By Wang Fengjuan, Shi Guang
During winters, Chiang Mai still feels as warm as spring. At Chiang Mai University, the sun refracted through the glass windows into a classroom where the faculty of Chiang Mai University was vigorously studying Chinese. Narumit Hinshiranan (Chinese name Sun Jiangong), looked up from taking notes to say, “Learn well and make progress every day” in Mandarin, which sent him bursting into laughter. He admitted he hoped to improve his pronunciation through the training course and understand more about China as well as its social and economic development by reading newspapers to promote exchange between Thailand and China.
Hinshiranan once lived in China for seven years as a diplomat. As early as 1986 he worked at the Thai Embassy in Beijing, and in 2009 he returned to China to serve as consul general of Thailand in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. “When I returned to work in China the second time, twenty years had passed, so I had strong feelings about China’s rapid development. It was a dramatic change beyond recognition,” he recalled.
1986-1990: Dream Come True in Beijing
“I was fascinated by foreign languages at a young age,” revealed Hinshiranan when discussing his “first dream.” “I dreamed of becoming a diplomat.” After graduating from Chulalongkorn University, the top university in Thailand, he won a scholarship to study in France and eventually earned a doctorate there. Diligence and hard work helped him seize the diplomacy dream when he finally joined the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 1986, Hinshiranan assumed his post at the Thai Embassy in Beijing. As soon as he arrived in the city, he began to work on his Chinese language and Chinese history and culture. At that time, the Thai Embassy was located at No. 40 Guanghua Road in Beijing. The embassy and the ambassador’s residence were in the same area, so he didn’t have to move around the city much. Back then, China was still enforcing a six-day work week, so everyone was working on Saturdays, but embassy staff enjoyed a half day off on Saturdays.
“In those days, ASEAN member states with embassies in Beijing included Malaysia and the Philippines in addition to Thailand,” he recalled. On August 8, 1990, Indonesia resumed diplomatic relations with China. On October 3, 1990, Singapore and China officially established diplomatic relations. “At that time, ASEAN had only five members. By 1997, all ASEAN countries had established embassies in Beijing. In fact, Singapore had set up an office long before.” Today, all 10 ASEAN countries maintain close ties with China. The year 2016 was the 25th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue between China and ASEAN. And last year marked 15 years of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership.
Back then, Hinshiranan and his wife lived in an apartment near Beijing Friendship Store, the first home for the couple and their daughter who was born at China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing. “That hospital seemed far away, and the streets were silent at night, far from as bustling as they are today,” he recalled.
Hinshiranan used to enjoy riding a bicycle in the summer like locals. He secured a bamboo-knit child’s seat on the back of his bike and took his daughter all around the city. Back then, a red license plate was required under the bike’s seat. Hinshiranan liked cycling through narrow hutong lanes surrounding Chinese-style courtyard compounds.
“Once, I took my daughter by bicycle to Chang’an Avenue near Tiananmen Square,” he recalled. “It was very breezy, and my daughter started dozing off. She leaned her head on one of my arms. I had to stop and sit down to hold my sleeping daughter.” He noted that passersby looked on with kind eyes. Chinese people have a strong sense of family and consider childcare everyone’s responsibility, even for other people’s children. “While holding my child, some people suggested I dress her in warmer clothes,” he smiled.
At that time, China’s economy was just starting to recover, and most people did not have too much money. Children often wore ill-fitting large winter clothes, such as a long jacket that they would eventually grow into. “This demonstrated Chinese wisdom and frugality,” quipped Sun.
2009-2012: Old Chengdu Hand
Sichuan Province and its capital city of Chengdu are in the southwestern quadrant of China. Dubbed the “land of abundance” in ancient times, Sichuan serves as the gateway to western China and the home of giant pandas.
“Going to Sichuan is as hard as going up to the sky,” laments a poem by famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Ba (701-762). In ancient times its remote distance and complicated landform made Sichuan a difficult place to visit for outsiders. “If what the poet said is true, I really arrived in Heaven,” Hinshiranan noted with a smile. He loved Chengdu deeply. Shortly after getting off the plane, he began promoting communication between Chengdu and cities in Thailand, which resulted in Chiang Mai becoming its sister city. In July 2010, co-sponsored by Chiang Mai University and Chengdu University, the first Thai language and culture center opened at Chengdu University. Both Chiang Mai and Chengdu have long histories and rich culture, abundant tourist resources and people living happy lives, according to Hinshiranan. He hopes the two cities can cooperate in tourism and the cultural industry. Now, direct flights connect the cities and Chengdu residents need only a day to get a visa for Thailand.
