… My mother grew up privileged, compared to some of her schoolmates in Lampang, the capital city of Lampang Province in Northwestern Thailand, which is situated just under 60 miles southeast of Chiang Mai, far from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok and the picture-perfect beaches of Phuket. Her father — my late grandfather — owned a logging company there, which meant that he and my grandmother and their 11 children could comfortably afford a large family home, several cooks, a maid, and a butler. At bedtime when I was a child, she used to tell me stories about how she’d gather in the kitchen with the cooks at dinner time to watch them stir large pots of bubbling soups and woks with steaming noodles — how she’d had more pets than she could recall, including several large birds, dogs, and a monkey at one point.
It would have been easy enough for the family to pass on some sense of wealthy entitlement to their children, but strangely enough, my grandparents did just the opposite: On nights when new workers had no place to go and little to eat, my grandfather would invite them back to the family home for a hot meal of rice, curried chicken, and fresh fruit. After their bellies were full, he’d offer them a place to stay and let them live there until they were back on their feet financially, which never took long. My mother watched this and learned from it.
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… My mother likes to brag that she was her father’s favorite, that he used to call her his “little Wan” and tell people that she would grow up to become a doctor, married to another doctor. She only ever broke his heart once: the day she told my grandparents she was leaving them to finish school in America.
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Image: Melanie Schmitz