Tell It To Me Tuesday – Origins

Author’s Note: Sorry TITMT is up so late today! I’ve just been swamped with personal and family business to take care of, so I guess it might transition a little into Tell It To Me Wednesday this week.

It strikes me that time really does move in cycles, that what you give out comes back to you, what you once took you eventually must return.

Last Saturday, I went out to drinks with my older brother and some good friends, and during the course of the evening, my friend asked my brother what it was like for him moving to the U.S. when he was just eleven years old. He talked about how hard life was in Mississippi at the time because he was a tiny little, dark-skinned Asian boy in a land full of racist white boys who picked on him and his sister every day. And almost every day he would get into fights and nearly get expelled for trying to stand up for himself or his sister. But, he said, when I came along, life changed. He and our sister could not wait to get home to see me and revel in this new person in their lives. They fed me, bathed me, clothed me, and played with me. Protected me.

Things got better when we moved to California too, and my brother proclaimed he would pay any price to stay here. And as I grew up, I felt that love every day, even though my siblings aren’t the type to say “I love you” directly.

And now we are older and my brother is in trouble, and this time it is he who came to me for help. This time, I was the one protecting him. I also went to visit my sister today, and then found myself giving her advice. This time, I was the one guiding her.

It makes me feel whole, now that I can finally give back what once was given to me. Isn’t it funny, how taking makes you feel like there is a piece of you that has gone missing, a place that is empty, but giving fills you up? In balance, of course. Only giving will drain you too, eventually.

My mother has long played the role of matriarch in our family. She is the one to whom everyone turns. She is the center, the teacher, the judge, the advocate, and the comfort. I sense that one day, I may be asked to be the one to fill her shoes. This is my training. Going to Thailand and living there for a time will also give me tools.

In Thai culture, there is very definite and clear class system. Not only in society, but also within the family. A hierarchy that is not challenged, but is always respected. So equality in some ways is a foreign concept. However, there is also a strong expectation that pu yai (the big person) will take care of pu noi (the little person). For example, if a group goes out to a business lunch, the person of the highest status will always foot the bill. No one else would dare offer to pay because that is not seen as politeness, but rather a challenge to the other person’s authority. Elders take care of the younger. And when the elders cannot take care of themselves, the younger eventually become the family elders and reciprocate. In some ways, elders begin to return to childhood as age sometimes strips them of their faculties.

And so the cycle goes.

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2 thoughts on “Tell It To Me Tuesday – Origins

  1. So I have to ask you. Does "noi" mean little? Because friends of my parents (who I spent 4 years of my life growing up with their kids) she was from Thailand and he name is Noi. Not sure if that was her given name, but that is the name everyone calls her. And there is such a cultural difference between what you describe and what I grew up with. My brother was not protective of me at all. If he didn't have to acknowledge me, he didn't. That sounds horrible, but I came to terms w/the status of our relationship a long time ago. And I see it with my own kids – the oldest wanting to not protect but if anything pull away from the littles unless it suits her. I feel I have trouble emulating that protective quality between siblings because I never experienced it. Maybe in time…

  2. Yes, "noi" means little. Thai people generally have really long complicated formal names, but then they have short nicknames like "Little" and "Piggy" and "Chickie". Honestly, I never felt particularly close to my brother when we were growing up because he was so much older. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, he had moved out of the house. And all I really remember was him pinching me and calling me a spoiled little brat. But then as I got older I started to understand how he communicates and how the Asian side of my family really communicates. I was always really close to my dad and we would talk a lot and tell each other we love each other. It was only when I was older that I began to perceive and appreciate how deep the love was amongst my Asian relatives because they don't just come out and say it (although it was more clear with my sister, but she had moved out too so I didn't see her much). It reveals itself in subtler ways. In a million little moments instead of grand gestures. To express it bluntly would almost embarrass them (my sister especially), like an indiscretion, or overly generous flattery.

    Adolescence is a hard and confusing time. You don't know what's going on, but all you want to do is assert your independence and as confused as you are, you're pretty sure you got it figured out better than anyone else. I'm sure she'll grow out of that in time, especially if they have a good relationship otherwise. All I know is my mom told me that family is more important than anything. Like it or not, they'll be there no matter what. And they'll be there when nobody else is. She has only said that a couple of times, but it stuck with me. And it's true. Friends may come and go. But sisters? You may fight 'til the end of time, but even after all the fighting is done, you're still sisters. There's no erasing that. (Much as you might want to sometimes…!)