Chengdu is an open international city with beautiful scenery and a leisurely lifestyle. After he became the consul general, Hinshiranan realized that many Thai people had lived in Chengdu for a decade or more. “When they first arrived, they couldn’t speak a single word of Chinese, but now they speak it fluently and are realizing their dreams,” reported Hinshiranan. “They gave the city high marks.” Many Thai students even decide to stay to work and live in the city after graduation.
During his three-year stay in Chengdu, Hinshiranan received visiting Thai royal family members three times. And the Thai Parliament president attended Western China International Fair held in Chengdu. “I am satisfied with my work, especially my achievements in promoting relations between Sichuan and Chongqing with my country,” he declared confidently. “I will continue to enhance exchanges between our two countries and help more Thai people know China, a charming country with rapid development.”
For many years, Sichuan’s outbound tourists have been choosing Thailand as their first destination. The country’s sea views and Buddhist relics are attractive to residents of landlocked Sichuan while Sichuan’s famous mountains and rivers as well as natural and cultural heritages continue to draw Thai people. In 2003, a giant panda settled in Thailand, which not only ignited “panda fever,” but also helped more Thai people learn about Sichuan.
Hinshiranan has developed a great attachment to Chengdu. When talking about hot pot, Sichuan food or the history of the Three Kingdoms (220-280), Hinshiranan sounds like a Chengdu local. “Once you visit Chengdu, you will find it hard to leave. I really like to live in Chengdu for the delicious food.”
Reform and Opening-up for a Better Life
During his term in Beijing, Hinshiranan once accompanied the Thai delegation to meet Deng Xiaoping, architect of China’s reform and opening-up. “Deng was a statesman I respect very much,” revealed the Thai diplomat. “He contributed tremendously to China’s reform and opening-up. I know Deng always expected to witness the return of Hong Kong and Macao to China, which finally happened on July 1, 1997 and October 20, 1999, respectively.” During his stay in Chengdu, Hinshiranan visited Deng’s hometown of Guang’an City, where a statue of Deng looming over the central square encourages locals to stride forward with reform and opening-up.
Hinshiranan discussed his perception of China’s reform and opening-up. In 1978, Deng paid a visit to Singapore and Thailand. The same year, China began to implement the reform and opening-up policy. Although four decades ago Chinese people did not know where “wading across the river by feeling for the stones” would lead them, the government decided to designate Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xia’men as special economic zones. If those cities were successful, the related experience could be spread across the country. As it turned out, China’s reform and opening-up has succeeded in a big way.
Before he left Beijing, Hinshiranan witnessed Beijing’s hosting of the 11th Asian Games in December 1990. As the first large-scale comprehensive sports meeting held in China, the event was naturally the top priority for the country at that time. The emblem of the Asian Games featuring a giant panda named Panpan was ubiquitous on Beijing’s streets, alleys and TV sets, leaving it deeply imprinted in the minds of the Chinese people. This giant panda, with his left hand holding a gold medal and his right thumb up, conveyed the hospitability and friendliness of the Chinese people as well as China’s attitude towards opening to the world. “Leveraging the games as an opportunity to showcase the new image and determination of China’s reform and opening-up, Beijing achieved rapid development due to the event.”
“Twenty years later, I was dispatched to China again just as the country was hosting the second Asian Games in Guangzhou,” Hinshiranan continued. “The same year, the Shanghai World Expo was held themed ‘Better City Better Life.’” Thanks to reform and opening-up, all cities nationwide have developed rapidly. Alongside the capital city, other cities including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chongqing and Chengdu have also seen high growth. “In 2008, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympic Games, and it will host Winter Olympics in 2022, which will make it the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympics.”
The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese nation has stood up and grown rich, and will become increasingly stronger. Hinshiranan was impressed with Chinese people’s spirit of unity and hard work. In 2008, a powerful earthquake hit Sichuan. With support across the country and around the world, Sichuan completed large-scale reconstruction work in just three years and the public returned to their usual lives. After the earthquake, Thai Princess Sirindhorn offered assistance to the disaster-hit area many times and donated 11 million yuan (US$1.61 million) to rebuild Xianfenglu Primary School in Mianyang, which later was renamed after her. Hinshiranan once accompanied the princess to visit Mianyang. “Thailand and China are friendly neighbors,” he asserted. “Floods and tsunamis also happen in my country. China has provided great experience on disaster-prevention and relief for us, such as their methods to resettle victims and reconstruct. The Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan is a remarkable ancient water conservancy project. Water conservancy is a great development that benefits both the country and the people.”
Hinshiranan has retired from his diplomatic career but continues working as a visiting professor at Chiang Mai University and bridging China and Thailand as a scholar. “I hope to continue my efforts to promote mutual understanding between the Chinese and Thai people,” declared Hinshiranan.