Today was chugging along quite productively. I showered and put on makeup, did a workout, walked the dog, did summer school workbook pages with Fox, made lunch and washed the bathroom rugs all before noon. Then I got a text from a friend telling me David Leong passed away. If you’re from Springfield I don’t have to tell you who he is. You’d know. He is a huge part of this community. For those of you who are wondering who David Leong is, I’ll give you the crib notes.
David moved from China to the US as a young man. He eventually settled in Springfield, MO and opened a high end Chinese food restaurant before Chinese restaurants were a thing. He also invented the cashew chicken dish, which has been copied far and wide but no one does it like the Leong’s. You can read about this amazing man’s life here.
Hearing the news that David passed made me feel sad for a few minutes but mostly it made me feel really happy that I knew him. He was a month shy of being one hundred years old and had a full life. I’m definitely celebrating him and not getting down about this.
I knew David because his restaurant is where I had my first official job. A friend of mine (Hi, Nathan!) recommend me for the job when I was a sophomore in High School. I was a busser in the huge restaurant that seated over two hundred people. Now, by the time I was working there David’s son Wing Yee was running the show and Leong’s had already been a part of Springfield food culture for nearly forty years; but David was always present and still working, often sitting at a table in the kitchen cranking out pot stickers by hand ten times faster than anyone else could. He seemed so old even then! He would fall asleep in a chair in the bar, called the Tai Bok Lounge, many an afternoon and us employees would sneak up and put a finger under his nose to make sure he was still breathing! It’s amazing to think he lived for so long, and he was active in his old age too. Thinking back to my days working there, most of my memories revolve around my coworker friends and Wing Yee, the boss. But I loved David and could write a small book about all of the antics that happened in the few years I worked there.
In a way, that job and the people I met there are responsible for the trajectory my life took. Do you ever think about things like that? How life would have turned out so differently if you hadn’t met a certain person or been at just the right place at the right time? Well thanks to Nathan introducing me to Wing and Wing giving me the job, I met some college kids who were waiting tables. One of those kids (Hi, Todd!) became my boyfriend and I eventually moved to Kansas City, his hometown, with him. I ended up living there for fifteen years! Over the course of those fifteen years I had a billion adventures, made all new friends and learned to be an adult. Had I not worked at Leong’s who knows if I would have ever even left Springfield? I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having been a part of the Leong’s family.
Thank you David, for being such a remarkable man. I can only imagine the thousands of lives you touched. Today I’ll be drinking oolong tea and reflecting on the good old days.