Shaun Tamprateep grew up in Fenton, playing in the woods with a gang of neighborhood boys and sometimes landing at a friend’s house for dinner.
He noticed other families ate more hamburgers and fewer spicy dishes. But he didn’t pay much attention to the differences in his home — until he was almost a teenager.
“I’d look in the mirror and I’d kind of surprise myself because I’d say, ‘Who is this guy?’” Tamprateep said. “My outlook was more from a white perspective because that’s who I saw around me.”
Tamprateep’s father is from Thailand, something his family didn’t talk about much. But by the time Tamprateep was a young adult, his father had moved back there and asked his son to come for a while.
“When I got off the plane, it was like stepping inside another world,” Tamprateep said.
He stayed in Thailand for five years, a period that transformed his life and gave him a deeper understanding of other people. Now back in Fenton, Tamprateep wants to continue to broaden his world without leaving town. He asked our Curious Louis:
“I feel that we need an opportunity to narrow the cultural gap by promoting community, understanding, and cultural diversity to the mainstream,” he said.
Leaving St. Louis, returning with fresh eyes
While living and going to college in Bangkok and Nonthaburi, Thailand, Tamprateep had the opportunity to work on the on the island of Ko-Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. A study-abroad semester took him to Kalmar, Sweden.
He returned to St. Louis with new awareness of the city's many different cultures, taking a particular interest the city’s Bosnian community, the largest population of Bosnians outside of Europe.
“I feel that we need to understand and sympathize with the real life experiences of the Bosnians,” Tamprateep said. “Many of us haven't been through the devastation of our homes being destroyed and our families ripped apart.”
Tamprateep wasn’t sure where to start. He couldn’t find any official Bosnian celebrations similar to St. Louis’ Hispanic Festival. So Curious Louis made some phone calls, did a few Google searches, and came up with a few ideas. One was a recent Mustard Seed Theatre play, called “Bosnian/American: The Dance for Life,” which spotlighted the younger generation of Bosnian-Americans who’ve grown up here.
Another was a monthly potluck at the Islamic temple in south city that serves the Bosnian-American community.
Tamprateep accepted Akif Cogo’s help in navigating the buffet. The table included familiar treats like Krispy Kreme doughnuts, as well as some dishes Tamprateep wasn't sure about, like a lamb's head.
“It’s considered a delicacy,” Cogo said.
Tamprateep didn’t try the lamb. But he did enjoy a variety of foods, including the dumplings.
“It’s really savory; it’s different but it kind of has the taste of home — like chicken soup or something, nice and juicy inside,” Tamprateep said.
Parsing the experience
He also enjoyed sharing his love of travel with Cogo. It was exactly the kind of casual mingling Tamprateep was looking for.
“It gave me the chance of experience this kind of thing first hand,” he said. “Really hearing the stories of the different people you can kind of relate those experiences to yourself.”
One part of the experience kind of bothered him: the separation of men and women, mandated by Islamic law.
“I had to kind of put that past me,” Tamprateep said. “If you’re thinking about those kinds of things and let it bother you, you know, you’re not going to do yourself any good.”
Tamprateep, who’s a Christian, says keeping an open mind helps people see others as individuals.
“There are terrorists who claimed to be of the Muslim religion. But the Christians, during the Crusades, they were terrorists too,” he said. “When you talk about such a big group of people, it’s very, very dangerous to generalize.”
Tamprateep knows his efforts alone won’t change the world, or even the city. But he hopes over time, they’ll add up to something more.
“Eventually you’re telling your friends about it, and it becomes a bigger community," he said. "And it builds trust, understanding and safety."
Tamprateep plans to attend more Islamic Center potlucks. He also wants to explore St. Louis’ Asian and Hispanic communities, and he hopes others will also find time to sit down with people who are unfamiliar to them to find out how we’re all different — and alike.
“We already have one thing in common; we’re all St. Louisans, right?” Tamprateep said.
Here's where to take a few small bites of cultures within St. Louis:
- Friday-Monday, May 27-30
- Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Des Peres
- Saturday-Monday, May 28-30
- World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park
- Friday-Sunday, June 24- 26
- Soldiers Memorial, 1315 Chestnut, 63103
- Saturday-Sunday, June 25-26
- Knights of Columbus Park, 50 St. Francois St., 63101
- Friday-Sunday, Sept. 16-18
- Chesterfield Amphitheater, 631 Veterans Pl. Dr., 63017
- Free with special ticketed events
- Friday-Saturday, Sept. 23-24
- Chesterfield Valley, various locations
- $10-$15; family packages available
- Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 27-28
- Tower Grove Park, between Grand and Kingshighway, and Magnolia and Arsenal
- Friday-Sunday, Sept. 23-25
- Soulard Park, next to Soulard Market, 730 Carroll St., 63104
- Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 5-6
- Missouri History Museum in Forest Park
- 6220 Gravois, 63116 (moving this summer to Reavis Barracks Road at Mackenzie Road)
- Every first Saturday
- 6:30 p.m./Start time may vary
- Every third Sunday
- Wat Phrasriratanaram, 90 Lindsay Ln., 63031
- 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday nights
- Club Viva, 408 N Euclid Ave., 63108
- Free with $6 cover
- Typically second Sunday, September-May; call 314-529-9300 or check website
- Maryville University, 650 Maryville University Dr., 63141
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowler
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This report was prepared with contributions from our Public Insight Network. Learn more about the network and how you can become a source for St. Louis Public Radio here. See more PIN responses to this query here.