As love comes in a variety of sizes, shades and cultures, couples often see a successful blend of teamwork that results in healthy, happy relationships.
For Tim and Sara Nicholson, that success is paying off both in their family life and in their business in Cleveland.
Sara, who was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, met Tim on a Carnival Cruise vacation in 2004. Tim could not help but notice the friendly woman with outstanding manners who had also noticed him. Tim decided to approach her.
“He asked me to take his picture,” recalled Sara about their first encounter. “It was an old, old camera with duct tape around it. Everyone uses digital cameras now. I thought, ‘Who still uses film?’”
Working in the food profession and coming from the “land of smiles,” she politely accommodated him. When Tim asked her name, he first thought she said Zorro. By the time the two had stopped laughing, Tim and Sara found themselves walking and talking on the deck of the ship during her work break. From that time on, they knew it was something special between them. From that time on they stayed in contact by email and phone.
However, it was another “break” that brought the two together for good. Tim had an accident on his motorcycle in Georgia, breaking his leg. Sara, who had become a part of his life, wanted to come for a visit to take care of him.
“I was always attracted to her and I liked her,” Tim admits. “But when she came here and was being so sweet to me is when I knew.”
It wasn’t long before the couple married in December 2007. The contrast in cultures was very interesting, according to Sara, who offered a peak into the variation in lifestyles of her people in Thailand and many Americans.
“When I first came to America in 2002, I went to Miami and the cultures are totally different in almost everything,” she said. “How to eat, work, the lifestyle and how to spend money — all very different. Like here when you work and how you work is serious. In Thailand it’s easier — a little more laid-back. In Thailand people are not strict too much.”
According to Sara, Thai people will deal with disagreements, minor mistakes or misfortunes by saying “Everything is OK.” This attitude reflects a disposition towards minimizing conflict and disagreements. There is a strong emphasis on the concept that life should be fun. Therefore, Thais can be quite playful during day-to-day activities. She also said Thais show respect for elders in ways that differ from most Americans.
“If you are older than me — it doesn’t matter if you are my brother or not — I have to call you, ‘brother’ and (use your) name or ‘sister,’ and (use your) name,” she said. “That’s our culture. You have to respect older people. If they are a lot older you call them mother and father or grandma and grandpa. Younger people have to put their hands together (in a praying position) and bow to the older ones. That shows them respect.”
According to the Thailand Family Law Center, Thais show their elders respect in many ways, including, “Never standing over or sitting above an elder. Speaking in a quiet and respectful voice, and using formal language. Never interrupting an elder. Treating the elder as an honored guest, rather than as a friend. Thais are hospitable people as a general rule, and they roll out the proverbial red carpet for elder guests with snacks, drinks and other goodies.”
Among the biggest differences between the two cultures is in their food and how they eat.
“Thais eat different foods every day, seven days a week,” Sara said. “We eat three meals a day but we don’t eat the same food three times a day. We have so many varieties of food that we don’t have to eat the same thing. Like here you may eat cereal, cereal, cereal or bacon and eggs every morning. No. We always not eat the same food.”
Sara said what she misses most in Thailand is the food because they have “even more variety” there than they do in America.
“We use even more seasoning, more vegetables in Thailand,” she said. “We have a ton of varieties of vegetables to choose from. You don’t have to eat just broccoli when you want more greens.”
In fact, Thai food is recognized as one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, featuring lightly prepared dishes with lots of colorful vegetables and aromatic or spicy ingredients. It is very healthy in part because of the quick cooking time which allows the food to retain its essential vitamins and minerals.
Since Thais have a much lower incidence of digestive tract cancers than people in other countries, researchers think it might have cancer-fighting ingredients as well as good taste. Sara, who is meticulous in the kitchen, grew up with a single passion — food, and how to cook it. Since Thai food is one of the healthiest foods around, the couple decided to bring her culinary skills to “The City With Spirit.” They recently opened Fugi Teriyaki Express and people are already flocking to it to savor the flavors.
“Her hobby is cooking,” Tim said. “She doesn’t like anything but cooking food. That’s her specialty.”
And what a specialty she and her husband has brought to the area. Experts say Thai ingredients such as turmeric, basil, coriander and galangal (Thai ginger) have powerful antioxidants that help fight inflammation and protect the body from damage by toxins and free radicals. Chili pepper and coconut milk, everyday ingredients in Thai kitchens, work to keep the heart running smoothly. In fact, consuming just a little chili pepper (fresh or dried) each day helps us fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
A key ingredient in Thailand’s favorite soup (Tom Yum Soup), lemongrass, has long been used in Chinese medicine as a tonic for fighting off flus and colds. Lemongrass also relieves headaches and stomach cramps commonly associated with viruses. The numerous vegetables used in Thai cooking such as broccoli, sprouts, and other green vegetables offer anti-aging benefits.
Garlic, another antioxidant used in Thai food, aids with digestion. There is also continued research into its beneficial effect on blood pressure and cholesterol. And yet, it is those rich, exotic flavors and fragrances that make Thai dishes among the most coveted of international cuisines.
“Some people think Thai food is spicy, but it’s not,” said Sara, who has a business degree from Thailand. “We have spicy (ingredients) on the side so you can add it if you prefer. Thai people like to eat spicy. It comes mild, but you can add spicy if you want. That’s why we put all kinds of sauces on your table. That way you can add what you want on it.”
With the economy suffering from housing foreclosures, Tim, who had worked with his father in construction since his youth, decided with his wife to use her expertise in cooking nutritious Thai meals that are as tasty as they are healthy.
“We make a good team,” Sara said. “We are a stronger team because we work together and we feel each other. You won’t get a better partner to help you like your spouse,” she added.
“When I worked with my dad in construction we made a good team because we could always count on each other,” Tim added. “It’s the same thing with Sara. We can always count on each other.”
“We put everything we have into our restaurant,” Sara said. “We do our best. That’s what we do in marriage and in work.”
Sara said what she likes most about Tim is that “he is a good dad and a good son. He loves his mom so much. That’s what I love about him. If he can take good care of his mom and his dad, then he can take good care of me too. He’s a good man.”
Tim, whose eyes were swollen in tears, said, “I guess that’s what I love most about her is how she supports me in that. Her background being Thai, they always take care of their older people. So she’s always looking out for my parents too. She cares about other people.”
For a moment they both stopped talking and just looked at each other. It was like no one else was in the room.