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A Chicken, a Child  and a Path Toward  Deeper Understanding

Articles

A Chicken, a Child and a Path Toward Deeper Understanding

Shannon O’Donnell

During the first days I spent in Laos, every moment assaulted my senses. I marveled at the vendors hawking their wares and goggled at skewers of mysterious street eats. Each new experience highlighted the differences and unknowns of this new culture.

Luang Prabang night market.

Luang Prabang night market.

Local hill tribe women selling their fresh food produce at the local market in Luang Prabang, Laos. 

Local hill tribe women selling their fresh food produce at the local market in Luang Prabang, Laos. 

One day I found myself traveling to a rural hilltown in the north. Our shared tuk-tuk, a converted pickup truck with seats in the bed, careened to a stop just past a young mother. A cloud of red dust settled around the truck. The men made quick work of storing her bags. Within moments all that was left was the woman, a toddler playing at her feet, and a large chicken wrapped in her arms. The mother glanced at the remaining vacant seat, then raised her eyebrows at me. The question was clear: chicken or child? Baffled but compliant, I hauled the toddler onto my lap. The mother wedged herself next to me as the truck continued its ascent.

After weeks of assimilating to the new culture and noticing each strange moment, I looked into that baby’s eyes, and for the first time, I was no longer struck by our many differences. The mother patted, tended, and cooed to the little girl in my lap — I could have been anywhere in the world and witnessed this same loving care from a doting mother. For the first time in weeks, I saw beyond that which separates Laotian culture from my own. I began to notice our commonalities.

 

My travels in Laos allowed me to make a connection with a mother and son in New York that I otherwise would have missed out on. One interaction on a subway jolted from the memory vaults those wonderful little moments I collected in Asia.

Subway train in New York before sunset.

Subway train in New York before sunset.

I continued travelling via shared taxi through dusty, forgotten villages. I adjusted to the pace of life and learned to read the cues. With alacrity, I opened my lap to sacks of veggies, trays of eggs, and even the random stray chicken. My slow pace of travel guaranteed that with each heartbeat, I brushed against both new and familiar customs. Once I left Laos, I journeyed through India, Europe, and Central America. And in each place, I learned more about what it means to be a global citizen.

Years later, my travels brought me to New York City. On the subway, a little boy with winking dimples played peek-a-boo from behind his mother’s legs. I chuckled at his contagious grin and struck up a conversation with his mom. Catching the hint of an accent, I asked her where she was from. With breezy dismissal she said, “Oh. Laos, it’s a small country in Asia.” I smiled and told her I dreamed of the delicious taste of jeow mak keua, a spicy Laotian eggplant dip. Startled by my admission, she grabbed an old receipt and scrawled the name of a local Laotian restaurant. The subway jostled to a stop. Grabbing her son, she shoved the note into my hand and exclaimed, “Try this, it’ll be the best dip you’ve had outside of Laos!” In a flash, she was gone. But wisps of memories floated around me.

A typical local bus in Laos.

A typical local bus in Laos.

Luang Prabang night market.

Luang Prabang night market.

My travels in Laos allowed me to make a connection with a mother and son in New York that I otherwise would have missed out on. One interaction on a subway jolted from the memory vaults those wonderful little moments I collected in Asia, and led me to “the best dip outside of Laos.” It’s these simple acts and little moments in our daily lives that allow us to foster deeper understanding, curiosity, and empathy for each other.

Through my intertwining experiences, I began to see a deeply connected life that celebrates and honours each culture for its contribution to our fascinating world. With this perspective, I start to shape and change the very fabric of my life, and how I view my own role in the world. Every encounter with a new friend, culture, or tradition affords us the opportunity to look for shades of similarities, learn from each other, and take a step further towards a more interconnected world.

Photo credit clockwise from top right: Gail Palethorpe / Shutterstock.com; William Perugini / Shutterstock.com; AsiaTravel / Shutterstock.com; Chokniti Khongchum / Shutterstock.com