Thursday’s Lotus available as a PDF

I am pleased to add a further version of Fuengsin’s biography: a Portable Document Format (PDF) file that can be read in applications such as Adobe Acrobat Reader.  It’s free of charge as a gift of Dhamma.

The PDF file uses the same layout as the source file of the print copy, though the document settings are at a somewhat lower resolution to aid portability whilst retaining reasonable quality for the images.

Kindle e-book version now available

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the Kindle version of Thursday’s Lotus.

Thursday's Lotus: paperback front page, first chapter displayed on Android tablet and Kindle Touch devices
Thursday’s Lotus published as a paperback and e-book, displayed on a Android tablet and a Kindle Touch

These are available from Amazon Kindle Stores around the world, e.g. (priced $3.00) and the UK (£2.30).

I adopted the EPUB standard in preparing the electronic version, which means I should be able to make the e-book available through other services besides Kindle. More about the production process and these intentions to follow in another post.

Libraries: Bibliographic Data and Public Access

Libraries provide an essential public service, with the rise of digital communications only adding to the responsibilities and possibilities.  As part of the publication process, there is in many countries an obligation to inform the national library in the country of publication about the forthcoming title and then to provide legal deposit copies.  In the case of Thursday’s Lotus, I have so far donated copies to the US Library of Congress, the British Library, the Bodleian, St. Cross College library (where I studied for my Master’s), and a couple of local libraries – Summertown Library in Oxford and Hagley Library in Worcestershire.  I hope to add to this list in due course, intending especially to donate to libraries in Thailand.

Why have I put the US Library of Congress first in the list?  It’s because — as far as I have been able to determine — the place of publication has been recorded as the United States.  I used a CreateSpace-assigned ISBN, and according to the guidance notes on the CreateSpace website, this means that the place of publication is the United States.  Whilst I am the publisher, the close involvement of CreateSpace as the imprint seems to be the main factor in this.

In any case, it made sense for me to get in touch with the British Library to inform them ahead of publication as the UK is the primary target for distribution.  So I uploaded details to the Bibliographic Data Services online submission service.  These details constitute the cataloguing in publication data, key bibliographic details that are made available to other libraries, book stores and others who might stock the book.  As this was the first time that I had provided such information, I was glad to receive the helpful advice from the BDS support team.

The data duly appeared in the British National Bibliography list for 13 April 2016, the date of publication (p. 34), reproduced here:

Thursday’s lotus : the life and work of Fuengsin Trafford /
Paul Joseph Trafford ; illustrated by Chanaphan Rassameepiyarak ;
edited by Robert Bullard, Jane Struthers, Sue Mumford-Smith. —
North Charleston : CreateSpace, 2016. — 1 volume ; 23 cm.
ISBN 9781523935185 (pbk.) : £9.95
BNB Number GBB651786

Trafford, Fuengsin.
Buddhists. Great Britain, Biography.

Prepublication record

Having registered this information, I could (probably should) have included this in the copyright page, but I forgot, so have included it here. However, it may yet appear as CreateSpace is print on demand, after all!

Thursday’s Lotus is published

(last updated: 21 April 2016 – Amazon UK site fully activated)

Thursday’s Lotus: The Life and Work of Fuengsin Trafford has been published! It’s available initially as a paperback, and can be ordered online (details below).

Thursday's Lotus: The Life and Work of Fuengsin Trafford
Thursday’s Lotus: The Life and Work of Fuengsin Trafford. will be serving as a companion site, beginning with a contents pagea complete list of all the websites mentioned in the endnotes .  It’s intended to supplement this with digital versions of photographs, further facets from her life and a chance to provide feedback and ask questions.

The book is available through,,,, and other Amazon sites — the recommended retail prices are $14.99, £9.95, and €12.99 respectively. (For CreateSpace users, orders can also be placed through their store.)

This book has received many contributions and feels like a crowd-sourced publication.  Thank you to everyone who has helped.

– Paul

Family Heritage Conservation in Thonburi


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, February 01, 2013:


the old family home

I took this picture at the beginning of 2013 from inside the family compound where my Thai cousins live. It’s in Thonburi, off the Taksin Road, a few hundred yards south of Wong Wien Yai, the big roundabout with the memorial to King Taksin at its centre. In the foreground is the original family house, made of teak wood, but it has been gradually decaying and in recent years has become dilapidated.

The residential landscape is changing rapidly and there are now emerging some brand new high-rise buildings, mainly accommodation blocks. This one (which I hadn’t seen any trace of two years ago) is in the same soi, on land that used to be partly occupied by a primary school. Many of the new occupants have been drawn by the improved transport connections offered by Wongwien Yai BTS – no longer is there an hour-long wait in rush hours just to cross the Sathorn bridge as you can glide along in the sky train in a few minutes!

