Now fluent in three languages, this multi-talented lady heads two bands – Jazziam and the soon-tobe- launched Chilla Nova – who can be seen at several popular Bangkok venues.
Name: Athalie de Koning.
Nickname: Ath (pronounced ‘At’ like the @ sign)
Education: Bachelor of Education in Music, Master of Education in Arts (specialization in Voice and Interdisciplinary Improvisation) from Utrecht Conservatory, the Netherlands.
Family background: I am the fifth of six children. I have two older sisters, two older brothers, and one younger brother. Growing up, our family used to sing and harmonise together all the time, earning us the nickname “the Von Trapp Family.”
Where do you live? Sukhumvit 101/1, a buzzing part of town that has street food available at all hours of the day (or night). When I first moved there seven years ago, it was very rare to see any foreigners in the area. However, with the new True Digital Park that just opened at 101, there has been an influx of non-Thai office workers and entrepreneurs. I’m still getting used to all the changes, but it is very convenient to have a shopping mall and my favourite gym nearby.
How long in Thailand? What brought you here?
When I was just a few months old, my parents brought me to the north-eastern region of Thailand, Isan, where they worked with Hmong refugees in Loei province. I spent the first three and a half years of my life eating sticky rice with mango and babbling in Isan. After that, we moved back and forth between the Netherlands, England, Malaysia, and Thailand.
I can’t say exactly how many years I have been in Thailand due to all the moving around, but I usually say, “most recently, nine years.” My Asian-American husband and I moved back to Thailand in 2010. His mum still lives here, as well as my parents and my younger brother.
What’s keeping you here?
My husband and I always joke that Thailand is the only country that will have us both. Although we say it in jest, there is certainly a grain of truth in that statement. Both of us had trouble getting visas in each other’s birth countries – the Netherlands and America – but here in Thailand, marriage still carries some legal weight. Because of my husband’s Thai passport, the yearly visa application process is quite smooth. Time-consuming, yes, but I’ve learned not to look at the clock too often in Thailand.
So you can speak Thai fluently?
Thai is such an intricate language, I feel like I’ll never speak it fluently. For every situation, depending on context, hierarchy, or status, there’s a specific word. I’m about 80% fluent now, but certain formal fields such as philosophy or religion are still difficult for me to follow.
Even though I lived here as a child, I didn’t grow up speaking Thai. My siblings and I went to international schools, where all the students were encouraged to speak only English. As a result, English is my first language, Dutch my second, and Thai my third.
When I moved back to Bangkok nine years ago, I took an intensive course of three months, six hours a day. That’s where I learned the basics, but most of my Thai speaking skills have come from interaction with fellow musicians. I love listening to their banter during rehearsals and I try to pick up at least a few new words every week. Only polite words, of course!