PHUKET: The reception area of the Phuket Passport Office is teeming with people waiting to apply for their travel documents. Officers dressed smartly in Nyonya style – women in sarongs and Kebaya blouses and men wearing Batik print shirts – give an air of friendly efficiency.
“It’s part of the governor’s initiative to promote local culture,” says Passport Chief Siriporn Tantipanyathep. “Thursday is Nyonya day. Friday is island theme, when we all wear bright batik tops.”
For a career diplomat like Siriporn, whose job has taken her across continents, working in Phuket must seem like a holiday. “Providing passport services is part of the Foreign Ministry’s public diplomacy, but as the only Foreign Ministry representative in Phuket, I also assist the governor in dealing with foreign delegations and foreign affairs,” says Siriporn, who took up the position in November of last year.
She says that the job is made easy with close cooperation from the heads of other government offices, who have become good friends.
“Thanks to the governor’s drive and commitment to streamline cooperation through weekly meetings both formally and informally.”
Siriporn has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Thammasat University and a master’s in Commerce from University of New South Wales, Australia. She started working for the Foreign Ministry in the mid-1990s, having impressed examiners by earning a top score on the Ministry’s entrance test.
Siriporn’s first posting was with the Thai Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which also handled Bhutan as well. After two years in Dhaka, she was transferred to Belgium. There for four years, as First Secretary to the Thai Embassy in Brussels, Siriporn had a chance to put her knowledge and skills in economics to good use.
“It was a tough job, but it gave me valuable experience,” she says.
“I was part of the Mission of Thailand to the European Union, responsible for economic issues, including lobbying to EU authorities for Thailand’s interests.”
After a few years back working at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Bangkok, Siriporn was assigned a posting in the Bollywood town of Mumbai, whose energy and exuberance made a lasting impression on her.
“Initially, I had some reservations about India, but after two years there I was truly enamored with the town and its people who are genuinely friendly. Both my 3-year-old daughter and I felt welcome there. This is not to mention the unique Indian culture and heritage. India’s economy is very up-and-coming.”
After India, Siriporn cross-posted to peaceful Wellington, New Zealand for three years. “The pace there is different from India, understandably. But then again, every place is unique in its own way. New Zealanders are casual and friendly. The nature is wonderful – a paradise on Earth.”
Consular work in a provincial town like Phuket may seem uninspiring compared to a rich and multifarious diplomatic career abroad, but as Siriporn will have you know, the job here is anything but dull.
“Phuket is a cosmopolitan town and there’s a rich mixture of cultures and people. This is not to mention the strong local culture. It’s a great place to be. I’m here by choice and won’t hesitate to contribute anything in any form to the sustainable development and prosperity of Phuket.”
This posting also gives a chance for her now 8-year-old daughter to be closer to her beloved father whose job as top architect and owner of Phuket Garden Hotel here has kept him from joining the family abroad.
“Family affairs aside, I love it here in Phuket. The job is interesting, people are fantastic, and their ways of life and culture are fascinating. I’m happy to call Phuket my home,” she said.
The individuals profiled in “Thai Gallery” are chosen on the basis of their contributions to Phuket as an international community, and, often, for having made those contributions through successful social and/or working relationships with foreigners.
This implies some foreign language skills and an interest in interacting with different cultures. They are people who in our experience, help make the lives of expats far more enjoyable here than might be the case without them.
— Nanthapa Pengkasem
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