Kaew is Deputy Thailand Country Manager and Head of the Dispute Resolution Team in our Bangkok office.
‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ is the evocative title of a well-known 20th century English novel and a perhaps less well-known 17th century French painting now hanging in a London gallery. It also happens to reflect perfectly the changing fortunes, attitudes and ambitions of Kaew’s family from one generation to the next.
Kaew grew up as an only child in Bangkok. Her father was a legal officer with Krungthai Bank - though for many years Kaew didn’t know what he did as he never talked about his work. Her mother worked for the government, advising farmers how to improve their agricultural productivity, and she talked a lot about her work, and also about the need for education. She was determined that Kaew would attend the best university and have all the advantages that had not been available to her.
Kaew’s father’s family had been one of Thailand’s old noble families, wealthy several generations ago, but no longer. Perhaps this background explains why his approach to life was somewhat more relaxed, although underneath he was just as ambitious for his daughter and proud when she did well – even though that is something he told others, not Kaew.
Kaew’s mother had grown up in the country about 150 km north of Bangkok. Her father, a soldier, had been killed when she was quite young, so she was essentially brought up by her mother, Kaew’s grandmother, who placed great importance on education and was determined that the next generation would be better educated and better off financially than hers had been. When she was growing up, girls were not allowed to be educated, but she had somehow managed some study by correspondence in defiance of both her father and the system in general.
Kaew admires her grandmother’s rebelliousness and the fact that, despite everything, she managed to get herself some education. Kaew’s life has obviously been very different, but she has clearly inherited more than a little of her grandmother’s strength of character and independence of mind. By the age of 10, she was already desperate to experience life outside Thailand.
Unlike other children in her neighbourhood, Kaew was sent to Rajini School, a private girls’ school established by the Queen of Thailand at the beginning of the 20th century. She did well, but had no idea what she wanted to do when she left school. She was, however, good at drawing and that gave her an idea. Having grown up in what she describes as a lower middle class family, one of her ambitions was to have a beautiful house and she thought the best way to achieve that would be to train as an Architect.
By the time she got to Year 12, however, she was starting to have second thoughts. Her early ambition to experience life out of Thailand had blossomed into a desire to live overseas and she began to think it might be difficult to do that as an Architect. Training as a Diplomat began to seem a much better idea and with that in mind she set out to study Political Science at Chulalongkorn University. As usual, she did well academically, but during the course she met other aspiring Diplomats and began to think that to be successful you needed a good family name and good contacts. She heard stories about people being side lined into dead-end jobs and feared that could happen to her. She wouldn’t be able to rely on her family. She remembered her mother’s words - “I can give you a good education, nothing else. But with that, you will be able to get wherever you want to go” - and she started to think again.
This time she came up with Law. And it was then that her father’s grandmother died and he inherited some money, making it possible for her to realise her lifelong ambition. She enrolled in an LLB course at the University of London’s Queen Mary College.
In the end, it was everything she had imagined – more in fact, because in London she met her future husband. But initially, it was difficult. Although her English was already good, she had difficulty with all the different English accents, sometimes not understanding a word. And - something she never would have expected - she was homesick. The student counsellor advised students that the course was onerous and there would be no time for outside work, but she was aware that she was studying on the family fortune and that to make it last she would have to work part-time, so she decided to look for a job as a waitress in a nearby Thai restaurant. The owner who interviewed her, and offered her a job, was the first person she had spoken to in Thai since leaving home –now he’s her husband, Beer.
At the end of the course she planned to stay on, enrol in the LPC course and ultimately work in London, but things didn’t turn out that way. Her family insisted she come home for the summer, which she did, thinking she would work for three months and then return to London. She found a job with Rouse, and then her father told her there was no more money for her to go back to London.
For some time she and Beer continued their relationship at a distance. He had been in London for over 15 years and had no thought of returning to Bangkok, but, after some time, when it became clear that Kaew’s career was going to be in Thailand, he decided he would. It was a difficult decision as he had nothing to come back to, but it has worked out well. He now runs a construction business with his cousin. It is ironic that he is helping people build the ‘beautiful houses’ that Kaew had seen herself designing all those years ago.
After some time with Rouse, Kaew decided to enrol in a second law course in order to study relevant local and IP laws. The next three years, with full time work and part time study, were very busy. Then, four years ago, her daughter Nicha, was born. These days between work and family, Kaew’s life is full, but she has in recent months developed a passion for surfing and whenever she has the chance she’s likely to be looking for a spot where the waves are big.
Kaew’s aim for Nicha is somewhat different from the aims that previous generations in her family had for their children. It’s a new step in the dance, one that previous generations probably couldn’t afford to introduce: she wants Nicha to fulfil her potential and do well, but above all she wants her to find her passion and be happy.