“I had to travel halfway around the world and into a primitive culture to discover who I was.
Under the auspices of Marine Fisheries Development in Madang, Papua New Guinea, I emerged from the whirlwind experience solidified as to my place as an American and citizen of the world.
Being an American of Chinese ancestry (3rd Generation), I was constantly searching for my place in society. College only magnified my wanderlust, and, upon graduation, I already had plane tickets to a Peace Corps Service in the South Pacific.
There, I met the kindest people and most breathtaking scenery. We built boats and caught fish together, but the more important lessons were going on in the margins. Although I was the “Answer Man,” I ended with more questions, like:
Is it wise to teach a subsistence culture a cash economy?
Did building a boat for one village upset the delicate harmony among previously warring tribes?
Do I intervene in a situation that, in America, but not here, would be considered child abuse?
Is our increased fishing pressure sustainable?
In a growing cash economy, who will mitigate the social growing pains of theft, rape and unemployment?
In spite of the ambiguity at work, the Peace Corp’s goal of creating understanding was an absolute success. From the American GI’s that stormed their shores in WWII, they figured all Americans are either white or black. I had some explaining to do. I learned that, even in a primitive island village, we are pretty much alike in dreams and aspirations, good and evil. Their version of Hatfield and McCoy mentality has created a nation of only three million people speaking over 700 distinct languages.”
–Lyle John Young, Papua New Guinea, 1981-85
I’m proud of you, Pops. One of the biggest reasons why I’ve decided to join the Peace Corps is because the greatest man I’ve ever known constantly talks about the time he accidentally used a stinging nettle plant as toilet paper to horrifically comedic results when he was living in the jungle halfway across the world, and how this experience changed his life. (His Peace Corps service, not the stinging nettle, duh.)