The land has been a naturally fertile environment, rich in vegetation, so when earlier generations made their homes here it was the most natural thing to plant seeds and to see everything grow so fast. Just imagine that when my grandparents moved here in the 1930s they were just finishing the Taksin Road, and this area was covered in orchards (with no vehicular access at all). Despite the heavy urbanisation of the area in recent decades, the family plot remains very green – my grandfather loved to cultivate all manners of plants and trees and more recently, in the 1990s, one of my cousins used to cultivate plants to sell in offices. That business is gone, but the tropical vegetation remains as a refuge from the concrete jungle.

However, what to do with the old teak house? It is quite dilapidated and there’s no one living there any longer – the last resident was my Aunt Umpai, who passed away just over a year ago. She used to live with her cats, many of which she had rescued, under the house because she had become too frail to climb the stairs.

my aunt's home under a house

She often expressed embarrassment at how dusty and untidy it was, but in fact she was orderly, a discipline that came with her being a school teacher – in English grammar! She lived the last years of her life for her cats – she wouldn’t stay to converse for very long before asking to be excused so that she could feed them or otherwise tend to them.

However, when she passed away she left a lot more of significance to the family and a reminder of this came unexpectedly along an alley way. There’s a shortcut from the house down an alley – it’s quite narrow, but not narrow enough to prevent motorbikes weaving in and out. There’s graffiti on some of the walls, not pretty to look at, but turning a corner I was struck by the following:

Thai graffiti message: preservation

The message (ช่วยกันรักษา) is a bit unexpected, even ironic in this setting as it basically means: “Let’s help each other to take care [to preserve]”. However, it was really pertinent to Aunt Umpai as she was someone who really cared about preserving heritage and she had become the custodian of family history. The next morning I started to explore the little home under the house, which still has many items, thinking that there may still be left behind some family heirlooms. I was especially interested in written materials – books, magazines etc – most of all in any family archives. I was fortunate to have with me as an assistant my niece, Baidoei, as she could translate for me (I struggle with reading even a few words, especially if they are handwritten). She remarked that some documents contain old Thai characters/letters with which she was unfamiliar.

We found many items lining shelves in bookcases and stacked up in piles, quite a number relating to Aunt Umpai’s teaching: various dictionaries, including Pali-Thai because she was interested in learning the meaning of the many Pali terms used in Thai. However, most of the reference materials concerned English language. In fact guests at her cremation ceremony were all given copies of the New Model English-Thai dictionary by So Sethaputra [published in 2547], with a brief memorial tribute inside. This was a contemporary twist on a distinctive and fascinating Thai tradition of cremation volumes. These volumes are really valuable for researching Thai family history, but I think they are still underused. See e.g. Grant A. Olson, 1992. Thai Cremation Volumes: A Brief History of a Unique Genre of Literature, Asian Folklore Studies,Volume 51, pp. 279-294,

And it seemed fitting that nearby these educational materials were piled up dozens of cremation volumes; we guessed that these would have been mainly colleagues and other people known to Khun Da (my grandfather). Most of the older items related to his life and work, including photographs – quite a few with Khun Yay Somboon, his wife, when they were young. There were accounts from his time in the army and then the prison services, some certificates of honour, including royal decorations and booklets of speeches given in the early days of Thailand’s new constitution. There were some surprising finds, including a book with signatures of various notable figures, but I didn’t look closely to see whether it was actually an autograph book or just a collection of cuttings. Another volume was to commemorate the official opening of Thailand’s Southern Railway, probably another interesting story that will never emerge.

Some items belonged to Fuengsin Sarayutpitag, my mother, including some school certificates, particularly a couple for Triam Udom Suksa, a preparatory school for entrance into Chulalongkorn University. There was also a book given by a friend, Khun Suchard, entitled วิธีทำงานและสร้างอัจฉริยภาพ , which means something like: Methods for Developing a Remarkable Aptitude in One’s work. It was by Poonsak Sakdanuwat (พูนศักดิ์ ศักดานุวัฒน์), who wrote commentaries on the Buddha’s life and also was interested in methods of mind development for business; the publisher was Wattana Panit (โรงพิมพ์ว้ฒนาพานิช). The book has a dedication about developing one’s career in a noble manner and it is dated 24 December 2501[1958], when she reached 22 years of age and was studying for her B.Ed. This discovery made me reflect that there might be quite a few literary items that Mum left behind when she came to the UK, in addition to the scrapbooks, which only arrived many years after she had emigrated, whilst we were in Hagley.

Unfortunately, many items had been damaged by insects, some completely ravaged. I collected a few of these and brought them into the home of my cousin, P’ Laem, who had already salvaged some of the most important objects. However, there still remain others of value and I have been wondering how best to preserve them. The old house cannot remain for long in its present state, so my cousins and I are trying to figure out how to proceed; I feel there’s some urgency to remove what’s left and store this safely, at least temporarily. But what about the longer term? My mother left me a plot of land, part of which is located under the old house. To actually own it I would have to acquire Thai nationality, but I am already considering the possibility of building a small house partly devoted to family history for all my relatives to use.

