This week I read A Suitcase Full of Seaweed by Janet Wong. Her poems show how her life is such a mix of cultures—Korean from her mother, Chinese from her father, American from herself. Even though I’m not Korean or Chinese, Wong’s poems were me. They were my story of feeling like I belonged to many cultures. I am very much American, but I cannot ignore where I’ve been and how those cultures are so much a part of me.
I read this collection of poems that illustrates so well how one person can feel like they are a part of so many cultures, feeling connected, but yet not truly 100% a part of any one particular culture. I am American, but I was raised overseas in Thailand and also went to boarding school in Malaysia. My best friends were Americans who grew up in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Nepal, Hong Kong. I also had friends who were Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, South American, Swedish, British, and Australian who were also growing up out of their “native” culture and living in Thailand and Malaysia. We all shared one thing—we were TCKs (third culture kids). We had a “passport” country, but we didn’t necessarily feel a part of that culture—at least not totally. And we had a country that we lived in, but we weren’t FROM there, so we felt a part of it—but not totally.
My favorite poem in this collection is "A Suitcase Full of Seaweed." It talks about how her grandmother carried seaweed to America. This is also the story of my life. While I've never carried seaweed to America in my suitcase, I have been known to carry just about everything else from Thailand to America--favorite pens, journals, packaged food, spices, cookware. There are some things you just have to bring back!
I met yesterday with a high school friend. She grew up in Indonesia, carries an American passport, but has lived in Africa for the last several years. We were roommates in a boarding school in Malaysia. We have lived so much in the last 14 years since we graduated, and although a long time as passed, we are still very much bonded by those shared experiences. Here is my poem I wrote after visiting with my friend, inspired by Janet Wong.
I sit with an old friend
fused together by Asian memories
Flung into lives
Rebonding over rice
the food of our lives
raising rice babies
in a french fry nation
connected like a web
like years have never passed