Day 61: Home is Where the Heart is

Live from Los Angeles and Boston. I just got back to the US less than 4 hours ago. About 8 hours ago, I was sitting at a bar inside the American Airlines terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) enjoying my Californian-styled pizza (whatever that meant) and a full 5L pint of Samuel Adams lager (which was slightly larger than a typical Bostonian pint). Sam Adams, by the way, has since I arrived in Boston been my favorite lager. It’s great to have three pints in a roll for the first time since May 2015.

As I was getting tipsy, and as  the batteries of both of my cellphone and laptop were dying (and apparently there wasn’t any outlet around me to charge anything), I suddenly had a chance to think about what I had been too busy to think about what had happened in my life in the past 20 years. Yes, 20 years.

At the same time, I also had a sudden feeling that writing this blog has been one of the key moments in my life: The one that has gradually grown on me and turned me into not just a writer but someone who truly believes in the power of words. Writing, at the end of the day, is the most efficient form of communication — it’s the only form of expression that cuts across space and time and is truly unique in its own way for how it has changed the way we think, read, and communicate with one another.

I have become a better person as I have learned how to write, and how to want to write well. There was nothing more that I would like to do than getting the Day 61 post out for you guys to read. The question for this post, which I was thinking about as I was flying over the Atlantic, was “where is home?”

Here I am back at Harvard where I have spent my last 6 years studying anthropology and trying to make our world a better place through education, which I believe to be one of the very few reliable solutions to the problems that we are all facing in the world today. Cambridge is my home. As I walking past the statue of John Harvard, donning on me was the sense of nostalgia. In the spring of 1999, I flew to Cambridge from Oklahoma City with my host family who wanted me to see “the city where two of the best universities in the world are located.” I was, of course, excited. Nonetheless, there’s no way I’d think such a trip would have any impact on me since I wasn’t a good student. It’s already a fluke and a stroke of pure luck that I’d got to spend a year in Oklahoma City as an American Field Service exchange student. That trip did change everything. It wasn’t the prestige of MIT that made me want to go there to study. It’s the people that I met during the trip. Many of them were engineering students from

 

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Took this morning while walking across Harvard Yard — with Johnnie!

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When I was back to Cambridge, MA, in the summer of 2010 again after three years of hiatus at Oxford in the UK where I studied Modern Chinese Studies.

 

As I walking past the statue of John Harvard, donning on me was the sense of nostalgia. In the spring of 1999, I flew to Cambridge from Oklahoma City with my host family who wanted me to see “the city where two of the best universities in the world are located.” I was, of course, excited. Nonetheless, there’s no way I’d think such a trip would have any impact on me since I wasn’t a good student. It’s already a fluke and a stroke of pure luck that I’d got to spend a year in Oklahoma City as an American Field Service exchange student. That trip did change everything. It wasn’t the prestige of MIT that made me want to go there to study. It’s the people that I met during the trip. Many of them were engineering students from humble backgrounds similar to mine. They told me that they got to MIT not because they were able to hire someone to write beautiful statements of intent for them, or because they had parents who were willing to spend money to fake their applications for them — the practice that seems to be the standard and the name of the game today. They got into MIT because they had “one thing” about them that was special. I had a long conversation with a Chinese-American student named Billie, who said, “I was, and still am, a nerd, but when it comes to programming nobody in my high school knew better than I was.” That’s the only thing that Billie was good at, and what got him to MIT. MIT also paid for his tuition, room, and board. Because of Billie and a few friends of his whom I met during this short visit, I suddenly realized that if I’d look hard enough, I might also be able to find something special about me. There was, of course, a chance that I would not find anything, but the fact that mattered then was that there’s literally nothing to lose.

At MIT, I came, I saw, I almost immediately wanted to go there. Once I’d returned to Oklahoma City, and then Bangkok, I’d kept reminding myself every day that I had to get out of Thailand and explore the world.

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I had a low-keyed childhood during which time I did not get to learn much about anything that was useful to kids at a young age to learn owing to my family’s lack of financial resources among other things (such as the fact that we’re members of a underprivileged class in the Thai society). This low-keyed childhood of mine may have been what made me both humbled about myself and what made me feel uneasy when I meet people who do not respect the opportunity that they have in life, as well as those who are opportunistic because they think they could be so. My father was the one who came up with our family’s Thai last name in order to get the family registered and to get himself to go to school since during the time he was growing up there’s a strong anti-Chinese sentiment everywhere. Despite our long need-no-introduction last name, it’s a made-up one. My father came up with it by looking up words he liked in a dictionary and put them together. Our last name, therefore, does not have a long history let along any prestige. It’s a clear marker, also for us, that we’re ordinary citizens.

My childhood was boring. It was, in fact, deadly boring. Every day I would read comic books (Japanese manga). Same old comic books. My parents tried to make it special but we couldn’t really do much, again, owing to our lack of resources, which mainly was the reason why I had become so emotional and vested in the development and maturity of my students. My students today have 100 times more opportunity than I had through both formal education and the globalizing world of education. We didn’t have the internet in the 80s-90s when I was growing up so things I got to learn were limited to things teachers wanted us to learn and were willing to share with the students. Students today are very lucky, and it’s always been my goal to make sure that they are not taking their opportunity to learn lightly. The reason for which has to do, always, with my own sense of responsibility: I will not let any students have the same experience I had when I was young. I will not let my students think that their lives are boring. I want them to see how amazing their lives are, and how great it is that they are learning something new every day.

Until I came to the United States, I didn’t get to learn English or any skills. I didn’t even speak a word of English less than a decade ago; thus, in most cases where I write, speak, or say more in English than I need to, one could be almost certain that which have to do with how I unconsciously replicate Thai sentence structures and syntax.

In my life, I have never won a single award in any competitions of any kinds. I wasn’t even an average student — I was a horrible student all the way from kindergarten to high school. There’s no one to tell me that I could do better. It seemed to be the case that most people around me (mainly my parents and family members) had accepted me for who I was: that I wasn’t going to be like any other kids who won awards and were bringing fame and reputation to the families to which they belonged. It’s a very normal childhood, about which I do not have a clear memory. The only thing I could remember was that I was never told that I could do anything. My parents were happy as long as I got myself out of trouble, which was exactly what I did throughout my childhood years. If I got into trouble, none of them would have the power to get me out of it, as we didn’t have any financial means, let alone connections with the privileged class — usually how people got themselves out of trouble. I stayed out of trouble. That’s my job.

Ok, here is the time for more aphorism!

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
  

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