Chia Thao, a doctoral candidate in public health at the University of California, Merced, researches pesticide use and the well-being of small-scale farmers in the Central Valley. Before a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation streamed event titled “How Can We Make Farm Work Healthier,” she spoke in the virtual green room about why the novel A Walk to Remember still holds a special place in her heart, why she asks herself a question three times before making a major decision, and her favorite comfort dish: bok choy stir-fry.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I wanted to be a doctor because that's what I thought could really make a big impact helping people. I grew up in a refugee camp, where the only people who were very visible were my teachers and doctors.
Did you have any sense of what kind of doctor you wanted to be?
No, I just admired their outfits. They just looked so cool. You know, like a superhero cape or something.
What's hanging on your fridge?
Pictures of my kids—they're smiling and hugging each other, and there’s this peaceful energy to them when you look at the pictures. It looks like they are enjoying themselves, in really peaceful harmony together. But that can be deceiving.
What’s the best gift you've ever gotten?
An Apple watch.
Who gave it to you?
My husband. I have a very short memory or I often don't remember where I left my phone. So now I can answer my phone without having to look for where my phone is.
So, in a way, this was selfish on his part, because now he can reach you.
Yeah, I know. Now you have no excuse!
Do you have a favorite plant?
It’s an Asian plant that my mom gave me. I've been adoring that plant. I don't know the name of it. It's spiky, like a cacti plant, but it's a Southeast Asian species. I'll look for the name of it. [Chia later shared a picture of the plant with us and identified it as “Crown of Thorns.”]
When did your mom give you the plant?
Last year, for Christmas. I adore those plants, because I grew up in a refugee camp where it was very hot and humid, and the only plants that survive are those plants. I just remember they grew some of the most beautiful flowers that you could think of.
What helps you decompress?
My kids. At the end of the day, they are what I look forward to, to kiss goodnight, and in the morning, I wake up because I know I have to cook and clean for them and get them ready for school. So hugging them really just decompresses everything I have. I would say it's them.
What is your favorite novel?
A Walk to Remember. That romantic novel really caught my interest in reading soft love stories. Now, I'm at a different stage in my life, but if I think of my most fond memory, it's still while I was reading A Walk to Remember. I just remember I was crying for multiple nights.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve received?
One of my mentors gave me this approach that you ask yourself the same question three times consecutively, and if your answer is the same, follow that passion. Basically it means doing things that you won't regret in life. Whether the consequence are negative or positive, if that's a decision that you're pursuing, then do that.
I used to be more passive about things and had self-doubt. But that really opened my eyes and helped me make more quick and risky decisions in life, because I know that I won't regret what I choose.
Can you share with us a comfort food you make that uses local ingredients?
Yeah. I love cooking bok choy. Bok choy is an Asian specialty crop, a favorite by many Asian chefs. It's a very common dish in the Asian community. You could stir-fry with a protein, whether it's chicken, pork, beef, whatever your choice is. But I like it vegetarian. I'm not a vegetarian, but I like to just stir-fry it plain using simple ingredients (soy sauce and a little bit of salt). That's my always go-to dish when I kind of feel I don't want anything that’s too large of a portion or too high in calories.