publisher of the “Welcome to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai”
magazine is long term resident Margaret Bhadungzong, an American
lady who demonstrates that strength can be inherited. The
immediate past president of Zonta International in Chiang Mai,
she is a prime example of what women can achieve in society -
not just Chiang Mai society - but any society.
Margaret was born in Akron Ohio in the Unites
States, the auto tyre capital, where her father worked in the
rubber industry. She came from good German stock, with
grandparents who had emigrated to forge a new life in America.
She speaks with much fondness of one grandmother who made her
own sausages and pickles and sold them to Americans who had not
yet experienced the real German sausages. These women were tough
pioneers, in many ways, adapting to new lives in ‘alien’
cultures that espoused foreign languages.
Her mother was also a strong character.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Margaret, “She was one of
the first women butchers.” Again showing the strength of the
When Margaret finished school she wrote in
the high school year book, “My goal is to see the world.”
However, the first part of the world she was to see, was the
position as medical receptionist for a doctor, but prepared to
advance herself by studying business at night at university.
This was, in a roundabout way, to alter the course of her life.
A date was set up for her with an overseas student of polymer
chemistry, who came from Thailand. There was an immediate
attraction which led to a marriage, which is still in place over
30 years later. It also led towards her accomplishing that high
school year book dream.
After her husband wanted to return home to
Thailand, they came to Bangkok and Margaret looked for work. Her
ability with Thai language was marginal, despite a three month
course she had taken in the US, which made it difficult for her.
She had a couple of positions, including sales for a travel
magazine (shades of what was to come many years later) and that
of a Girl Friday. However, with the advent of her son, she
retired from the work force for a short while.
In Thai fashion, her mother-in-law came to
help with the baby, and Margaret was able to indulge in that
need to work again, gaining a job in sales for a food importer.
“This was the job of my dreams. I met all the food and
beverage people and had a great social life. It was a challenge
to go out and prove to myself that I could do things. Mother
always worked so I guess I didn’t think there was anything
unusual in my working and having my own money to spend.” The
strong independence from her forebears was very evident. During
this time she also received a diploma in hotel management
through a distance education campus in America.
After this initial euphoria, life in the
nation’s capital began to show its downside. “Our life was
becoming so miserable. We were spending all of our life in
traffic!” They decided to move, but did not know where. Her
husband had a relative in the north, so they came in this
direction. A day trip to Chiang Mai was eye opening. “We liked
the city and fell in love with the moat. The idea of being in a
place with a 700 year old moat was awesome.”
They thought long and hard about coming to
Chiang Mai as work was not easy to find, but after 12 months,
made the big decision and came here to live. “Let’s start
all over again,” said Margaret, and she took a job as front
office manager in a hotel, but also had to take the full
responsibility of child raising as her husband was forced to
take a 3 year contract in the Middle East.
The Thai language was still a problem for
her, “I was the only one in the hotel who did not speak Thai.
However, I had to teach English to the staff and while doing
that I gradually began to pick up the Thai words myself. It was
a pretty nifty way to learn Thai.” She had already tried
formal classes again, but the slow didactic methods were not her
style. “I want results right away!”
After the hotel work she gravitated towards
producing a magazine with a partner, but when her husband
returned from the Middle East they began afresh with their own
magazine “Welcome to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai” which has
been very successful for them and takes up much of her time.
However, she still has time to look at the
plight of others in society. “I have a super life, but you
don’t have to go out too far from the city to see how frugally
people live.” To help these people she became a charter member
(and now a past president) of Zonta International, a 70,000
member strong world-wide organization to advance the status of
She lists reading as a favourite hobby, with
Buddhism and biographies of successful women her preferred
topics. “I follow a Buddhist philosophy, but I’m still a
Christian, especially after the events of September 11 2001.”
Margaret Bhadungzong is not a Germaine Greer
style of female liberationist, but is more the product of a long
line of strong women. The drive that saw her grandmother selling
home made pickles is just as strong in that German immigrant
lady’s grand-daughter. Margaret is definitely not ready to sit
in a rocking chair in the corner. She is ready to do her bit for
society as well as for her own personal endeavours, which having
now learned to speak Thai includes the ambition to be able to
She has also not forgotten that high school year book entry
either, “I’m planning a trip to Istanbul and northern
Cyprus.” Enjoy it, Margaret!