The following interview was carried out by Jill Skelding for The County Express, a local newspaper, on Friday, March 13, 1981. Photograph by Phil Loach.
Woman to Woman: Buddhism as a way of life
“Key words are compassion and love”, says Fuengsin
With an impressive Oriental family history spanning several centuries and an unusual childhood spent in Thailand, there’s nothing Fuengsin likes better than to disappear to the depths of her kitchen and cook – spotted dick steamed pudding!
Mrs. Fuengsin Trafford, who lives in West Hagley, came to England 17 years ago, in her mid-twenties, from her home town near Bangkok. She studied at London University – and soon found she had a weakness for English food.
“At the time I was teaching in a technical college in Thailand,” said Fuengsin. “But I decided I would like to visit England to study the methods of teaching English as a foreign language.”
“I completed a 12-month course at the university and then went on teaching practice in Wales – that was fun because not only did I have to cope with the language but with the accent too!”
It was during her student days that she met her husband, Anthony, now a civil servant. “We met at a Christmas party given by a mutual friend, in Chepstow,” she added. “And a short while later we were married.”
Because of her strong Thai upbringing Fuengsin is a Buddhist – and that meant problems when she and Anthony agreed to marry.
“Finally, we married in a Roman Catholic Church, because that’s my husband’s religion, but my parents refused to believe that I was marrying a European!”
Fuengsin’s parents did accept the marriage eventually, although it was eight years before Fuengsin and her husband were able to visit Thailand.
“By that time my father had died, but my mother and Anthony got on remarkably well – the pace of life is so different out there, it’s hard for anyone from the Western world to understand it immediately.”
“The pace of life in Thailand is much slower than here in England – there just isn’t much stress, or traffic come to think of it!”
“The weather is much warmer out there. I still find the English climate leaves a lot to be desired, and when I first came to this country I had to wear at least four jumpers to keep warm!”
Fuengsin was brought up in a large family where Buddhism played a major role and was more a way of life than a religion.
“Buddhism is something that has to be achieved by the individual – but once you have reached that point you will have enlightenment.
“It isn’t a Sundays-only type of religion, and I know it’s hard for people who know nothing of Buddhism to even to begin to understand what it’s all about, but basically, no one can tell you how to practise Buddhism, it’s something the individual must learn for him or herself.
“It has to come from inside a person, and it is a very personal thing – no one can help you with it, and you can only practise Buddhism though life itself.
“It is closely linked with meditation and when you meditate you look at a figure of a Buddha and bow – that way you are aiming to suppress your ego, and get rid of any pride. Once you are rid of that you are at one with the universe.”
There is a Buddhist society in Edgbaston, of which Fuengsin is a member and she tries to attend the temple there as often as she can.
“Buddha taught us to do things in moderation, and there is a strong accent put on family life – I feel it is important for me to do what is best for my family, whether it be cooking, cleaning or whatever. All the time I have to think of others and try to get rid of any selfishness.”
“Buddhism is all about trying your best – it’s not necessary to crave for perfection, because if you try too hard for anything you don’t achieve it.
“Your behaviour is only a reflection of your mind.
“When you meditate you become single-minded – that doesn’t mean narrow-minded, merely that your mind is opening up and you are more capable of appreciating and understanding things.
“The key words are compassion, kindness and love.
“Buddhism can change your life if you follow it – it has certainly given me strength to cope with things over the years. Based on the four [noble] truths of Buddha, life certainly becomes richer.”
Although Fuengsin has a B.A. degree in English and French, gained in Thailand, it is not recognised as a totally academic qualification in this country and at the moment she is spending her time teaching English to Asian immigrants.
When she has time Fuengsin enjoys cooking – English dishes!
“I like cooking real English food – steamed puds, roast meats and all the traditional types of meals, and I adore spotted dick steamed pud, I must admit I have a very weak spot as far as that’s concerned!”