Here I can take inspiration from another pile of books: Aunt Umpai was evidently impressed by the work of Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj, who was deeply committed to the arts and especially to Thai cultural traditions. I’d like any house to be largely of traditional design, but combined with modern conveniences and especially a library that has modern means of protecting its contents. It should also be harmonious with its surroundings and I’d like to retain the pond which partly covers the land.

I may be able to find some ideas from MR Kukrit’s Bangkok home, which has become a heritage museum. I’ve visited it and found it very appealing, especially the ponds in close proximity to the buildings.

MR Kukrit Pramoj's Heritage home

 MR Kukrit Pramoj's Heritage home: Lily pond and pavillion

The work on MR Kukrit’s home is ongoing and you can see the current projects on their Web site .

There are numerous options. For example, should this be a carbon-neutral eco-home? In reality much will depend on the wishes of my relatives and no my budget…!

Siam in the 16th and 17th Centuries: Encountering the French missions


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, September 04, 2011:


This opening paragraph comes from Relation du voyage de Mgr. de Béryte, vicaire apostolique du Royaume de la Cochinchine (Account of the Travels of The Mgr. [Bishop] of Beirut, Vicar Apostolic for the Kingdom of Cochinchina), compiled by Jacques de Bourges, published in 1666 and made available as a Google eBook.

Drawing on my schoolboy French, a translation might be:

I do not believe that there’s a country in the world where one finds more religions and whose practice is more permitted than in Siam. Gentiles, Christians, and Muslims, who are all divided into different sects, are at complete liberty to follow such worship as seems best to them. The Portuguese, English, Dutch, Chinese, Laplanders, Peguans, along with people from Cambodia, Malacca, Cochinchina, Champa, and several other places on the Septentrion coast, all have established themselves in Siam. There are nearly two thousand Catholics, the majority Portuguese, who have come from various places in the East Indies, from which they were driven, and have taken refuge in Siam, where they have a separate district making up a suburb of the city…

Thailand’s reputation for openness goes back a long way!  Yet, I was still surprised by the plurality of the situation described here more than 300 years ago. Quite a distinguished case of ‘multiculturalism’ (about which contemporary discussions might suggest that it’s a recent phenomenon!) What is not clear from this picture, though, is whether there developed much in the way of cultural exchange and integration among the communities. The compartmentalising suggests each group went its own way and the various accounts I’ve read so far seem to confirm this and they often relate complaints about each other and contrary points of view, especially among the Europeans.

I’m interested particularly in the East-West encounter, which in this period was concentrated in Ayutthaya, the old capital of what was then termed ‘Siam’ (which appears to have had external origins, which I may try to explain vis-a-vis ‘Thai’ and ‘Tai’ in another post). It was missionary zeal that drove much of the first two centuries of expeditions and settlements – and the religious institutions seemed often to be better informed and coordinated than the state-sponsored trading companies. Today the deep-rooted influence of the West is often characterised in terms of the material trappings of globalisation, but arguably more persistent effects are evident in the education system, where many schools still have a Christian foundation and this is more my focus here as I try to explore its origins and development in these early accounts.

This means having to keep practising my French language skills as most of the written accounts relate to the experiences of the French.  Given this predominance of materials it’s difficult to draw a non-partisan view.    Among the French records, Martin’s accounts are probably the most valuable for the meticulous attention to detail (recording a constant stream of news in the manner of a ledger, even leaving blanks as placeholders for figures that were still to be determined).  However, his background and allegiances do colour his interpretation.   There were a few other travellers who passed by without having involvement, one of whom was the German naturalist and physician, Engelbert Kaempfer – I look forward to reading his A Description of the Kingdom of Siam 1690(Itineraria Asiatica: Thailand). At least the task is made somewhat easier by electronic publishing; in sponsoring large scale digitisation of old texts, Google has been providing marvellous support for this historical research.

Among the few scholars who appear to have studied the materials from this period in depth is Michael Smithies, a historian. He has published extensively and I’ve already availed myself of a copy of his book, A Resounding Failure: Martin and the French in Siam, 1672-93, published by Silkworm Books. The back cover summarises its importance: “François Martin, from his unique viewpoint as director of the French trading outpost at Pondichery, provides a careful analysis of the motives of the persons involved in the French colonizing venture.” And there were many players in this theatre!

