By Tanaporn Khotphat
Born and raised in Thailand, I had never imagined forging a special bond with China. In my mind, China was a distant and mysterious place with strong appeal, and I always thought I would see as many places as possible if I ever found the chance to visit the country.
In 2008, I found the opportunity to go to Nanning, capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to receive postgraduate education and earn a Master of Tourism Administration (MTA) from the Business School of Guangxi University. My Chinese was grossly inadequate to keep up in class, and I had to use a recorder to catch everything I missed. After learning about my difficulties, Dr. Ling Changrong, a university supervisor of MTA students, assigned two Chinese students to help me.
My Chinese partners were very patient with teaching me Chinese, which rapidly improved my language proficiency and enabled me to keep up with the program. My days at Guangxi University were happiest when my Chinese classmates escorted me to shop, eat barbecue, sing Chinese songs and watch movies. I also learned how to shop on Taobao, an online shopping site, and play Chinese card games and mahjong. I even tried baijiu, a Chinese liquor. After graduation,I bought a mahjong table and an automatic tile-shuffling machine on Taobao.
The MTA program involved studying and researching various places, so alongside lessons in classrooms, I frequently visited other cities. From snowy northeastern cities to sweltering Sanya, from cosmopolitan Shanghai to rustic Xinjiang, I set foot in many places across the country. I was awed by China’s broadness and its abundant resources, dazzled by the country’s local characteristics and customs, and fascinated by its bountiful food. I never tired of the flavors of Goudong, a food district near the campus of Guangxi University.
The Journey Continues
After graduating from Guangxi University, I returned home and became a teacher at the Confucius Institute of Suan Dusit University at Suphanburi. I had never imagined teaching in a college, and the position even surpassed the expectations of my father, a principal at a middle school.
In 2013, I received a text message from Lin Yuanhui, associate dean of the Business School of Guangxi University, asking if I wanted to return to work on a doctoral degree. As a foreigner who had already struggled with Chinese, I hesitated because I knew an even greater command of Chinese would be needed to complete another degree. However, I also knew that a master’s degree might be insufficient to teach in many universities. After coordinating with the directors of Suan Dusit University, I finally decided to return to Guangxi University to work on a doctorate in industrial economics.
My doctoral supervisor was Professor Yang Yongde, who offered great help with my studies as well as with my personal life. He frequently escorted me to study and research sessions to help improve my professional skills.
My doctoral thesis focused on the tourism of Bangkok. To finish it, I chose to stay on campus during the Chinese New Year. Professor Yang invited me to celebrate the festival with his family and, like many elders do for younger family members during such an occasion, he gave me hongbao, a traditional Chinese gift of money presented in a red envelope.
I was appointed the Thai dean of the Confucius Institute of Suan Dusit University at Suphanburi while I was still preparing my doctoral thesis. The duties included with the appointment required considerable time and effort, so I ended up spending my days working at the Confucius Institute and my nights working on the thesis. Sometimes I turned to Professor Yang for help and advice when I encountered writer’s block. Professor Yang was always patient when hearing my complaints, after which he would analyze the problems I presented and help devise solutions in writing. Professor Yang also went over my thesis meticulously and marked problems such as grammatical errors as well as highlighting places I needed a better argument. Without Professor Yang, I never would have completed my doctoral thesis.
In November 2017, my thesis was finally accepted, relieving me of the intense pressure to graduate. Professor Yang noted that he spent over three times the effort helping my studies than he normally did for Chinese students.
Mission and Destination
As dean of the Confucius Institute of Suan Dusit University at Suphanburi, I have many opportunities to return to Guangxi University for work. For me, Guangxi University is my second home, and every time I see my former teachers and classmates, it is like a family reunion.
I was already dean for a year and a half when I graduated from Guangxi University and obtained my doctorate. From studying at the school to working for it, I always remained a student of Guangxi University. My love for the institution has translated into extensive efforts to promote communication and cooperation between the two universities and between China and Thailand.
Promoting Chinese language and culture has become a central part of my life, and I believe that only communication across languages and cultures can help peoples from different countries know each other well. I want more Thai people have access to the Chinese language, so I facilitated the opening of Chinese classes for many majors of Suan Dusit University including aviation, tourism, cooking and preschool education. The twiceweekly public Chinese class offered by the Confucius Institute has attracted many people from all walks of life. The annual Chinese class for tourism police has received wide acclaim. As a result, the Confucius Institute of Suan Dusit University began attracting many civil servants, and we started offering Chinese classes specifically for them.
More and more managers of enterprises and even hotels reached out to me, looking for Chinese classes. As a teacher of Chinese classes, I wanted them feel the appeal of the Chinese language and culture with fun and humor so they would gradually cast off bias and even fear of China. To expand the reach of Chinese teaching, we also launched online classes recently so kindergarten teachers in distant areas can access Chinese learning.
I have more Chinese than Thai friends in my WeChat contacts now. I hope more Thai students go to China to learn Chinese and that more Thai people gain a good command of the language. This has been my end goal for many years.