A photograph of my mom not too long after she moved to the Kansas City area from Thailand. After my dad completed his tour of duty in the Army, the newlyweds moved to the States and lived in the basement of his parent’s house until they got established. I don’t remember the dog, most likely a beagle. In fact, I am not sure if I was even born at the time of the photograph. I love my mom’s smile. She looks so happy in this moment.
Even though this image is in black-and-white, it’s apparent that the couch is an eyesore. The checkerboard tile and wood paneling are further clues to the mid-late Sixties era. I still have the scroll, originally from Japan, that hangs behind the couch. That conical hat is an actual hat that rice farmers would wear while working in the paddies to fend off the intense heat. For years, we had two of them on display in the house where I grew up. They have since been battered and lost, but I think of them as a symbol of my origins. From the beginning, my surroundings contained elements of East and West.
The resemblance between my mother and her mother (below, far right), who still lives in a village roughly 75 kilometers away from Bangkok, Thailand, is undeniable. I see the similar curve of their face, the slope of their shoulders, the strong arms, the dark eyes creased above wide cheekbones, the connection from mother to daughter embedded in genes no matter how distant the separation. They exist on opposite sides of the world, literally day and night apart with twelve time zones between them.
The photo appearing below was taken during my first trip to Thailand as a young boy. Sitting next to a Buddhist monk and golden statuary, I am hardly the focal point in this dramatic setting. I wish I could remember what went through my mind at that moment. This room lies within a Buddhist temple more than 700 years-old located less than a mile from my grandmother’s home. I have visited the temple several times as an adult, seen how it has grown and changed, endured the passage of time and continued to serve the community. Hopefully, that temple will outlast me, my mother, and my grandmother for centuries to come.
It is because of my mother (and yes, my father and his parents) and her mother that I have this origin story, this physical connection to both a Buddhist temple in rural Thailand and a modest basement in a Midwestern house, to gauzy memories and modern images that resonate with meaning across time zones, generations, and tabulations on calendars. A part of the East always remains with me, within me, and perhaps, I have left some imprint of myself and the West on people and a place so near and so far away.