“I found love in a foreign place, I could stay forever – It’s my time, it’s now or never So much to live for, so much to lose – So much to live for, so much to lose”
It’s one of those stories that really cry out for a movie or perhaps a novel with some poetic license. It has all the necessary ingredients; love, international diplomacy, lifechanging decisions, family ties and cultural interaction. It’s a tale woven over nearly 60 years and continues today. A short article can never do justice to all these twists and turns. This can only be just a taste of these two extraordinary lives. Doctor and Ms Thongbhoubesra or Tiern (Thiesanitra) and Renate (as we came to know them), call Hua Hin their home for only a few short weeks every year.
Home is Freiburg, a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany in the south-west of the country straddling the Dreisam River. But that’s really jumping ahead of the story which for Tiern started in Chumphon Province Thailand, where his grandfather was once the Mayor. His father had a highflying military career which lead to an appointment as the Military attaché in Paris. After spending most of his childhood in Bangkok, as an 18 year old, Tiern joined his father in France for his first taste of European life. He had already been a student of the German language (not French) from a privileged education at a Catholic institution in Bangkok. As an aside, Tien’s mother was also a traveller spending time in Japan to study the seamstress’s art in traditional silk garments, a very honorable Japanese profession; but that’s another story!
The next move for him was to become a medical student in Germany at Freiburg University. Medical education at this University dates back to the founding in 1457. Tiern became the first Thai student at the university which subsequently became a focus for Thai medical students, including royalty, travelling to Europe. It’s hard to imagine the interactions between Tiern as 19 year old student from a largely unknown and exotic land and the ‘locals’, but he thrived on seven years of medical training before entering the hospital system for the requisite four years of internship. Enter Renate; a student of cosmetology, aiming to become an expert in the care of makeup as well as skincare and beauty products. One of the issues for this blossoming relationship was parental disapproval with the threat of ‘family expulsion’, with the talented seventeen year old young lady considering moving to Thailand with the handsome, though very foreign, doctor. When you consider that ‘The King and I’, a musical of the late 50’s, was around then, it’s not hard to understand why xenophobia was alive and well.
History played a part with the now qualified Doctor Tiern deciding to remain in Germany on his father’s advice. At the time the Vietnam War was of concern to the Thai military after US bombing raids in Laos and Cambodia so better to stay abroad. This may have been fortuitous for the couple’s relationship as the move away from Renate’s family was now ‘off the table’. Children followed and in due course family acceptance. In those days dual citizenship was not possible in either of the two countries involved and under threat of deportation, renunciation of Tiern’s Thai citizenship was the only option; a tough decision for someone fiercely patriotic and subject to the scrutiny of his extended family. The good news about this part of the story is that the family’s two children were born earlier, so no issues for their future citizenship. Secondly Tiern has very recently (this year) managed to reclaim his Thai citizenship as the rules are now far more accommodating – literally! Renate’s latent ambition was to enter the art world. Now the family’s two children were old enough to allow their mother to enter the prestigious Europäische Kunstakademie (European Art Academy) and pursue her own career. Another obstacle for Renate was the German art culture being male dominated with strict codes of adherence to regulations and assessment if a professional career was to be legitimate.
Fast forward and she had beaten the gender unfriendly odds and now enjoys recognition with galleries across Europe displaying her works. The style is abstract with a collage of photo shots and artwork often sharing the canvas, typically following a commissioned theme. ‘Short Cuts From Asia’ introduces scenes from her many Thailand excursions with styised street scenes from the crowded Bangkok metropolis featuring. As an aside, Renate generously donated one of these pieces for the recent Mondo Vino Golf Charity Day. The picture was successfully auctioned for some 18,000 THB, probably a bargain considering the ten or so hours work involved and the status of the artist. So what of the future?
The couple’s two adult children are pursuing their careers in Germany. Their son Prischa is now a qualified doctor and has recently renewed his Buddhist faith. He is able to manage the medical practice in his father’s absence, when Tiern is either in Thailand or on the golf courses of Germany. Their daughter Katja’s chosen career path is towards accountancy from an IT perspective. Tiern has no plans for retirement soon and is unlikely to return on a permanent basis to Thailand; after all he’s now lived in Germany for nearly 60 years. Renate is commencing a new art commission soon with a baroque theme for an exhibition at Staufen, a German City with a very vivid history. Golf is also one of her passions; “The couple that plays together ……………………..………?”
As we said initially, the depth of the cultural experiences, trials, tribulations and achievements of this family could never be adequately described in this brief account. It just remains to thank both Renate and Tiern for telling their story. One of the real positives about living in Thailand is the opportunity to meet people from such diverse and surprising backgrounds. We appreciate Renate and Tiern providing such an opportunity and trust there will be calmer waters ahead. Footnote: As both Renate and Tiern’s English is limited and my German non-existent; our thanks to their friends Rolf and Christine both for the introduction and volunteering to take-on interpretation duties!