Millie and I first met at the 28th Annual Conference of the Society for Animation Studies held in Singapore in 2016. She was interested in my paper presentation about Buddhism and animation and asked relevant questions during the Q&A time. Thereafter, she stayed on and conversed with me more about her teaching experience in Thailand. Later, we kept in touch through emails. Under the section “Buddhist Worldviews, Interactions, and Symbolism”, Millie published the title of her lengthy book chapter “Understanding Thai Animation Narratives: The Presence of Buddhist Philosophy and Thai Cultural Ideology” in the volume Animating the Spirited: Journeys and Transformations (Univ. of Mississippi Press, 2020), which I co-edited with Masao Yokota and Gyongyi Horvath. The co-editors and I were excited and grateful to have her contribution in our anthology and her enthusiastic support of our publication. She often sent encouraging greetings whenever she could, supporting our publication journey.

Looking back, Millie had already published two related articles at the Animation Studies 2.0 blog, sharing her insights on “Tracing the Heart of Thai Animation’s National Characteristics” and “Getting closer into the heart of the Thai Thai-ness”  in 2014. The subsequent book chapter thus gave her the intellectual space to expand on her thoughts and interpretations of Thai Buddhist culture, her pedagogic experience and interactions with Thai students and her survey on the industrial development of Thai Animation. As the coordinating editor, I learned that she was concurrently completing her Ph.D. thesis at the Silpakorn University and part of the essay’s contents was related to her doctoral research.

Thailand, the “Land of Smiles” as it is known to the world, possesses a fierce nationalistic and independent spirit. History has shown that the Thai ruling government had used strategic diplomacy in order to protect the country’s independence and shield its people from the brutal invasion of the Japanese Imperial Army in Southeast Asia during the Second World War. The country was also never officially colonized by any European country. So, I have always found it fascinating that Millie was respected amongst her peers and granted a lecturing position in Mahidol University International College as part of the Mahidol University. Her outgoing, open-minded demeanor and her interest in inter-cultural understanding must have impressed the institution’s Thai administrators. Just as I had felt when I communicated with her in person and in writing.

In short, Millie did not carry the colonial mentality and airs as far as I have encountered when interacting with peoples from the developing world or from countries that were once colonized by foreign powers. As an expatriate lecturer and researcher, she could assume the privilege to do so given her position of transferring technological and artistic knowledge from the Western world. In any case, it was not Millie’s nature to do so and neither would the Thai people accept any status conscious behavior she might have exhibited. Millie loved animals as shown from her animation videos and especially elephants. She told me so when we first met, and her bio would never leave out her connection with them.

Thai people’s connection with elephants is unique and it was instinctive for Millie to study Thai ideology, Buddhism, and understandings of its indigenous thinking. See figure 1 and 2. Her essay shows her effort to explore such topics in the context of her educational work and as a person living in that part of the Southeast Asian sub-continent. In addition to being peer-reviewed, as all the volume’s essays were, her writing was also proof-read by a Thai scholar because there in the essay were Thai words and phrases brought up by Millie for discussion. The editors appreciated the attention she paid to the cultural-linguistic aspects of Thai culture demonstrating the depth of her research.

Figure 1. When Millie Young shared with me that she loved elephants, I actually thought of the miniature elephant figurine that graced our home. The animal carries symbolic spiritual meanings in various Asian cultures. Millie’s affinity with the elephant must have been profound. Photo by Tze-yue G. Hu.
Figure 2. Screenshot from Khan Kluay (Kompin Kemgumnird, 2006), also known as The Blue Elephant. A groundbreaking film for the Thai animation industry featuring a sense of nationalism and cultural concepts of Thai-ness.

To conclude, it is not always easy to study a foreign culture even if one is immersed in it and is working in its society. Interestingly, the Thai scholar also shared her pre-published essay with other Thai peers and somehow, sensitively, they felt Millie’s perspectives were still influenced from an outsider-colonialist position. Perhaps that is the Thai’s independent critical spirit at work when reviewing a Western foreigner’s interpretation of its culture and society. As editors we value Millie’s research, and frankly speaking she was learning about her own occidental roots, as well as comparing East-West approaches to creative thinking, philosophy, and spiritual ideas and practices. Her work is dutifully dotted with citations and references. It represents her diligence and genuine interest for an Asian animation culture and history not widely covered in international academic work. 

Wherever you are Millie, I often thought you must be most happy when you are in your mahout activities, happiest when sitting high up on a beloved elephant going on a ride to the breezy beach, enjoying authentic Thai cuisine and literally spending a day out away from hot humid urban Bangkok. While still thinking about your Thai students’ artistic developments and reflecting on how much you have learnt from them as well.


Young, Millie. “Understanding Thai Animation Narratives: The Presence of Buddhist Philosophy and Thai Cultural Ideology.” In Animating the Spirited: Journeys and Transformations edited by Tze-yue G. Hu, Masao Yokota and Gyongyi Horvath, 209-239. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2020.

Tze-yue G. Hu, Ph.D, is an independent scholar based in Northern California. She is the author of Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building (2010) and co-author of Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives (2013). Currently she is writing a monograph manuscript, Hong Kong on the Animated Screen for a university press. She was the co-founder of Singapore’s Animation Fiesta in 1996 co-sponsored by the National Arts Council. A certified Tai-Chi and Qigong instructor, she also teaches movement healing arts during her spare time, as well as walking the family’s highly energetic poodle dog.