The Columbus Asian Festival

I just call it “the festival.”  Kind of how I just call Chinese food, “food.”  Get it?  That was an Asian joke.  Anyway…

It has been about 8 years since I was last at the Columbus Asian Festival, hosted at the Franklin Park Conservatory, this past Memorial Day weekend.  When I went 8 years ago, I was not impressed.  The food choices were limited (I think Panda Express actually had a booth there…), it was severely underprogrammed and the marketplace was full of cheap tchotchkes.  Attendance was decent, however, so that was a good thing.

Since I needed a study break, and my friends were heading down there, I decided to give the festival another shot.  A lot had changed in 8 years, in some ways.

The food vendors have multiplied threefold and there are some fantastic, authentic dining choices. Cuisines that range from Filipino to Thai and of course Japanese, Indian and Chinese are all there and the food quality has dramatically improved.  There are bubble tea vendors as well as Asian ice vendors that use incredibly authentic ingredients like grass jelly that most people outside of Asia have probably never seen or heard of.  I personally had a meal from Erawan Thai consisting of chicken skewers marinated in ginger and just a touch of spice, an egg roll and a delicious Thai iced tea.  My friends dined at the Filipino vendor as well as the Pan-Asian vegetarian restaurant.

Not much else has changed.  The festival is still severely underprogrammed.  There is usually a performance or demonstration happening on the main stage at the amphitheater and then another on one of the smaller stages.  But the events are short and not the main draw of the festival.  The marketplace is still full of dime store tchotkes that one could pick up for about $.50 in Asia, but they charge about $20 here.

Attendance, however, is something that has changed.  It has dramatically increased.  One of the things that I loved seeing was that there were plenty of interracial couples, something that wasn’t seen as often 8 years ago.

This is not an entirely scathing review of the festival, however.  It is a great event and brings Asian culture to the Columbus, OH population that may not otherwise have the chance to be exposed to it. I recommend that everyone go, but I would not have your hopes too high when you do so.

Me and my Filipina friend Audrey
A performance of a traditional Filipino dance
The Marketplace at the Columbus Asian Festival
The food vendors at the Columbus Asian Festival

A Whole New World

During my military career, I was afforded many opportunities to travel abroad to several foreign countries.  My most memorable overseas trip was traveling to Germany.  At the time I was 19 years old,  fresh out of basic training and ready to see every inch of this planet as I could.  So, as luck may have it, I got the opportunity to do a 3 week stint in Germany.  I was ecstatic!  It was my first “official” overseas trip and I couldn’t wait to see all that Germany had to offer.

Now, I must remind you, fellow readers, I was 19.  I guess I could’ve been excited about the fact that I would be walking around the famous Nuremberg City Walls, touring St. Peter’s Church Cathedral in Munich or even renting a sports car and going bananas on the Autobahn for a while.  But what really excited me was the fact that I was able to, shall we say, “sample”  all the fine German beer I wanted to…legally.  I’m not sure I would classify this as a “dream come true”, but in my little world at the time, I thought it to be quite an accomplishment.  So, I lined my pockets with Deutsche Marks (that was the currency type at the time) and made sure that while I was touring Germany I hit every local pub I could, making the most of my so-called 3 weeks of  legality.

The most interesting part of my Germany trip was being able to interact with an entirely different culture.  Up to that point, I spent my entire life growing up on the rolling plains of South Dakota.  I had never been outside of the USA, let alone in a foreign country were I now was considered the minority.  I had a blast sitting down at local restaurants in various German cities ordering food I have never eaten before.  The German locals were very accommodating and did their best to interact with the “American Tourist”.  At times, I almost felt they were more excited to interact with me than I was them.  The locals would always try to practice their English with me – which is what I found hilariously interesting.  The most eager participants were the  local pub owners.  They were always trying to learn the simple English phrases and, at any opportunity, learn our trendy “slang”.  If my memory serves me correctly, I think it at the time it was trendy (at least in Germany) to say Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” or something ridiculous like that.  I was astonished to find out that they were big on American TV programs and they all loved MTV and Hollywood.  All in all, I had a great time connecting with someone half a world apart that I barely knew anything about.

This experience taught me at an early age how important it is to connect with other people form different cultures, countries, ethnicity groups and backgrounds.  I learned how much we as human beings all have in common, no matter where we come from or what geographical distances separate us.

FAST FORWARD……After a late night of statistics class, some of the MLHR class decided to journey across the street to the Varsity Club (VC)  for a time of “socializing”.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to connect with my classmates and also it would give us all a chance to wind down after 4 hours of classroom fun.  While at the VC, I got a chance to interact with a lot of our international classmates.  I had such a great time talking with them and learning about their first experiences in the US.  Listening to all of them say they like it in the US and how friendly everyone has been to them was very rewarding.  Sitting in that booth on Thursday night reminded me a lot of my first time in a foreign country.  Thinking back, I am so glad that people I didn’t know very well (ha, that being local pub owners) took the time to make me feel welcome in their home country and took a genuine interest in me even though I was just passing through for 3 weeks.

I am glad I got an opportunity to meet our international classmates.  It was fun laughing and letting them share their thoughts, feelings and experiences so far at Ohio State University.   I am sure it, as it was for me, a whole new eye-opening experience which, at times, can seem overwhelming.  I am glad as an MLHR class we have made our international students feel welcome and a part of the Fisher College of Business academic family.  I challenge everyone to get to know their fellow international classmates.  Trust me, you’ll have a lot more in common with them than you think…and you’ll have a lot of fun as well.