Botan is a pen-name for Suweeriya Sirisingh, who was born in Thonburi in 1947.
She wrote Letters from Thailand whilst she was studying at Chulalongkorn University, and is was published when she was only 21 years old. In 1999 she was made an honourable National Artist of Thailand. Here’s what she has to say abut her book and about Thailand;
1. What is your favourite food? I like hot(with chilli) food such as shrimp paste sauce (nam prig) with vegetables but I don’t like mackerel or platoo (in Thai). I like to eat the shrimp paste with fried dry gourami. (Pla sa-lid)
2. How did you choose the main character in Letters from Thailand? How similar are the events in the book to anything that has happened in your own life? I like to use first person in describing and narrating my novel so I will choose the main character who is straight and feels profoundly deep about his surrounding, so that readers will understand how he feels, why he does and behaves like that, not only telling his life or story.
The events in the book were not anything that happened in my life but happened in many Chinese families around me. I speak and understand Chouchow (Taechiew), a Chinese dialect, mostly spoken in Thailand so I understand both Thai and Chinese people. Luckily, most Chinese people around me didn’t know that I understood every word they chatted about themselves and Thai people. They couldn’t think that a girl, although from a Chinese family, who studied in Thai school and university, could read and write Chinese and would understand all their conversations.
3. What can children learn about Thailand from reading your book? Maybe children will know about immigrants’ feelings and understand the Thai middle class and how Chinese in Thailand assimilate with Thai people so well. I think that middle class people in big cities in Thailand mostly have Chinese ancestry. Traditionally Thais continue their family from maternal lines, they continually changed to the paternal line like the Chinese. Now we can both choose between mother or father’s family.
4. Did you do any research for your story, and if so how did you go about it? I was born in a Chinese family. I never spoke Thai at home until my father passed away. I knew a writer and publisher who knew Chinese very well and I would ask him about Chinese culture, books, operas, etc. About the Chinese way of life, I learnt from my father and my relatives, who even now still keep their Chinese way of life.
Letters from Thailand was first published in Thai, and was later translated into English by Susan Fulop Kepner.