Prof. Smithies original studies were in French and his teaching of French (and Indonesian) in Papua New Guinea earned him the honour of being received into the French Order of Academic Palms (I don’t know the UK equivalent, but it’s a notable decoration). In an interview for Bulletin No. 17 Amopa 79, 2005-6, he relates his career development. In particular, he joined the British Council in 1960 and was immediately sent “as a matter of urgency” to Thailand as Director of English studies. He recounts that he had to monitor the work of dozens of teachers, and assist in teaching at different universities in Bangkok.   At that time my mother (then Fuengsin Sarayutpitag), recently graduated from Chulalongkorn University, was teaching English as a foreign language at the newly established Thonburi Technical College. She knew a “Mr. Smithies” and I expect it was the same man. It would be nice if this could be confirmed.

Whilst Smithies was familiarising himself with Thai culture (it was about 10 years later that he started to devote himself to scholarly research in this field), my mother was undertaking the complementary activity of delving into Western culture. And this is the general perspective that I’m trying to keep in mind as I look at this confluence, in which my mother was inextricably involved for the rest of her life.

The Far East continues to be a source of attraction for French missionaries, as evident in a trailer for a film ‘Ad Vitam, La Grande Aventure des Missions Etrangères de Paris en Asie’. The excerpt includes a brief historical explanation by the archivist, Fr. Gerard Moussay, who describes the origins of M.E.P.: in the 16th and 17th Century the Vatican gave the kings of Spain and Portugal the right to nominate missionaries across the world, but with the kings becoming increasingly ineffective in carrying this out, bishops called Apostolic Vicars were appointed, the first two being Mgrs. François Pallu and Lambert de la Motte.

Regarding present day attitudes, Fr. Etcharren, Supérieur Général of MEP, emphasizes that being a missionary means carrying a message that’s “not ours” and requires always humility.  He offers us another glimpse into how the early period is viewed in a short speech he gave on a recent visit to Thailand (see another video), in which they celebrate 350 years in Ayutthaya.  He recounts the arrival of the first missionaries in 1662:

Ce Lieu d’Ayutthaya a été dès le début d’abord un lieu de prière, de contemplation et de réflexion missionaire. Lorsque les missionnaires sont arrivés ici, ils ont commencés par faire une retraite et puis ensuite un synode de réflexion. Les valeurs qui ont émergé lors de ce synode d’Ayutthaya sont des valeurs missionaires qui sont toujours d’actualité.

In English (again I translate):

This place in Ayutthaya was from the outset firstly a place of prayer, contemplation and missionary reflection. When the missionaries arrived here, they began with a retreat followed by a synod of reflection. The values which have emerged from the synod of Ayutthaya are the missionary values which are still current [today].

This gives the impression that there has been continual activity, perhaps suggestive of serene and steady development, but it’s not been like that historically because inevitably there has been a lot of political involvement.

From the accounts of de Bourges (cited above) and others, the Kingdom of Siam might have seemed an opportunity ripe for successful missionary endeavours.   The French were certainly encouraged to invest a lot in developing their presence in the region; Martin relates in 1675 about Mgr. Pallu, Bishop of Helipolis:

This great prelate, whose probity and sanctity Europe, Asia and America admire, had embarked in Siam on a vessel of a private French merchant to go to Tonkin, to devote the rest of his strength to the conversion of the infidels. (II,13, translated by Smithies)

There were many ‘gains’ in some parts, but efforts were in vain in Siam (and Martin merely echoes the uncharitable remarks, which sound like those of a bad loser):

I also learnt from letters from Siam that the French Missionaries made many conversions in Tonkin and Cochinchina.  Things were not the same in Siam, although this place was like an entrepot for the other missions and from where they were supplied with all essentials.  This was attributed to the stupidity of the Siamese, a brutal people to whom one could not explain the mysteries of the Christian religion.” (II, 86, translated by Smithies)

Even so, efforts gathered pace as we also learn from Martin that under Louis XIV, the French were by the mid 1680s emboldened to issue various demands to the Siamese king, Phra Narai, including his conversion from Buddhism to Christianity.   The bishops attempted to win over the king through rational argumentation, but the king simply concluded that Christianity – alongside other religions – was basically good and he felt no need to change his own Buddhist affiliation.

Meanwhile, the French military presence continued to grow until it was all too much for some members of the Siamese court: in 1688 there was a revolution and the French were formally ejected under a treaty of ‘honourable capitulation’. With a formal trade embargo then introduced and enforced for about 150 years, there was a lull in the nation’s engagement with the West – we have to wait until King Rama IV before formal ties with these nations are resumed.  However, I expect that smaller scale developments continued and it may be interesting to find out more about them.

Children’s Dhamma: Kruba Srivichai


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, July 21, 2011:


the cover for Children's Dhamma, Vol. 4 No.1, published by the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara

I went to school in Birmingham between 1980 and 1987. Around that time, the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara published Children’s Dhamma for younger members. Reflecting the multiple traditions, there were contributions from Zen and Tibetan practitioners as well as from Theravadins.

