From leprosy colony to culinary queen: Thai food blogger’s epic journey

Photo courtesy of The Spokesman-Review

Suwanee Lennon‘s incredible life story takes us from the shadows of a leprosy colony in Thailand to the vibrant kitchens of her American home.

Suwanee Lennon’s life began in the heart of Bangkok, within a leprosy colony that stood as a symbol of fear and isolation. Now, she’s a wife, mother, food blogger, and photographer who uses the power of Thai cuisine to bridge the gap between her past and present.

In an exclusive interview, Lennon delves into the history of leprosy in Thailand, narrating the haunting tale of 13 locked and gated villages that emerged 70 years ago.

“People were extremely afraid. The government built 13 villages which were locked and gated to keep people in and out.”

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Born to a young, unwed mother in Bangkok, Lennon’s life took an unexpected turn when she was handed over to her aunt and uncle, both leprosy patients, to be raised in a government-run leprosy colony. While the disease may have been eradicated in Thailand, the colonies endure, harboring not only the original patients but their descendants as well.

“I went to school outside the village.”

Lennon reflected on the challenges of being considered an outcast due to the stigma surrounding leprosy. Adding to her isolation was the fact that she was biracial.

Her life changed at 13 when an American woman, accompanied by a Thai doctor, visited the village, forging an instant connection with Lennon. Recognizing the opportunities awaiting her in the US, her birth mother, aunt, and uncle agreed to let the woman sponsor Lennon’s move, eventually leading to her adoption.

Beginnings of Thai cooking

Lennon’s journey in the US began with a trip to an Asian grocery store where she, armed with only knowledge of cooking jasmine rice, embarked on a culinary adventure. Soon, she mastered the art of Thai cooking, becoming a passionate advocate for introducing others to the rich tapestry of Thai cuisine.

“I wanted to go back to Thailand and feed my village.”

Four years ago, she started her food blog, and began teaching cooking classes to raise funds for her dream.

While working as a graphic designer, Lennon fell in love with photography, showcasing the vibrant dishes she creates on her blog. Her recipes, accompanied by step-by-step instructions and photos, aim to demystify Thai cooking, making it accessible to all, reported The Spokesman Review.

Lennon’s dream of repaying her village for their kindness came true in April, as she, along with 15 women, cooked enough food to feed the entire village for two days. Plans for a return in April are already in motion, as Lennon is determined to continue sharing the love and flavours of her heritage.

“Every time I go back, I learn something new. I’ve seen where I come from, and I don’t want to forget.”

Bangkok NewsThailand News

Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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