While I was studying back home in Thailand, my morning routine was taking a driving lesson taught by my grandpa. I would drive through the streets of suburban Bangkok, surrounded by electrical poles holding up black cables that tangle more viciously than your previous romantic situation. Bangkok is crazy and problematic, but it is my home.
My grandpa is quiet, calm and full of smiles. My grandma is the complete opposite: fiery and extremely meticulous. She gets angry easily, but the storm passes fast. I’ve always wondered how they ended up together.
My grandpa used to take a two-hour boat ride from Bangkok every single weekend to a rural province of Thailand where my grandma lived. He did not own a car, and many roads outside of Bangkok were—and still are—rugged and unfinished. So, my grandpa would hop on the packed, open-air wooden boat and embark on the murky river, where plastic cups floated among strands of water hyacinth. Who knows how deep that water was? My grandpa did not know how to swim, but every Sunday, he would show up on the moldy dock at my grandma’s house.
Our morning driving lessons are the only time when my grandpa gets interestingly talkative. “You should come live with your grandma for a day,” he said, half laughing. He just got scolded by her this morning, or I should say every day, for not sweeping the front of the house properly. “How do you remain so calm with all the daily fireballs from Grandma?” I asked him.
“Because, once upon a time, when our family had nothing, your grandma was there. She stuck with me. She brought good things into my life,” he said.
I thought that the old-school romantic love of my grandparents was beautiful. They have so much commitment to their loved ones. They are probably more willing to put up with each other’s flaws than our generation would be willing to for their partners.
My grandpa chuckled as we ended our love life discussion, “I’ve made my bed, so now I must lie in it, you know?”
This is also what my grandpa tells my mom whenever she complains about her married life. My mom and dad’s relationship is not quite a happy one.
“You’ve made your bed, so now you must lie in it.”
This time, it sounds to me like he’s telling my mom to suck it up.
Have you heard of Karma before?
Thailand’s culture, at least up until my parent’s time, is rooted in Buddhism. The Buddhism I know teaches people to believe in Karma, which means you will get treated based on how you’ve treated other people. If you are suffering now, you must have treated people badly in your past lives. So, what can you do if you’re stuck in a shitty relationship? Oh well, it’s Karma. Suck it up.
Sometimes, though, I wondered why my family won’t make a choice for themselves, one that is not bound by Karma nor the older generation’s image of love that dictates, not empathizes. I wish that my mom had a choice. I wish that my dad had a choice. I want love for the sake of love, not for the test of culture, religion or social recognition. Love should not come with Thailand’s arbitrary emphasis on keeping the family intact, no matter the cost.
Sitting in my room at Bowdoin on a sunny day, I miss driving with my grandpa and teasing my grandma to subdue her temper. I miss the nighttime conversation with my mom when she figured out my secret crush and listened to the tea I needed to spill somewhere. I miss sitting on the back of my dad’s motorcycle as we breeze through Chinatown, laughing among the delicious smell of street food. I even miss our family dinner, when the three of us sit in awkward silences and years of bottled-up irritation. I miss my tight-knit family environment. My homeland is founded upon the philosophy of harmony, always making peace with what’s around us.
But when I look at Brunswick, Maine, with kids from all over the world doing their own thing, I could smell freedom. Sometimes, I get jealous of the United States because it is a country founded upon freedom. The freedom of rights. The freedom of speech. The freedom to be who you are.
For once, I want my family to try ignoring the mandated harmony in our country. I hope they remember that “Thailand” also means the land of the free. I hope my beloved people from home will soon grasp the freedom to choose their happiness, in love and in this life.
Film Bussabun is a member of the Class of 2023.