I would like to highlight an article from March 1984 written by my mother about Kruba Srivichai, a Thai monk, whose exemplary life she probably got to learn about whilst growing up in Thonburi. He may not be so well known now, so I reproduce what she wrote about him here. But this is just the first article – there was more to follow. I must have another delve into the family papers to see if I can find the sequel…

Kruba Srivichai

by Fuengsin Trafford

Kruba Srivichai was one of the most famous monks of Northern Thailand. He was an inspiration to many and was revered by thousands of monks, nuns and laymen, from cities, towns, villages and the hill-tribes. Under his guidance they came together and volunteered to rebuild, repair and restore many beautiful pagodas and temples and the roads leading to them.

They worked very hard and brought their own food. Some people gave money, food and transport. As a result of their good work magnificent ancient buildings and pagodas which had been destroyed in the war were restored to their former glory.

Kruba Srivichai’s work can be found throughout the north in an area which at one time was known as “the Kingdom of Laannaa Thai”.

This remarkable monk led a very holy life, and worked very hard for the Buddha-Dhamma, and he was a good example to many. In the eyes of his followers he had a kind of supernatural quality but this he always denied, saying he was just an ordinary monk. After his death his fame spread further and he was called the “Saint of Laannaa Thai”.

Kruba Srivichai was born on the 11th. June 1878, (the Year of the Tiger), in a small village outside the Province of Lumpoon, called Baan Paang. He was the fourth child and had four brothers and sisters. His parents were poor and lived on a small farm which was surrounded by very high hills and thick forests. It was said that on the night just before he was born the bright moon was suddenly darkened by a cloud and there was thunder and lightening. There was also an earthquake which shook the family’s cottage. In those days this was thought to be a very good omen for a saintly person’s birth. The baby was given the name “Faa Hong” which means thunder.

At the age of seven Faa Hong was very good and quiet and did not enjoy playing with children of his own age. He was very kind, never harmed animals and looked after the family’s buffaloes very well. Once he freed the fish which hie father had caught and kept in a jar of water. He showed deep compassion for every creature. He refused to eat meat and was content to have rice and a variety of chilli sauces for his meals. The young boy’s favourite chore was to take the buffaloes to graze in a quiet and lonely field, he would then sit under a tree and contemplate. He loved to visit Wat Baan Paang, a local temple which was situated on the edge of a hill; the Abbot was called Kru Baa Kaat. According to his name he was a respected monk who had been studying and practising the Dhamma.

Faa Hong was set on going to school at Wat Baan Paang, the local education centre in those days. He was also inspired by the monk’s behaviour and way of life. Having watched his brother’s ordination he was even more impressed, and later asked his parents permission to be ordained. When he was asked why he wanted to become a monk, he said it was not because he wanted to run away from the hard life of a farmer, but that he wanted to study the Dhamma and gain merit for a better rebirth for his parents. His parents were very happy to hear this and granted his wish. So Faa Hong was ordained a Samanera (novice) when he was just eighteen years old.

The new Samanera worked very hard and studied the local alphabets which were written on palm leaves. He also studied Pali and Sanskrit so that he could read the scriptures.

Over a year later Samanera Faa Hong had mastered all the local languages and went on to study the Dhamma and Vipassana Meditation. Almost every day he went up to the top of the hill to sit in solitude surrounded by all kinds of plants and trees.

Two years passed and Samanera Faa Hong was twenty one years old. He was ordained a Bhikkhu and given the Pali name “Siri Vichyo”. People prefered to call him “Phra (monk) Sri Vichai”.

His teacher noticed the young monk’s dedication and unblamable conduct and sent him to a superior teacher called “Kru Baa Upala” at Doi Tae to study meditation. It was the first time he had left home having a difficult journey on foot and by cart. It took several days to reach the temple although it was in the same province.

His new teacher was soon impressed with the young monk’s excellent memory and undivided attention. One year later Phra Sri Vichai finished his studies and went back to Wat Baan Paang. By then his reputation for being a most worthy monk had spread. He ate only one meal a day and was a vegetarian.Three years later the Abbot passed away and Phra Sri Vichai was appointed Abbot.

Baan Paang village was surrounded by many Hill Tribes, and they lived in the high hills and forests nearby. These people were very poor and badly needed medical care. Phra Sri Vichai had great compassion for them and wanted to teach them the Dhamma, and make them see how foolish it was to worship spirits, and took inspiration from the Buddha who used to travel to many places to teach all kinds of people. So Phra Sri Vichai went into the forests and hills to teach, spending a few days in each village. He also healed many people with herbal medicines. These people soon realised that his medicine was more help than the spirits. He spent a month amongst the tribes and soon mastered all their languages. More and more of the Hill Tribe people e.g. Maeu, Yau, Karen, Leesaw, etc. became Buddhists and the great monk’s fame spread. Many people sent their sons to be ordained by him, and to stay at Wat Baan Paang and study the Dhamma. —

— to be continued.

