What an unusual name of a person - to have only one letter representing your name. Well, at the very least, it makes it easy to spell. “Y” is the name of a person who I admire and respect - who works as a floor supervisor at BeBe Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam. She is charged as one of a half dozen supervisors at the three Hoi An BeBe locations in ratifying the decisions of the staff as they attend to the needs of tourists and other visitors. These are mostly individuals who have travelled from foreign lands to enjoy the exotic beauty of Hoi An while simultaneously commissioning the custom tailoring of dresses, blouses, shirt, suits, coats or anything else that can be made of their quality fabrics and materials. She is the final word, the expert, the experienced authority, the sage. Her astuteness and powers of observation are acute and instantaneous. Her understated pronouncements and refinements are always accurate and precise.
I can think of few parallels between my life and hers but one that comes to mind is worthy of contrasting. As a newborn intensive care doctor, I ran around the intensive care unit from bed to bed, assessing each babies condition, deciding on a course of action and making swift decisions in management. Some of those decisions required thought and no action, but mostly required adjustments in breathing machine settings, medications, changes in fluid management, placement of tubes or catheters in various locations and/or calling upon other experts to provide their input and consultation. But this was not done in isolation. There were dozens upon dozens of babies to simultaneously manage.
Running from bedside to beside, keeping track of each baby’s situation, dealing with the various crises of the day simulates an atmosphere much like a circus, with multiple shows taking place simultaneously. The chaos and cacophony that is present is unnerving. I ran around intently and unswervingly, serious and focused, and poised for action. This was serious business and there was little time for levity. I expected everyone to jump when I said jump. I took myself very seriously. The truth is that most took me as a maniac of sorts, nobody wanted to contest my authority. Type A personality doesn’t do justice to the demeanor and directive behavior displayed. It was all the serious business of life and death.
Contrast this to Y – so back to BeBe. The procession of clients in the change room area consisted of a series of adjoining stalls with movable curtains to provide partial privacy when changing. Each customer was attended by a series of attendants to get things done. Y would enter the area and float effortlessly from shopper to shopper; the attendants would cede to her presence and authority. Demure and imperceptible, she would rapidly diagnose what was needed for the next alteration, as she tugged and pulled on the garment here and there. The attendants would scurry around supporting Y’s lead and directives. Then magically her famous chalk would appear – striking the garment with strokes at strategic locations to guide the tailor in his/her next iteration. Sometimes she would strike so many marks, it felt like she was drawing a picture. Other times, she would pull out thread and needle, and attack the garment with stitches to reshape it to more perfectly fit the body of the customer.
Invariably she would start with one customer and move to another and then back to the first. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to her movement but it was done with intent and purpose, grace and fluidity. There was little drama and Y’s comforting approach, her quiet manner and her non-intrusive method made her nearly invisible. Customers quickly realized her expertise and took comfort in her opinions and recommendations. It was if she was brilliantly conducting an orchestra. Contrast this to the lurching, aggressive, demonstrative, and in your face conduct that yours truly displayed in the intensive care unit.
People like Y are rare in the world. Hard working, competent, non-intrusive, demure and understated. But to also be a natural born leader, liked and respected by those working under your rule, to exude subdued expertise and confidence, and to demonstrate the attributes of a positive role model for others to follow is a rare combination of talents.