3-minute read

Growing Up Paak Dang: A Restaurant, a Community, and a Life-Changing Journey


Tristan Poh

Tristan Poh, 20 years old, going to Williams College, US this fall

Tristan Poh shares what it was like growing up at Paak Dang, a riverside restaurant in Chiang Mai, owned by his mother, Singaporean K-Lin Lim, that has a mission to provide employment and support to at-risk youth and individuals in need.

Read his sister’s experience here.

Discovering Paak Dang: A New World Unfolds

The experiences I've gained from Paak Dang are some of my most formative ones. Moving from Singapore to Thailand meant a whole new world opening up for me. Suddenly, there was this new, huge part of my life—Paak Dang. Whether it was going to the restaurant during weekdays after school or running errands and helping out at the restaurant on weekends, there was always something to do and learn.

Tristan going to the nearby wet market to buy something that was needed urgently

Working at Paak Dang exposed me to a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. From people hailing from rural hill tribes to ex-convicts and other underprivileged youths in need of a second chance, it was eye-opening. It really burst my Singaporean strawberry kid bubble, you know, the one where food, health, and money were never a burden.

Navigating the cultural differences and experiences while living in Thailand and being involved in Paak Dang wasn't a walk in the park. The move from Singapore was hectic, leaving behind friends and family for a new school, language, and culture. But working at Paak Dang opened my eyes to the vastly different worlds between myself and the staff. They were kind and patient enough to teach me the language, and in return, I would teach them English. Learning a new language was just the beginning of understanding and connecting with them. 

Empathy and Second Chances: The Heart of Paak Dang

Witnessing the journeys of the staff at Paak Dang shaped my perspective on social responsibility and community impact in profound ways. Every person's story is unique, with different struggles and backgrounds. At Paak Dang, our goal has always been to change lives, to provide opportunities for those who lack them, regardless of their past. It's all about second chances, and believing that no one is too far gone to change. We’ve had many staff come and go over the years. We’ve had drug addicts who relapsed during their time at Paak Dang. But we’ve seen more people who do have their lives changed, for the better. Most organisations would be highly intolerant of such things, casting them out and leaving them with nothing. My mother, however, has a different philosophy: a belief in second chances. A belief that no one is too far, too broken to change. 

Team bonding with the Paak Dang family

One thing that stands out from my childhood at Paak Dang is the constant reminder of belief. Belief that people are capable of change, belief that everyone deserves opportunities and chances, and belief in oneself to make a positive impact on others, no matter how small.

My involvement with Paak Dang has influenced my aspirations for the future. It's cultivated a motivation to give back, to make a difference, especially in improving education standards in underdeveloped countries. Education has the power to change lives, to open doors, and I want to be a part of that change.

Challenges and Solidarity: Working at Paak Dang

Working in an F&B establishment of this scale posed significant challenges for many of the staff. For some, it marked their first job, and managing a three to eleven workday, seven days a week, was no easy feat. The nature of F&B work itself is often stressful and demanding. Despite referring to the people at Paak Dang as staff, I was very much a part of them. It was my first job as well, and the stress was palpable. 

Especially during holiday seasons like Song Kran and Loy Krathong, when the restaurant saw two full seatings and more, the physical and mental strain intensified. Dealing with endless customer requests and troubleshooting became the norm. What got me through it all was the knowledge that I wasn't alone. Over time, a sense of camaraderie and solidarity developed among us, motivating and supporting each other. Our success is rooted in teamwork, collaboration, and the mutual exchange of knowledge and experiences.

Paak Dang has contributed immensely to my personal growth and development, on top of the lives of many of our employees. It's given me a sense of purpose, to be part of something larger than myself. Often, as humans, we're focused on our own needs, constantly thinking about ‘me, me, me.’ Rarely do we consider those less fortunate. It's opened my eyes to a world where I can, and should, contribute to others' well-being, and that's a lesson I'll carry with me for life.

Read Tristan’s sister’s experience growing up at Paak Dang here.