I watched season two of Chef’s Table where Achatz was struggling with his loss of taste during his fight against oral cancer. He was paralysed with what every chef fear the most -losing his ability to taste food. It challenged him to think that if he can not taste, can he still be a chef?
From the first moment we were born, there are already so many things the world expected of us. I was expected to be a boy but I wasn’t.
I was brought up in a traditional Asian family, tucked away in the thick rainforest of Borneo Island. The first thing I learned was my father is the head of the family and his words are life itself. That man has a purpose to provide food on the table while woman, in their own grace, nurse not only children but the whole artistry of home-making. Being the yet-another-girl after two elder sisters were never my choice. Neither my parents’. Somehow, we, as human are able to change and adapt into whatever circumstances we were given and that exactly what happened.
The house we called home sheltered both of my parents, three of their daughters, five young cousins, two helpers, seven chickens, five chicks, at least twenty birds and two beautiful baby foxes. From early on, I was expected to be respectful of the elderly of which I felt rather effortless. Respecting my eldest sister, on contrary, choked the willingness to live within me. The more she lusts the power to minute my curiosity, the more I resented her. Somehow, always, my father reminded me that the younger needs to give in -even if they are not necessarily wrong.
At five, I ran, read, articulate better and faster than any boys my age. If there is a fight, I will be the winner. If there is a competition, I am the champion. My father even said having me was better than having a son. Until of course, my brother arrived. And suddenly, my little world where I was allowed to build my own rules, was taken away from me. I was expected to be silent when that thing was sleeping, expected to share my last favourite cookie when he doesn’t even know what cookie means and worse still, to show him kindness when all I wanted to do is to devour him with my wrath.
Somehow, again, my father reminded me that the elder needs to give in -even if they are not necessarily wrong. And that has nothing to do with me, being a girl.
Fast forward twenty years later, I did become what my father and the world expected of me. I pulled up all nighters to achieve the best grades, secured a good job, got married before thirty and become a strong independent woman whose voice is present but submissive to men and authority figures. I was happy to certain extend that I achieved what I did within means which our society called ‘normal’.
I was content. Really content. Until the questions begun to pour in.
So what is next? When are you going to progress in your career ladder? You’re going to buy a house soon, right? When are you having babies? When will you settle down? Why there, not here? Aren’t you going to look after your parents? Don’t you have plans for your retirement? Bare in mind, those are not bad questions and I am not here to question the intentions of those who asked. It just bothered my curiosity that those questions were asked in the similar manner, again and again, for the last centuries.
Back to Chef Achatz -is he still a chef if he can not taste? Of course he is! A chef is not defined by how well can one tastes but the experience he is able to deliver by expressing taste visually and emotionally. An artist can be blind but still able to move audience with their interpretation of colors. A musician can be deaf but still able to produce sounds that awaken your childhood memories. All of these might not be common but enough to challenge us to grow outside our comfortable, cosy perception of what is ‘normal’.
Most of the times, we felt pressured to meet the expectations of what others have set on us. Some of these expectations propel us to push ourselves further but mainly, it is motivated by the consideration to make other people happy. If their desire is parallel to what you wanted to achieve for yourself, that is great. If not, do not guilt-trip yourself to ever think you are selfish.
Because a selfish person is someone who strays away from her own happiness and manipulate others’ to be hers. A selfish person is someone who cried at night because she didn’t get the job the world wanted her to have but along the way, she lost her true self that the world falls in love with in the first place.
It is okay to be ‘normal’. And it is equally okay, to be not either.