Weekly Local Biography

  Dominique Leutwiler

The 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 Bangkok.

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 situation.

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 looking.”

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.