I grew up on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand. Home was an airy house next to a fishpond and a big garden, with rice fields, where water buffalo wallowed in mudholes, on the other side of the palm trees. I liked the usual things - eating roasted coconuts and fried bananas, chasing catfish in the grass in the rain.
Although I write in English, my first language was
Chinese. Because my parents are from China they praised me, scolded me, told me long bedtime stories and recited poetry to me all in Chinese. No wonder then, that I think of Chinese as the language of my heart. As I grew older, I absorbed Thai from interacting with people in the busy streets and marketplaces and temple fairs of Bangkok. Thai for me is a functional language and I think of it as the language of my hands. Only much later did I learn English from strict teachers in school, and so I think of English as the language of my head.
I started to write only after I left home, as a way to conjure up Thailand for myself, to combat homesickness while studying at Cornell University.
There was a greenhouse on the campus with a single potted banana tree in it. During my first winter I used to sit near that tree and imagine that I was home. Soon, however, I realized that words could evoke images of home even more effectively than the banana tree and I began to write down notes about the things I missed. My first book, "Sing to the Dawn" (1975), grew naturally out of those notes.
I enjoy giving school presentations and can be reached at: Minfong@gmail.com