business card says ‘Manager of Siam Top Stone Company’, the
people who make those rolling ball stone fountains, but the
slim, composed young woman sitting in front of me looked nothing
at all like a stonemason! Dominique Leutwiler is, however, a
young woman who says that, “No matter how well you plan your
life, you have to be prepared for changes, and you have to be
flexible.” When we began discussing her situation, you could
see immediately just how flexible she has been prepared to be
during her very interesting life.
Dominique was born in Panama, the daughter of
a Swiss engineer who worked for the Nestle Company,
commissioning plants around the world. The next move took her to
Spain where she started school. “I used to go to a Spanish
school. Spanish was my first language, but now I can’t speak
it anymore,” she said rather ruefully.
Next it was West Africa, on the Ivory Coast,
where she went to a French speaking local village school in the
jungle, where her classmates had never seen a white person
before, let alone one who arrived speaking Spanish, but was to
leave speaking French.
To ensure that she didn’t grow up as
Francophile, her next 12 months of schooling were in the German
speaking part of Switzerland, followed by five years in Greece!
Travelling was not over yet, as the next 12 months were spent in
With this varied schooling and varied
languages, her parents decided she should go back to Switzerland
to complete her education. This was all very fine on paper, but
with her parents remaining in Bangkok, the young girl went back
alone and problems began to surface immediately. “I realized I
couldn’t stay in Switzerland. I could not fit in any more. I
was Swiss on paper - but that was all.”
She was hankering for travel so much that she
decided on a career in the hotel industry. “This would make it
possible for me to travel again, and work outside of
Switzerland! Getting out was the driving force. I liked the
tropics and Switzerland was too cold and grey.”
However, she was not able to up and leave as
soon as she had graduated from hotel school. Her grandmother was
in poor health, and then Dominique became pregnant. Another
‘change’ had happened, to keep her back on Swiss soil. She
had to leave the hotel industry and worked in the office of a
school, one of the few employers that would let her bring her
son to work.
Another ‘change agent’ also happened soon
after. Her father was about to be retired from Nestle, but
wanted to stay in Thailand and the Siam Top Stone factory was
kicked off, as a kind of hobby to keep father Leutwiler from
getting bored. Dominique had friends in the US, so she and her
partner and their young son went to America to set up a
distribution network for the stone fountains.
By the time six years had elapsed, Dominique
had added to the family with another boy and then twins, but
life in the US was becoming unrewarding for the young mother.
“We lived in downtown Miami and I had to walk round with a gun
in my pocket. I was just becoming so scared for the children. It
was a very stressful life we were leading.” Adding to that
stress was the fact that the ‘family’ relationship between
herself and her children and her partner had turned sour. It was
time again for a change. “I decided to do something for the
children. It was 2001, and I left everything behind and came to
Chiang Mai with the children.” The choice of Chiang Mai was
because we had a German speaking school, and she felt that one
day the children would probably go back to Europe to complete
their education too.
This was obviously a trying period for the
young mother. Whilst her parents understood, they were
apprehensive. The children also did not fully understand the
size of the rift between their mother and their father, and only
by making the complete split could they come to terms with the
So she came to Chiang Mai, a single mother
with four children, a situation that many women could not
possibly contemplate. But it was not to end there. Her father
was now getting on in years and the stone fountain business was
going through tough times too, so she took that on as well, when
she arrived. With direct competition from China’s lower labour
costs, many businesses have been hit hard, and Dominique’s is
no exception. She has had to downsize as she looks for
alternative products and markets.
While on the surface this looks like a tale
of woe and a woman up to her armpits in alligators, Dominique
does not see it that way. “For myself, I am always looking on
the positive side.” I asked her what her chances were of
finding another partner to help with child rearing and she
replied, “Zero! I wouldn’t be opposed to having a partner,
to give the children a ‘family’, but I’m not really
She is a very philosophical woman and has
come to terms with her own life, and the influences of travel.
“You get to know different cultures and religions and
languages. But there is a downside. Your nationality. You lose
track of where ‘home’ is. You have no real roots, so my
family has to be the ‘roots’, no matter where the location.
In Chiang Mai you can lose the big picture of where the world
really is. There’s an innocence here. I have been previously
trapped in social expectations, but here, perhaps I can do
things a little differently. I try to be realistic.”
She is really very realistic and fully understands action and
consequence, and if I were a betting man, I would give good odds
that this woman and her children will make it.