Weekly Local Biography

 Margaret Bhadungzong


The 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 German stock.

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 women.

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 read Thai.

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!