Alicia's Food For Thought


An American Girl in a Thai World
July 14, 2010, 7:43 AM
Filed under: Alicia's Asia Adventures | Tags: , , , ,

When I was young, my mom would tell me a story about a green frog. I’m pretty sure it came from my grandma so please ignore the awkward translation from Korean to English:

There was a young green frog that always did the exact opposite of what his mother said. If she said to go left, he would go right. If she said to jump into the water, he would jump into the dirt, etc. One day, the mother frog was about to pass away and her last request to her son was for her body to be buried next to the river thinking that the green frog will bury her far away from the river. The green frog was so upset when his mother died that he finally listened to what she said and buried her near the river. So whenever it rains, you can hear the green frog cry because his mother is closer to floating away.

I think the moral of the story was to always listen to your parents or else you will regret it later. Even to this day my mom calls me a “green frog” because I always go against what she says or I don’t really listen to her opinion and do whatever I want to do.

So what has inspired me to tell you this kinda ridiculous story from my childhood? My group and I are putting together a volunteer program that would include living in the local community and working on a project with the villagers. I tried to give them some ideas on the structure of the volunteer program based off of my experience in Amigos de las Americas volunteer in Nicaragua 2006. We hit a road block when the Thai interns told me that they don’t think that many students would be willing to pay to volunteer and that they don’t really have that many fundraising programs similar to those in the States. For example, instead of selling candy bars or baked goods to raise money, they will go to a local night market and sing and ask for by-standers to donate money or they will ask a classmate’s father’s company to sponsor their program. Then another intern (born in Japan but goes to school in Canada) asked if students’ parents would want them to go volunteer. I don’t remember exactly how this all went down but suddenly we had a heated discussion about parents expectations and family obligations.

This really was a learning experience because I definitely felt ganged up on being the only American in my group (Nick is currently in Phuket). One of the Thai interns said that if her parents did not want her to do something, she would try to convince them otherwise but even if her parents agreed, she would feel too guilty to go through with it. Being my obnoxious American self (being more gentle is going to take more practice), I said that the guilt she was feeling was something she put on herself because ultimately her parents agreed to what she wanted to do so the guilt she felt was unnecessary. The Japanese/Canadian intern said that guilt is not something she put on herself but it is something that society put on her. Then the Thai interns asked me if my mom was worried about me coming to Thailand because of the Red Shirts incident. I said, “Of course! She sent me 5 thousand emails with news articles about the situation… but I’m still here. If I honestly felt like it was dangerous here I would not have come but I trusted the foundation that it would be fine.” Then they asked if I came and got into an accident that prevented me from being able to walk if I would feel guilty from not listening to my mother. I told them that I would probably regret my decision but I wouldn’t feel guilty from not listening but at the same time, if I stayed in the States over the summer I probably would have regretted not coming to Thailand in the first place. At least now I know that I have stuck with my decision and saw how it panned out. Then another intern exclaimed, “Well we actually think about other people!”And then it hit me. Am I self-centered? Even though I came to Thailand to work on social development and help the livelihood of hill-tribe people… was my decision to come here self-centered because I didn’t think about how it would affect my mom?

This realization became very jarring to me because then I thought about some of the decisions that I have made in my life: going to Nicaragua for 2 months as a 16 year old to do community service, deciding to go to school 3000 miles away in NYC, and coming to Thailand during one of its most turbulent political years. All 3 of those decisions I’ve made because I wanted new experience for myself and I would argue up and down the staircases and send emails and do research to convince my parents that I am making the right decision even if their first answer is “No.”

Wow, now don’t I feel like a shitty kid….but wait that can’t be right because I know I’m not a shitty kid. So then I gave the other interns this scenario: Say you have a friend, and she was really talented and good at singing. She wanted to become a singer but her parents didn’t approve saying that it was not a proper future for their daughter. What would tell her? They all agreed that they would support her to become a singer. Then I countered, “Doesn’t that go against everything that you said to me?” And then one intern thought outloud, “Maybe… or maybe I would help her to come up with a compromise with her parents. Everything in Thailand can be solved by compromise.”

But my American brain kept saying, “Isn’t that so unsatisfying?? Don’t you want what you want without having to compromise?” Then I thought maybe the reason why I work so hard to make sure that my decisions are worthwhile is because my parents don’t approve at first. So it they did agreed right away, would I work just as hard? No, I definitely would not. I work my ass off so that they know that I made a good decision and I can turn around and say, “See Ma? I’ve made it!” Which is ultimately what my parents want for me right?

But maybe Americans are addicted to learning things the hard way. Because why don’t we listen to our parents more? The Thai interns said that they listen to their parents because they only want what is what is best for them. They think about their lives in the long term. One intern said, “I wish I could work in Singapore but then I think about my family and if anything happened to my grandma and then what if I can’t come to Thailand in time? That is enough to prevent me from going to Singapore.”

OK, I’m not a cold-hearted bitch and I think about my family too and I know that if anything happened to my grandma while I was in NY I would haul ass back to CA. But I know that my grandparents and parents don’t want to hold me back from anything.

I finally admitted to the rest of the interns, “Now you guys made me feel bad because I don’t think enough about my family.” Then the Thai intern said, “Well you made me feel bad because now I realize that I put my family above myself. So now we can feel bad together.”

But why do we feel bad? The way I think isn’t right or wrong and the way that they isn’t right or wrong either. Actually now that I think about it, we are both doing what our families want us to do. We both love our families. And the definition of love is what you make of it. Whether it be through time, obedience, affection, whatever you know how to do best. My family wants me to take advantage of all the opportunities that come my way, while the other interns think more holistically about their family and are more receptive to their parents opinions.

In conclusion, I’ve decided that my mom created the green frog within me. She allowed me to do whatever I want despite of what others may say (even if that “other” includes her). And now that I’ve just spent an hour trying to explain to the other interns why I am the way I am I feel more… American, yet again. The fact that I had to convince them that way I think is normal made me feel more convicted that that is how I am and I’m sure that they feel more Thai/Japanese as well. So here I am again: being an American girl trying to survive and learn in this Thai world.

Alicia Kim



Where in the world is Alicia Kim?

Hi readers,

I am sorry that I have been MIA the past couple of months. Things have been prtty hectic with school, work, extracurriculars and whatnot- but no more! I finished school last week, moved out of my room yesterday and am staying with Sam for a couple of days.

So this year I have been traveling quite a bit: Turkey in January, Italy & Spain in March… so where where in the world am I going to next?

ASIA!

I will be leaving to Hong Kong on Sunday and going around China until the 29th and then going to Thailand for an internship for about 9 weeks. I won’t be back in the states until August. I can’t believe I am going to be gone for so long. I will be interning for the Mae Fah Luang Foundation in Doi Tung, Thailand and looking at their agriculture, food systems. As part of my internship, I am supposed to document and record my (and the other interns) day to day activities so I invested in a Flip Cam so my video blogs will be in HD.

So this post is really not food related… but I know I have not updated in a while and wanted to let you know what I am up to this summer. Trust me, my posts in Thailand will definitely be about food, the food instury and food products.

Wish me luck and pray I don’t die from mosquito bites!

Alicia Kim
Food for Thought Resident Assistant