Students Gather For First Annual Asian Night Market


Williston Asian students held the first ever Asian Night Market on April 11, representing the wide diversity of food, culture, and connection on campus.
Twenty students and faculty organizers made food from their own cultures: China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and India. On the quad from 5:30 to 8 p.m., students enjoyed an amazing and authentic dinner under the night sky.
Students began preparing for this event at the start of the year, buying ingredients, meeting up, contacting Sage Dining, and cooking. A lot of Asian countries have night markets students fondly remember. At Williston, American food is really different from home, from the ingredients to the culture. The Asian Night Market opened doors to new experiences for some, and reminded others of a nostalgic piece of their childhood.
Shirley Shi, a junior from Beijing and one of the organizers, made grass jelly topped with boba, red bean, hand-made taro balls, and coconut milk.
“It’s supposed to be a refreshing dessert for the summer,” Shirley said, “and the point is the coolness does not come from ice, but the smooth texture of the grass jelly itself.”
Shirley said that the preparation process involved an exploration of Asian identity, and how tastes of home would be received by American palates.
“During the prep, a lot of us were constantly talking about if our food was too salty or too sweet,” Shirley said, “but Mr. [Ken] Choo said that it was supposed to be us celebrating and spreading our culture, not trying to accommodate.”
Cici Yu, a junior from Shenzhen, China, said the Night Market reminded her of the food she “misses so much every day.”
The preparation process of the Asian Night Market was also a representation of the bonding between different Asian and non-Asian groups on campus, including students, faculty, and staff.
Choo, Science teacher and Advisor of the Asian Alliance Club, was one of the staff organizers of Asian Night Market. He poured a lot of effort into supporting the Asian community on campus.
Choo said that the idea of the Asian Night Market originated naturally during many meetings and discussions throughout the year as something that bridged the gap between various Asian groups.
“It really came up organically,” Choo said, “and it started when we first started school in September. A lot of ideas came up, but this one seemed to have the most excitement and resonance among different Asian groups.”
The prepping process of the Night Market was long, cumulative, and multi-dimensional, involving different departments and groups at Williston. It started with sprouting ideas during cooking and eating at Choo’s house.
“A lot of ideas bounced back and forth through the Fall,” Choo said, “and during the course of the school year, I had many Asian groups come over to my house. One activity we would do is to go to a grocery store, and come back and make food, and that was a great and comfortable way to talk.”
Over holiday break, more concrete plans were made, and during the Spring, Asian students started testing dishes at Choo’s house, “making sure that they can be executed and tasted good.”
Meetings were also held with Christopher Couchon, the Food Service Director. On the Sunday before the event, Asian students worked side by side with Sage staff to prep the meals.
Prep for the Night Market united the whole Williston community, not just Asian students.
“There were so many different parts of the Williston community that were part of the prepping,” Choo said, “from Physical Plant helping us to set up a space and giving us advice, security advising us on a safe space. Ms. [Nikki] Chambers [Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging] played a big role in support.”
Choo thought the Asian Night Market “went off so well, as well as we could have hoped,” and he valued how much of this event was organized by students. Choo also liked the unexpected results of students bonding with staff members on campus they wouldn’t usually meet.
“Seeing different parts of the community collaborating was also pretty amazing,” Choo said. “It wasn’t necessarily the main thrust, but just to see the students getting to know the dining staff at a much more personal level was really amazing.”
One thing Choo thought they could improve on next time, with the feedback from an all-school survey, is to have “better signage,” in order to represent the different Asian foods and cultures.
“[We could put] what the ingredients are,” Choo said, “but more importantly, who in the Asian community was sharing this part of their life.”
“Ultimately, our goal is to support the crossover between Asian students and non-Asian students,” Choo said, “and I’m always going to consider how to bring that about.”
The Asian Night Market was the “culmination of so many gatherings,” and from these gatherings, Choo reflected upon Williston’s varied Asian community.
“Within the Asian community, I think that there could be the temptation to label all Japanese students as Japanese students, Chinese students as Chinese students, Korean students as Korean students, Vietnamese students as Vietnamese students, and so on,” Choo said. “But there is diversity within their groups, as students outside of these Asian groups are diverse. This was an opportunity to create a community within them.”
The Night Market was also, for the Asian community, “a chance to spend a lot more time with each other, and explore what it means to have solid relationships.”
“It’s not like everything goes smoothly. Just like in any interactions, there’s disagreement, hurt feelings, and a chance to work through it that is really cool,” Choo said. “It’s something we all do, have to do, during the course of the year: work through relationships, repair relationships, manage expectations, communicate.”
Looking to the future, Choo is seeking ways to incorporate non-Asians into the group to make Williston a better home away from home.
“The ultimate goal is to make the Asian group feel that this is their home,” Choo said, “but part of being home is growing relationships with people around you.”