A couple of others articles, with photos:

For further interesting articles for youngsters, please read Children’s Dhamma Volume 4, No. 1. (scanned copy in PDF format).

County Express interview with Fuengsin Trafford (1981)


The following is a copy of an article – with minor edits – that I originally posted on, June 12, 2011:


Fuengsin Trafford at home, 1981. Credit: Phil Loach

The Internet and, especially, the Web are enabling old lines of investigation to be reopened with possibilities of new finds – for all kinds of detectives, including biographers! In March 1981, Fuengsin was interviewed for the County Express, which was published, as far as I can recall, in Stourbridge and Kidderminster. Jill Skelding was the reporter and she came round to our house with a photographer, Phil Loach; I can’t remember them myself, so I expect it took place during the day whilst I was at school. The article was part of a series called Woman to Woman and this particular interview was entitled: Buddhism as a way of life. It was published on Friday 13th March 1981.

I thought that it would be a good time to reproduce the article online (I don’t think the paper is in circulation under that name any more; it may have become Stourbridge News). We kept a few cuttings, but even if we had preserved them in mint condition, the newspaper medium meant that photographic reproduction was limited in quality. Fortunately, Google came to the rescue (again) and 30 years after the interview I was able to locate Phil, who is still in the photography business with The Silver Image. What’s more he was able to send me a pretty good scan (a larger version of the one online). So the complete article is available to view.

Here I’d just like to highlight a few things my mother said.

It’s really quite a typical piece – finding the mundane and profound in the everyday and the present moment. You get a taste of something unusual in the first two paragraphs, though it’s definitely more mundane in flavour!

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.

The kitchen wasn’t always frequented with such endeavour. One of my mother’s childhood friends said that the two of them used to play cooking. I asked whether that was because in reality they didn’t do any cooking and she nodded and grinned! In fact my father taught her some of the basics English cookery – there was little indication that she could later produce a cookery book! And as for her regard of the culinary offerings of this new land, the initial response was typically to bring out a tin of red chilli powder … at breakfast!

There’s a brief summary of how she came to the UK as a student, met my father, married, and settled in the UK. When she left Thailand in the early to mid 60s, Thonburi, where she grew up, was still separate from Bangkok on the other side of the Chao Phraya river and certainly was not so developed. We spent our first family holiday there in 1972, and there was a lot of change already by that time, but looking at photos from that period still shows many areas of fruit cultivation. Fuengsin did not return next to Thailand until after the interview, so she probably had nostalgic recollections in mind when she recalled:

“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!”

Our next family trip was in 1988 and I think we all found the new Bangkok somewhat overwhelming.

The article then moves on to discuss my mother’s Buddhist outlook, which is clearly the theme of the photograph, which shows her in a quite serious pose seated underneath three Buddha rupas. Fuengsin’s characteristic directness is clearly recorded:

“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.”

She had a very practical approach to Dhamma and these teachings are really core to the article, including the value of service. It’s mentioned that Fuengsin taught English to Asian immigrants – I recall she said these were elderly Pakistani ladies and that she was a member of a volunteer group (she didn’t even get her bus fare paid). I’m sure my mother would have had a quip about ‘Big Society’!

The article concludes by switching back to food and more steamed puddings. I think my father and I must accept some responsibility for this – we created quite a demand for puddings and cakes!

You are welcome to read the interview …


A Wander around Chulalongkorn University


The following is a copy of an article I originally posted on, January 16, 2011:


In between conference preparation, pilgrimage, visits and general sight-seeing, I was given a special tour of Chulalongkorn University, by Khun Tewee, a long-time family friend who used to play with my mother as a child. Both of them had studied at Chula – Khun Tewee physical sciences and my mother (then Fuengsin Sarayutpitag) liberal arts. On this occasion I wanted just to get a feel for the environment, and see how much it resembled the scene depicted in group photos from the late 50s (my mother is standing, 5th from the left):

Chulalongkorn University occupies a privileged position in Thai history and culture. Even its Thai wording claims the linguistic distinction of having the word ‘university’ following the name: จุฬาลงกรณ์มหาวิทยาลัย [Chulalongkorn Mahawitthayalai] so it reads in the same order as in English, whereas all other universities would put Mahawitthayalai before the name.

The University has its roots as a civil service training school, founded during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) at the end of the 19th Century CE to help in Siam’s administration. It gradually expanded its remit and so emerged Chulalongkorn University, formally granted its new name and status in 1917, the first university to be established in Thailand. It is located fairly centrally in Pathum Wan district of Bangkok, with the nearest BTS station being National Stadium and occupies a rectangular plot of land plus a number of surrounding buildings.

When Khun Tewee proceeded to showed myself and one of her friends the central site, she led us first of all towards the original entrance across playing fields. There looking out from a raised platform were the University’s two founders commemorated in a memorial statue:

King Rama V and VI, founders of Chula

Seated is King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and standing beside him is King Vajiravudh (Rama VI). Whilst we were there, a couple of students were paying respects, lighting incense sticks. Nearby there were some elaborate floral kratongs, very likely student creations, now looking somewhat bereft after the Loy Kratong festival, but still nice and colourful.

