Weekly Local Biography

 Hope (Esperanza) Watcharaprecha

 

The new president of the Rotary Club of Chiang Mai Thinthaingam, Hope (Esperanza) Watcharaprecha is a vivacious lady with a very colourful American background, but has been here so long, she is probably more Thai than some Thais, despite obstacles that would have stopped most new settlers in this country. Now read on.

She was a middle child in a family of six, christened ‘Esperanza’ and was born in Dallas Texas. Her father was of Dutch-Mexican-American extraction and her mother was Mexican-American-Spanish.

The family moved to Arizona and Hope (no her sisters were not called Faith and Charity) was in her words, “an average student”. However, when she was nine years old, a very traumatic event occurred - the death of her father. The family split up, there being too many children for her mother to raise as a sole parent, and Hope went to live with her grandmother. At that stage she felt that her future in life was to teach Spanish to Mexican children. Later events showed that she was wrong on all counts!

When she was 18 years old and it was time for university, she was shunted off to California to stay with her elder sister. There she went to classes and worked part-time in an office. This part-time position was to change her direction, far more than anything in her life up to that point. There she met a foreign exchange student from Thailand who was also working for the company and she helped him with his paperwork. The paperwork assistance extended eventually into a marriage license! For Hope the future looked assured. “We both had good jobs. I thought we were staying there forever.”

“Forever” did not last long. Her husband was called back to Thailand to help out in the family business, and like all good sons he obeyed. Hope followed him, ostensibly on a holiday, and stayed. “I was so young, so naive. It was a difficult time - there was no McDonalds,” she said and laughed at the memory. However, she did not laugh when she recalled further, “It was kinda difficult. Initially I was not accepted by his family. I was homesick. I packed my bags three times!”

But she stayed and helped her husband with the hardware store the family had opened. “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. My husband just said to sit there and smile.” She gradually won over her in-laws with perseverance and hard work. “I did my apprenticeship in the hardware shop. At nights I taught English and learned Thai as it came.” She also found the time to have her son here in Chiang Mai.

She must have passed her apprenticeship, because she ended up being so accepted by the family that they began not to think of her as a foreigner. “Nobody thinks of me as a ‘Falang’ any more. What kept me going was my determination to show them I could achieve something here.”

The hardware store became a quarry 17 years ago in a joint venture with Siam Cement, and Hope continued working there, but by this time the US Consulate would also bring homesick American wives to her for assistance and to lend a sympathetic ear. The International Women’s Group also took much of her time (she was president for two years) and more recently she has become a welfare officer for the Children’s Court and the Children’s Correction Home.

10 years ago she joined Rotary International, a member of the first women’s Rotary Club in Thailand, and now is the club’s 10th president. During all this time of serving others, she additionally began to realize that she too had to grow, spiritually. 8 years ago she made contact with the Brahma Kumairs World Spiritual University. “I guess I’m a late starter. This turned me around. Now I know what I am. I can now apply the knowledge obtained over the years to help people.” Helping people now includes having two or three poor children living with her at home, as well as assisting the older needy people in the community.

The Raja Yoga Meditation learned through the Spiritual University has been a strong force for Hope, and has helped her see her own personal life direction and define concepts. “Meditation helps so much. I live my day as if it were the last day. I don’t think too much about tomorrow. The future is set up for us.” Despite still adhering to a ‘Christian’ label, she freely admits to believing in reincarnation. “My body is just an instrument. The important part is the soul.”

When she is not running her Rotary Club, or her other charity pursuits, she enjoys reading, especially Spanish novellas - ‘Esperanza’ is still there in the background. She used to play golf, but finds she no longer has the time for this. Her hobby, if one could call it such, is travel. She goes to India every year to the Spiritual University, but enjoys going anywhere on the globe. “I have friends all over the world. After you pass 50 you can use all the stuff you’ve learned. You are now mellow.”

Hope (Esperanza) Watcharaprecha has gone from being a young girl propelled all over America by circumstances. Her ties with her American family she describes as more Mexican spiritual rather than physical bonds. She does not return to America very often. In the early stages of her life here there was a business to build up and naturally as she became an integral part of a Thai-Chinese family and became fluent in the Thai language, it is understandable for loyalties to shift.

I asked her if she were still an American, now after 29 years in the Kingdom and she was hesitant. “Hmmm, that’s a good question,” she mused. “Sort of half and half I suppose.” As Wimbledon was on while we did the interview, I asked if she were barracking for Roddick (USA) or Thailand’s Paradorn? You guessed it - Paradorn!