There’s something about banana trees here in SE Asia that I really love. They reminded me of my childhood in rural China back in the days before all the tall buildings started rising. On my way from Chiangmai to the border of Laos today, we passed by many many banana trees and many many rice fields. They reminded me home where people worked so hard and lived such a simple yet happy life. As our minibus drove through village after village, I experienced a déjà vu of my past.
A few months ago my company hired a photography company to take self portraits of us with a message that represents ourselves written on our arms or other upper body parts. The idea was intriguing but difficult. What message represents you and your life? It took me several tries to come up with different messages but they all fell short of representing me and my value. As the facilitator continued to probe questions of our past to understand what represents us, I suddenly remember the small village where I call home. It was then I decided my message to be “I’m still that village girl.”
I spent the first 12 years of my life growing up in a very small village in China with about one thousand people. Life was so simple back then. What I did most of the time was climbing trees, running around, sucking flower juice from stems, poking beehives and chasing pigs and dogs. Everyone in the village knew each other and somehow they always knew where I was when my great grandfather walked around the village with a beating stick to try to get me home. I never meant to be a rebellious one but I’ve always wanted to do something different and go somewhere different where my family couldn’t get a hold of me. I hid, I jumped, and I ran. I hid between banana trees, I jumped around fences and I ran into rice fields with my bare feet. I wanted to run so far and run so fast, not to run away from home but to run to show my family, “Look, you can’t find me.”
Growing up, I was very spoiled. I was spoiled partially because I can always get away with things because of my good grades. I think that allowed me to venture out to do things quite different than most kids growing up in the village. Skipping over the next 15 years, I found myself living in a city called Atlanta with a culture completely different than the village where I grew up in. I love Atlanta and I love everything about that city, but I always remember a place called home where I can run freely.
It’s been four years since I last visited home. In the US where I live, there are no banana trees and there are no rice fields. Last time when I went home to China, I saw so many new buildings and new houses rising from the ground in my village. I was happy for the people getting a richer lifestyle, yet I was sad to see that the banana trees that accompanied my childhood were nowhere to be found. The vast landscape of rice fields from the past is now replaced by paved roads and highway bridges. The village I once grew up in was no longer the same. Wealth has replaced the authenticity of the village lifestyle.
As I was crossing through the village roads from northern Thailand to northern Laos today, I stared out of the window for the longest time and refused to fall asleep. I value so much of what I’m seeing here in SE Asia and I’m afraid they will be gone soon one day as commercial development takes over this place. Just like the village where I come from, it’s no longer the same as it used to be. I guess that’s the way life is. You gain some and you lose some. But no matter what happens one day, I hope my heart will continue to stay true to its core value and stay loyal to the the village I come from.
One day, if you come visit SE Asia, I hope you can also pay attention to the banana trees and remember what they look like. Remember all the simple things that represent you and your value and go search for them no matter where you are in life.