Next we retraced some steps and approached some of the original buildings (or, at least, the oldest that are still standing). Particularly prominent is the main auditorium, where the conferral of degrees and other major ceremonies take place in a grand theatre:

Auditorium, Chulalongkorn University

We then carried on to the Faculty of Arts building, close by, and naturally I was keen to explore.

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The first thing that struck my was the lightness of the building. By modern standards it doesn’t have many floors, but as I wandered around, I could gaining a feeling of great solidity and substance, an imposing presence, with lofty spaces. It was a very distinguished environment and not hard to imagine students feeling like princes or princesses. Every angle seems to be pleasing architecturally, certainly worth protecting with the nagas!

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

The only disappointment was learning that these buildings are now used mainly for administration. So where do the Faculty of Arts students have their classes, if not in these buildings? Looking from the centre, there are new buildings dotted around:

Chulalongkorn University

The tall building in the distance is บรมราชกุมารี Borommarajakumari (Supreme Daughter of His Majesty the King), an epithet for HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who herself was a graduate from the Faculty of Arts in the 1970s (details in a biography). It is a multi-purpose building: as well as lecture spaces, there are exhibition areas and academic staff have rooms towards the top.

Inevitably a lot of change, but it seems to retain a distinguised ethos and it looks like the staff and students continue to build on the heritage. It still looks an attractive place to study.

Somboon Sarayutpitag and Satriwithaya School


The following is slightly edited version of an article I originally posted on, January 14, 2011:


In recent trips to Thailand I’ve been learning how my maternal grandparents greatly valued education. I’m sure they were a strong influence on my mother, Ajahn Fuengsin, who acquired a lifelong interest in learning and transmitting her knowledge through teaching (Ajahn is a general prefix for an established teacher).

My grandfather had been awarded the title of ‘Luang’, so he was subsequently addressed as Capt. Luang Sarayutpitag (he had been a captain in the army). The distinctive Thai surname seems to have been spelt in more than one way; my cousins generally insist on ศรายุธพิทักษ์, but there are several letters that can represent an ‘s’ sound and an extra ท (‘t’) seems optional, so I think it could have been written สรายุทธพิทักษ์ (with an opening ส instead of ศ). I expect that if one knows the roots of Thai language (Sanskrit, Pali and so on), then one can work out the appropriate letter, but I guess that might be like asking someone in the UK to distinguish between Greek and Latin etymology…

Anyway, prior to this visit, I had heard that my grandmother, Khun Yay Somboon Sarayutpitag, had attended the same school as the Somdet Ya, the Princess Mother (the mother to H.M. King Bumiphol). This school was called Satriwithaya School, a girl’s school in the heart of Bangkok. Some time last summer I started typing into Google ศรายุธพิทักษ์ and a few permutations.  Eventually I came across the Web site of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum, the museum of Satriwithaya School, set up in honour and memory of its most famous pupil. Google had spotted an occurrence of the name in the following paragraph:

สิ่งที่เป็นจุดเด่นของพิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่าคือ พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์ ที่มาของภาพเก่าอันทรงคุณค่าของสมเด็จย่า ส่วนหนึ่งมาจากศิษย์เก่าและครูเก่าเก็บไว้ และอีกส่วนหนึ่งได้ไปขอมาจากสำนักพระราชวัง หนึ่งในรูปภาพที่ทรงคุณค่าอย่างยิ่งคือภาพถ่ายหมู่ของนักเรียนชั้นมูลปีที่ หนึ่ง(ปัจจุบันคือระดับอนุบาล) ถ่ายวันที่ 9 มีนาคม ร.ศ.127 (พ.ศ.2451) สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี ครั้งยังทรงเป็น ด.ญ. สังวาลย์ โดยพระองค์ประทับในแถวกลาง เป็นลำดับที่ 3 จากซ้าย ซึ่งภาพต้นฉบับสีซีดจนอ่านตัวหนังสือบนแผ่นกระดานที่แขวนไว้ด้านหลังนัก เรียนไม่ออก ต้องใช้คำบรรยายที่เจ้าของภาพเขียนติดไว้ด้านหลังภาพ ภาพนี้ได้รับความอนุเคราะห์จากทายาทนางสมบุญ ศรายุทธพิทักษ์ ในภาพมี ด.ญ.สมบุญอยู่แถวหน้า ลำดับที่ 6 จากซ้าย ส่วนด้านขวาสุดคือครูทิม

My attempted translation is as follows:

A prominent feature of the Srinagarindra [Somdet Ya] museum is the Royal source of some valuable old pictures of the Princess Mother. One part comes from the collections of alumni and former teachers, and another has been requested from the Bureau of the Royal House. One exceedingly valuable picture is a group photograph of first year pre-elementary students (now equivalent to kindergarten) taken on the 9th of March R.E. (Ratanakosin Era) 127 (B.E. 2451). The Princess Mother [can be seen] at the time when she was still a girl, Miss Sangwan; Her Royal Highness is residing in the central row, 3rd from the left. As an original picture it is extremely faded to the extent that it is not possible to read the writing on the plate mounted on the board behind; it’s necessary to use the description that the owner has attached on the back of the picture. This picture was received with the assistance of the descendants of Mrs. Somboon Sarayutpitag. In the picture Miss Somboon is in the front row, 6th from the left.

