I would seem that something like this is overdue, at least in writing. The past month and a half has been an interesting look into other lifestyles. I’m still only now beginning to identify and understand all the differences between our families. It’s strange coming to terms with such a sharp contrast, “Asian” and for all intents and purposes “American.” And even with those labels, it’s impossible to affix the adjective “typical” in front of them.
I suppose the first difference to be noticed is communication. Michelle’s family tends to be very vocal and open. When you walk into her house, all reservations should be abandoned. Things are always spirited and it’s impossible to just hide in a corner and avoid social interaction. I was quite surprised to see how casual and candid she was with her parents and sister. Nothing was too light or facetious to discuss. Take a 40 minute hop over to my abode, and things are almost sterile. Granted, this summer has been atypical in that I have work, but it’s the equivalent of me going to school and staying after for sports. When I come home, there’s not much conversation aside from, “oh, was work any less boring today?” There really isn’t much to discuss. I hide away in the computer room, my brother is either doing homework or in the living room reading or watching TV, and my mom attends to various household tasks (which, by this hour, is either gardening or prepping dinner). My dad doesn’t get home until around 7, sometimes 8. In such a lifestyle, it’s all too easy to forego dialogue.
I suppose now would be a good segue into parental values. While I can’t say much about Michelle’s household, it just seems they just emphasize an enjoyment of life. On the rare occasions my dad pulls me aside to have a personal chat, I’ll inevitably have to sit through a sales pitch for medicine as a career. He’s got decent points, but it’s somewhat removed from what I find to be a contemporary view of life. The overwhelming school of thought in this generation is the pursuit of what you enjoy, and what brings you happiness. The parental opinion of the yester-generation (especially Asian: Oriental and Indian) is that medicine is the ideal career because it will always be in demand and it pays well. It’s job security. I don’t know, that just seems… too formulaic a life, picking a career based solely on those principles of job security. I don’t have a problem with being a doctor, but I’m also not excited at the prospect, and there’s no point in pursuing something so distinguished if it’s only going to be done half-heartedly. And despite the numerous opinions of science and technology friends my dad has sought to scare me away from engineering, I still can’t really embrace his point of view without seeing it for myself. My mom’s a bit better, she seems to be more open to accepting where I go and what I do so long as I’m happy, though I know she sympathizes at least partly with my dad on this matter.
Well, after the topic of future work, the logical progression would be play. More specifically, entertainment. This is where the real difference, I think, shows. My family will inevitably schedule family trips, or various “social” activities. Take the upcoming Alaska trip for instance. Though it’s more my mom driving our travel agenda, it is nonetheless one of the more active activities we do. But other than that, “normal” things to get us out of the house are usually things like playing tennis, or getting dragged by my mom to Tai Chi (for you ignorant people with misguided notions about it, it’s like Yoga on crack except more like martial arts… ). By the way, it should be noted that although a vacation is family time, large chunks of it, like in the car or in the hotel room or gazing over grand vistas, will be spent in relative silence.
When I first glimpsed Michelle’s familial activities, I was admittedly dubious. 18 years in a pseudo-conservative Asian household had taught me that movies and sports were wastes of time. In fact, that was one of the cornerstones of my childhood. Disney aside, I had seen very few movies in my youth. In fact, I could count all the times I’d been to a movie theater on one hand. As for sporting events? Well, there was that 8th grade field trip where we stopped by to see the Orioles in Baltimore… But it wasn’t until I noticed the stark differences in our family that I started to see a less superficial and cynical picture. What they do as a family, and what my family would view as frivolous, is a major contributor to my second paragraph. “American entertainment” gives them (Michelle’s household) something to talk about and something to bring them together. My family only really gets together around the dinner table. And there’s no real interaction there, you don’t gain much insight into each other’s lives cause there’s no real commonality. I mean, sure, I could entice my dad into an exchange of banter by bringing up Atopic Dermatitis or Malpractice Insurance, but would I really do that? Screaming and yelling aside, sports, I’m coming to see, is a fairly valuable tool in unlocking casual conversation.
As for more material things, I can’t even begin to cover that topic. Food, for example, is a gaping paradigm. My mom spends about an hour in prep for food. And even if she did that early and efficiently, there’s no way to really mitigate cooking time, because there are just so many individual dishes to attend to, between meats and vegetables and combinations of the former. In comparison, at least what little I’ve seen, the majority of the culinary effort in Michelle’s house goes towards some sort of primary dish, and everything else is secondary. Not that there’s anything to bash about Chinese food (restaurant grade at least), but I kind of have to say that I like her way better. There’s almost something to look forward to instead of a cursory overview of the entire food pyramid on one table that we have here. And don’t even get me started on how my mom is a freak for organic…
I’m sure I could go on and on, but as I look down in the corner of the Microsoft Word window, I see myself nearing 1100 words. I think I’ll stop here. Do I really have too many regrets in my childhood? Nope. Can I fault my parents for anything? Probably not. I really couldn’t see myself anywhere else anyways, being a nerd is cool. But do I wish that somehow my family had fostered a more open and interactive atmosphere in the house? Absolutely.