Every person has an incredible story to tell you. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to have them share it with you.

So what do you think? Have you ever had a routine visit turn into a philosophical gold mine? And what do you think about the ideas I mentioned — rights & responsibilities and the necessity of war? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “An Unexpected Encounter”

  1. Dena, Stan succeeded in doing something all your education was not able to do: help you open your mind.

    Now, when people start going off and spouting the same old stuff, you are going to think back to Stan, and you’re going to wonder.

    And it’s the wondering that’s important. The people who are sure, have lost their wonder.

    Stay in wonder!

    Coming in from twitter, smart to post your link.

    1. Dave, you have absolutely, 100% hit the nail on the head. In retrospect, there are many things that I would have done differently, spending a fortune on a Bachelor’s Degree that would land me in a less-than-perfect situation is one of them. But, we live and we learn. And there is no sense looking backward. Upward & onward!

      It is golden and rare to meet someone so open & honest. Really refreshing for a casual encounter!

      Thanks a million for your thoughts.

  2. I’ve had a similar experience talking to a new friend I met some days before one on one. First we had small talk all the time but then we started to be philosophical and I was amazed that “such a guy” could have thoughts like that..

    There is so much to learn from your story! I don’t know where to start and I am sad that I won’t learn it deep enough only by reading it..

    his approach to war is very wise.. it’s the ying yang philosophy, seeing anything as it is, not judging.

    I love that Stan has found his passion in living a simple life, it’s sad that he needed to work a lot for that knowledge.

    What I like most is what he said about the responsibilities you get with your rights. I really don’t know if that Bachelor’s degree is worth the money? But I am afraid that I will never truly KNOW it until I’ve paid the price once and return to the simpler life again :/ …

    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing a bit of your own story. The fact that you are living life, taking the chance, and experiencing the journey for yourself is the most important thing. We must all walk our own paths. We can not learn simply by hearing someone else’s lesson. Instead we must live the lesson ourselves.

      I am wishing you the best of luck, friend.

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