Three worlds have become one in a home full of love, light and learning. Although this haven is located on a dead end street in Myrtle Beach, it is a place of new beginnings because a man passionate about Asian culture never tires of connecting to its people.
Walter Wysk is his name. He is a Myrtle Beach city employee who is in love with the Orient. It is the lady in his life, and he has a family birthed from his affair with the world’s largest continent.
Yu-Kuei Chen and Wasawat Wongcharatrawee, both 16, are the sons he never had, friends he will always treasure and books that have expanded his understanding of the world.
“They are two amazing kids,” said Wysk, a 61-year-old chief code enforcer. “We have not been your typical exchange family, but rather like college roommates. We take turns cooking. They do their own wash and dishes.”
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Last year, the boys arrived in Wysk’s home. Chen hails from Taiwan, while Wongcharatrawee is from Thailand. They both are participating in an international exchange program operated by Ayusa, a nonprofit, international group that helps high school students from abroad study in America.
Their arrival in Myrtle Beach is a continuation of a journey that began eight years ago for Wysk when he taught a Chinese boy English via the Internet. That boy is now a man and Wysk’s friend who has his Master’s degree. Wysk traveled to China for his graduation.
Right now, though, it’s all about how Wysk and these boys formed a trio of tightness and touched each other’s lives without even trying.
At this moment, they are all sitting in Wysk’s living room. Chen, who goes by his adopted American name of Arthur, is talking about how thoroughly impressed he is with Southern hospitality. Wongcharatrawee, who picked Pooh as his American name, is sitting quietly and listening intently with Wysk.
Pooh has thick, sleek hair, the kind many of women envy, that is parted slightly and swept to one side. He is what young girls definitely would call a “cutie.” He is more reserved, while Arthur is a talker. He wears glasses and looks like the businessman he plans to be one day, except he is sporting a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt, sport shorts, and flip-flops.
“I’ve been to America four or five times, but this is my first time experiencing American through Ayusa,” said Arthur, who is from Taoyuan City, Taiwan. “My father works at an airline company, and I fly everywhere for $30. I have been to L.A., Seattle, New York, and D.C., but my favorite place is Myrtle Beach. I find the South very hospitable.”
Mr. Hospitality in the flesh is Wysk. He is the main one showing the boys country kindness every single day.
They went Black Friday shopping in D.C., had a splendid Christmas in Myrtle Beach, went snow tubing in Fort Boone, N.C., celebrated Easter, and golfed in Sumter, among other things. Plus, Wysk bought them bicycles and gave up his master bedroom so the boys could have more room for their beds. Shucks, Wysk also made certain they have memberships to the local recreation center.
“I couldn’t have had two better kids,” Wysk said. “They are like best friends and brothers. We haven’t had a problem.”
When Pooh met him at Myrtle Beach International Airport, he, like Arthur, found out three days later, discovered that Wysk is “tall and old.”
Actually 61 isn’t that old. However, to 16-year-old boys, being sixty-something sure isn’t young either.
Yet, let’s not digress. These dudes – the two young ones and the older, seasoned one – are having a blast bonding.
Wysk gets to be a proud parent just like any other red-blooded American.
Arthur, who is the president of Myrtle Beach High School’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America, is quite comfy in his adopted American skin.
“Southern hospitality is real,” said Arthur who attends a private school back home and has a girlfriend there, too. “It is shocking. Everyone is friendly and very polite to me. To be honest, I have made more friends here than I have made back home. In Taiwan, we are always taught to compete rather than to make friends. Asia, in general, is overpopulated so it is very hard to get a job.”
One day, Arthur plans to attend Harvard University and return home to carve out a future in some sort of business, but he doesn’t know what kind as of now.
“Everything in my mind about America is about the imagination,” said Arthur, who is also a member of the track team at Myrtle Beach High School and a certified American Red Cross lifeguard. “The school and how the kids think. All the kids back home, we don’t really have personal thoughts. We follow orders from our parents and teachers. …Students here can plan ahead about their future. If you ask an Asian student, nine out of 10 times they can’t tell you what their dreams for the future are.”
Pooh, who is an award-winning artist from Bangkok, only speaks up when necessary. He isn’t painfully shy, but he definitely doesn’t mind staying in the background.
He is still adjusting to Southern weather. In Thailand, Pooh said the temperature is usually 90 to 115 degrees.
“I have to wear a jacket every day,” Pooh said. “This is cold for me.”
Pooh’s main focus, like Arthur’s, here and over there, is getting an education. For Pooh, though, sports aren’t even on his radar.
“In Thailand, kids don’t care about sports,” said Pooh, who attends an all-boys public school in Taiwan. “You have to study a lot.”
Another cultural observation for them both has been the food. Even the Asian food isn’t what they experience in their respective countries.
Flavors are in-your-face-fresh and unabashedly bold. This stands true even at their native fast food eateries.
“We have rice and curry at our McDonald’s, and it is very good,” Pooh said. “It is also pretty cheap.”
The boys, however, prefer home-cooked meals. Arthur’s mapo tofu, also known as mapo doufu, is his signature dish and a favorite of the three to eat.
“I put in chili (peppers), spring onion, black bean paste, corn, ground beef, and lots of spices you never see here in food,” said Arthur, who gets his ingredients from a local Asian market.
For their part, the boys do enjoy Wysk’s Shake ‘n Bake pork chops with mashed potatoes.
However when school ends in June, Arthur and Pooh will head back home. Yet, the family they have created will live on, with all three promising to stay in touch.
Pooh and Arthur have already made plans to travel to Japan together.
“I love them as much as any family loves their children,” Wysk said. “I hope they have learned a little from our time together. I will miss them a lot.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.