During our annual family expedition to Chinatown to celebrate the lunar new year, a panhandler approached my father and asked for a dollar. Beleaguered and tired after a day of shopping, dodging tourists and trying to herd together all by brothers and sisters, my father braked my sister’s wheelchair and shifted the weight of my brother on his back to reach into his pocket. Pulling out a handful of spare change, he was stopped by the panhandler. "Keep it," said the homeless man with a glance at our tired bunch as we devoured a bag of greasy Chinese pastries, "You need it more than I do."
My family has always elicited the stares and nervous comments of those who do not see or understand the lessons which it has to offer. Although at various points in my childhood I have resented its responsibilities and challenges, as I have matured I have come to appreciate the education and experience I have received. Because of my family, I have learned how to be a leader. I have been inspired to overcome my shortcomings and appreciate and utilize the talents I posses. But most of all, I have been educated in the real world and forced from naiveté.
My brother Bunchai was born in Thailand the same year I was born in Stanford Hospital. While I was taken home to crooning grandparents and a nurturing family, Bunchai was abandoned and spent the first five years of his life in a hospital. Born without any fingers, a right foot, a complete jaw, or a tongue, he struggles with speech and other basic tasks. I first saw Bunchai’s picture in an adoption magazine, and one of the first images of him I remember is a home movie taken in the orphanage with him spinning a top with his stumps of hands. Even then, I was both struck with the similarities between us, two ten-year-olds from different worlds. When we were both twelve, Bunchai joined our family. This tiny Thai boy walked off the plane, bowed to his new parents, took the handles of my sister’s wheelchair and asked to go home. Though he and I have both changed greatly since then, the lessons taught by an orphan who had the courage to instantly embrace a group of complete strangers with a misspelled Thai sign remain between us.
I have always excelled in school, with little or no effort. My brother has always struggled, despite any amount of effort. I had always taken for granted the ability to throw a baseball, run a mile or shoot a free throw. For Bunchai these have been challenges faced and met, struggles just to be "normal." For me to be satisfied with adequacy seems ludicrous when I share a bedroom every night with someone who never shirks from any opportunity to achieve. Some look to world class athletes or leader with natural ability for inspiration, but heroes are those who do more with less.
In my immaturity, I sometimes resented the attention my family brought, but my embarrassment was immeasurable compared to the pain heaped upon my brother by ignorance. I have been given the ability to look through my own petty problems and see that in comparison, I am well off. So while saving me from naiveté, Bunchai and my other siblings have also help me escape self-centeredness, arrogance and selfishness. As I apply to the top universities in the nation, I am once again reminded that my best education has been the lives of my family that I have shared.