Kanokwan Ukosit is not a ‘tree hugger’,
though she does belong to the "Love the Forest"
community here in northern Thailand. A small, bird-like lady
with a twinkle in her eyes, she took early retirement from
Chiang Mai University, where she was in charge of the Faculty of
Associated Medical Sciences, because she felt that by remaining
there she was stopping some younger people in their advancement.
Selflessness in someone always makes for an interesting person,
though it is sometimes difficult to get them to open up fully.
Kanokwan was one of those, saying all the way through the
interview, "I don’t know why you want to talk to me?
There’s nothing interesting about me." However, shall we
let the readers judge? For starters, she has studied overseas
with two grants from the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) and has met Hans Blix. Yes the same pre-Iraq IAEA and the
same Hans Blix!
Kanokwan was born in Bangkok, where her
father was a clerk in the Bank of Thailand. From a middle class
family, she completed her schooling through a government school,
but her grades were such that she was accepted into
Chulalongkorn University to study medicine. "In those days
the most popular career was to be a medical doctor. I wanted to
do that originally, but after two years at Chulalongkorn I
decided against medicine and took up Zoology instead." The
fact that she had an aunt who was a scientist may have had some
bearing on this.
After the five year course, she had no real
idea of where she would work and what she should do, as her only
real experience was vacation employment. Between semesters she
had worked in the radio-isotope laboratory in the Faculty of
Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University. However, her work in
this area was so good, she was offered a permanent job there,
straight after graduation. "It was quite exciting. The use
of radio-isotopes was very new, and their use in tropical
medicine was applicable to Thailand."
She fitted in so well, that she worked there
for 11 years, finally moving to Chiang Mai to accept the
position as lecturer at CMU. This was in the newly opened
Department of Radiological Technology, and where she had to
devise a new curriculum for this new subject. This in turn led
to her becoming the lecturer in nuclear medicine for technology
students. The girl who had decided against being a doctor, had
ended up teaching young doctors-to-be.
Her career at CMU continued upwards, becoming
head of the department and the assistant dean of the Faculty of
Associated Medical Sciences. During all this time, she was also
making contact with people and institutions overseas, as the
knowledge of Nuclear Medicine began to burgeon. She was
instrumental in arranging student exchange schemes, lecturer
exchanges and continuous further education for her students in
Chiang Mai. This also meant that she too went overseas, and she
has spent time both in the UK and Australia on IAEA scholarships
and grants. This saw her in the UK for almost two years,
bringing back to this country the latest developments in the
application of radio-isotopes in haematology (the study of the
blood). It was at this time she met the man who was to become
the chief UN weapons inspector, "I remember Hans Blix - he
was looking after the scholarship section!" (I am sure that
he probably wished he had stayed there!)
However, there was more to come for this
energetic woman, so she took early retirement. "I wanted to
have more time to do what I wanted to do, and I felt I should
let some younger people move up and do my job." Seniority
systems can stifle young ambition, but I am sure Kanokwan was
sorely missed by everyone.
One of the many things she did after retiring
was to help a friend in a spiritual centre. "We created a
network, called the Silver Dove, to offer courses in
spirituality. I helped with the administration and arranged a
world vegetarian congress here in Chiang Mai in 1999." In
many ways it was history repeating itself, this was some of the
types of work that she had done with CMU.
Other public organizations that she helps
includes the Cancer Foundation of the North, where she is on the
committee. Another interesting aspect in her ‘new’ (away
from CMU) life is that she is a member of the Community Forest
Foundation. This is a part of the Love the Forest Community.
"We try to tell the world that people can live in the
forest and preserve and conserve. Many of the hill tribes are
already doing this. The Karens have done this for over 100
years. They preserve 100% of their forests," she said with
zeal and enthusiasm. "They look after the forest, but they
will die out if forced to live in the lowlands. They will lose
their identity and culture." As mentioned at the beginning
of the article, she is not a ‘tree hugger’ but rather a
woman who wants to preserve the forest heritage. Her knowledge
of the Karen lifestyle is not just academic either, whenever she
can, she ventures into the mountains to go visiting the hill
Her own ambitions also lie towards
experiencing the natural wonders of our planet. "I would
like to go to the Himalayas. I love nature and want to see the
natural wonders of the world." I did not even venture a
consideration as to whether mountain climbing would be a little
too much for someone, no longer in the bloom of youth, but
rejected the thought. Kanokwan Ukosit would be able to do
anything she wanted to do, I am quite sure. After all, she has
managed to do this all her life till now. Why would anything
Not an interesting person? I beg to differ, Khun Kanokwan!
Chiang Mai has been honoured to have you with us.