The next paragraph presents an invitation:

สำหรับ ผู้ที่อยากชมภาพนี้ มีภาพขยายใหญ่เกือบเท่าตัวจริงติดอยู่ในห้องเอลิซาเบธ ซึ่งเป็นห้องประชุมของโรงเรียน ห้องนี้มีขึ้นในช่วงที่ควีนเอลิซาเบธที่ 2 เสด็จมาที่โรงเรียนสตรีวิทยาในวันที่ 30 ตุลาคม พ.ศ.2539 เพื่อทอดพระเนตรกิจกรรมและนิทรรศการการป้องกันยาเสพติดในสถานศึกษา พระบรมฉายาลักษณ์สมเด็จพระราชินีนาถ เอลิซาเบธที่ 2 พร้อมพระปรมาภิไธยที่ได้รับพระราชทาน ขณะนี้อยู่ที่พิพิธภัณฑ์สมเด็จย่า

In approximate English:

For those who want to look at this picture, there is a near life-size enlargement on display in the Elizabeth room, which used to be the school assembly hall. This room was set up on the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Satriwithaya School on October 30 2539 to observe events and exhibitions relating to drug prevention in schools. The picture of Queen Elizabeth II, together with her signature, is in the Srinagarindra Museum.

I soon found a copy of the photograph online in the Wikipedia entry for the Princess Mother. However, having read the description above I thought, “I’d really like to see this picture for myself at the school!”

I was fortunate. I got in touch with my cousin, P’ Laem, and he made enquiries through an aunt who used to teach there. Soon arrangements were made and we went along to visit one Friday afternoon in late November. Designed around a courtyard, the buildings rise on three sides to several storeys, having expanded considerably since its foundation over a hundred years ago. When we arrived the school was still bustling with activity; at the entrance there was a large tree occasionally shedding its leaves under which a group of pupils was anticipating its every move … and then a leaf would come sailing down and they’d try and catch it. Later when we left there were just two girls by the tree, still playing the same game!

On the left hand side as you enter there is a status to the Princess Mother:

statue of the Srinagarindra (the Princess Mother) at Satriwithaya School
The inscription says it is dedicated to สมเด็จพระศรีนครินทราบรมราชชนนี (Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani), giving the dates she was alive (B.E. 2443 – 2538, i.e. 1900-1995CE). It was unveiled by สมเด็จพระเจ้าพี่นางเธอ เจ้าฟ้ากัลยาณิวัฒนา กรมหลวงนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ (Somdet Phra Chao Phi Nang Thoe Chao Fa Galyani Vadhana Kromma Luang Narathiwat Ratchanakharin). This is the full title of HRH Princess Galyani, the elder sister to H.M. King Bhumipol. P’ Laem informed me that she took a great deal of interest in the Royal family history and was particularly interested in the school. The statue was unveiled in B.E. 2543 (2000 CE).
We were shown inside the museum by a librarian and directed to a number of books on the table. These contained further photographs and descriptions. We learnt that at the time that group photo was taken, Khun Yay Somboon was 14 years old and the eldest in the group. Afterwards we were led to the Queen Elizabeth Room, which now serves as the board room, where the enlargement has been placed on the wall. Here it is (clicking on it will take you to the version on Wikipedia):

Satriwithaya School group photograph, 1908
This photo was taken in 1908, right towards the end of the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Thailand’s process of modernisation through especially European influences is evident in the uniform: you can see the children wearing the traditional jongraben, but also Western style shoes and socks!

Thailand’s tropical climate is very severe on paper, yet the photograph itself is in very good condition. How come? P’ Laem explained that Khun Yay Somboon had cherished this photograph very much and took special care of it. His parents had built their home very close to the grandparents’ house and P’ Laem’s room was almost opposite Khun Yay’s. He could see it hanging at the back of the room as Khun Yay emerged onto her balcony. The positioning was deliberate!

The Princess Mother subsequently went on to Chulalongkorn Hospital to study nursing. Khun Yay also had an opportunity to study there but declined, apparently afraid of the ghosts! Thai people are generally sensitive to spirits, but this response surprised me as she was certainly a strong character, as I hope to convey in a future post or two…