I was watching Ramen Girl the other day and something strikes me about the movie. It wasn’t just a romantic story where boy meets girl in a foreign country, they fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s a movie about breaking away from family expectations and finding your own path in life.
Brittany Murphy plays the character of a lost (by lost, I mean uncertain about what she wants in life) American girl, who while in search of her love, ends up in Tokyo. She loses her love but instead finds a purpose in life. For the first time, she realises what she wants to do and that is to be a ramen chef.
Defying her family expectation of her in becoming a lawyer, she studies under the tutelage of someone who appears as a mean and tyrannical Japanese ramen chef in a small but popular ramen restaurant. During this time, she learns and adopts what is considered as the epitome of Japanese culture; responsibility, discipline and commitment towards achieving one’s goal.
Inevitably, like many other movies, she finds love with a local guy, whom unlike her, sacrifices his dream of becoming a musician by working as a corporate executive in order to fulfil his family’s wishes. So, the movie is basically about how the two individuals from such diverse cultures learn from each other; her by learning responsibility and him by pursuing his dream.
The movie’s theme reminded me about how I used to think (sometimes I still do) that my whole life is about fulfilling my family’s expectation. Sometimes I feel guilty for breaking away from the tradition my Father started by building his own business and then expecting my brother and I to take over from him. There is a huge dilemma of wanting to do something for myself and yet feeling remorseful for disappointing my Father since I owe him so much.
Thankfully, albeit being disappointed, my Father only wishes for our happiness. As long as we’re able to lead an honest and respectful life, we’re given the blessing to do whatever we wish for. Unfortunately, not all children are bestowed with understanding parents.
Many years back, I met a girl who was nice and kind in my A-Levels class. She was the kind of girl who would never harm another person. She was sweet, soft-spoken, polite and warm. We knew each other for about a year and then one day, she stopped coming to class. I found out later that she had committed suicide. Words had it that she aspired to be a dancer but due to family pressure, she was forced to study medicine. She must had been very unhappy and yet nobody knew or suspected anything until she met her death in her own hands. If the rumours were true, I wonder how her parents must had felt, knowing that they were partly responsible for their daughter’s death.
In university, I met many interesting, intelligent and nice Malaysian students. Since we were studying abroad, we all felt a special kind of bond and solidarity towards each other. We would sometimes hangout together, share a Malaysian meal or participate in cultural events.
Naturally, being away from home, we were free to be ourselves. We were allowed to dress however we like, do whatever we want and fall in love with whomever we believed we could be happy with. We were living unadulterated lives and sure enough, we made mistakes, we got hurt and so, we paid for our actions. Above all, we learned to grow up through trial and error and making our own decisions.
A few years after I graduated, many things have changed. Some of us have taken up completely different styles of dressing while others have settled down with life partners who possess completely different characters and personalities from their exes. It was almost as if the people I used to know have reverted back to a generic or mainstream lifestyle.
I hope that what I said doesn’t come across as me being judgmental. After all, being a student is far from being a working adult with different sets of responsibilities and priorities. However, I do question whether people change because they want to or merely because they are conforming to family and society’s expectations.
Do we choose a specific profession because that’s what our families would be proud of? Do we choose our life partners because they fit the profile of who our families would be happy with? Do we express ourselves in the way our family and society would be comfortable with? It would seem that we often do.
Many people have condemned how doctors seem to play God by determining the life and death of a person. However, less people have questioned whether parents are doing the same thing. I believe that I understand what it means to make our families proud and happy simply because we owe them our lives. It took me years to break away from the guilt of not fulfilling their wishes because at the end of the day, we don’t choose to be borne. They chose to give birth to us and decided on their own paths but it doesn’t mean they have a right to expect us to live the life they want. If they were to determine what road we should take and who we should become, isn’t that playing God or perhaps worse because God allows us to have freewill.
However, I do have a disclaimer for this. While I am a strong proponent of freewill, I believe that we do owe our parents a lot for bringing us up and we should never forget this. We can show our gratitude by respecting them, attending to their needs and be grateful for what they have sacrificed for us. Their happiness means a lot to us but at the same time, it should be reciprocal.