It’s often said that expat women lead meaningless lives based on coffee mornings and accompanying husbands to cocktail parties by night. In fact, the opposite can be true, provided they take advantage of their surroundings and the many opportunities on offer here in Thailand and postings in other Southeast Asian countries.
Such has been the lot of Jane Puranananda, an American lady who was propelled out into the big wide world while still in her teen years.
Long-term Bangkok expat Jane tells how at the age of fifteen she found herself attending three different schools in one school year, with moves that were to later define her future. Calling herself a “second generation expat”, Jane and her family followed her father’s career that took them initially to Belgium.
In the Belgian capital, Brussels, Jane was enrolled in a French speaking high school for the following two years. She couldn’t speak a word of French but this didn’t seem to faze her father. ; “It wasn’t an obstacle as far as he was concerned. For me it was a life changing experience”, says Jane. Indeed, it taught her how to adapt quickly to new situations and led to her becoming a fluent French speaker, a valuable skill that worked in her favour on many occasions in the years to follow.
After moving back to the US, Jane attended Barnard College of Columbia University in New York where she met and married her Thai husband, Chemi, who would eventually take her to the Far East and to Thailand.
Her husband’s work took them first to Singapore in 1983; it was a country that suited Jane well. Because of her deep interest in Asian art, Jane volunteered for the Singapore National Museum, helping to catalogue its collection of Thai Buddha images. Later she took over as editor of the museum publications, and also began writing articles for its Heritage magazine.
In 1985 Jane’s husband was transferred to Hong Kong. At this point she was determined to develop what she calls a “suitcase career” being often on the move. A position as a proofreader at B-International, a high end women’s magazine came up, and she took it. Within a year the magazine’s managing editor left and Jane filled the vacancy. Soon after, her responsibilities expanded with several new magazines being added to workload.
The five years she spent in Hong Kong were a great time for growth and creative activity, she recalls, as the city was leading the region’s fashion and lifestyle scene. It was also a testing time for Jane as she juggled various jobs, assignments and tasks, but somehow also found time to be involved in her teenage children’s lives. “You could call me ‘the Jane of all Trades’”, she says.
Through her work at the magazine Jane met numerous fascinating and famous people – movie stars like Audrey Hepburn, racing drivers and art experts, but mostly fashion industry people, including Paloma Picasso and Karl Langerfeldt.
1990 saw another transfer, this time to Thailand. Although adept in the field of publishing, Jane did not want to carry on the life of “deadlines” that publications require, and instead set herself up as a communication consultant.
Her first client through a word of mouth was a human resources company, followed by an advertising company and later a half-day a week job at the Shangri La Hotel in Bangkok as communication consultant. This latter position lasted for ten years, during which Jane helped arrange unusual and interesting programs for media guests. At the same time Jane met the head of the prestigious law firm Dej-Udom & Associates and was offered a position, initially three days a week, but later a full time position. That was 26 years ago.
For Jane one opportunity led to another. In 2000, the James H. W. Thompson Foundation was organising an international symposium on textiles, and Jane was recruited to translate text from French to English. This resulted in her becoming a consultant to the foundation.
A major challenge for Jane was mastering the Thai language. On her arrival here 27 years ago and for the following 24 years, she took weekly lessons in Thai, with the aim of being able to read works on art history in Thai. Today, she says her fluency in spoken Thai is one of her most valuable assets.
Jane marvels at the great opportunities available in Bangkok to expats. In particular she points to the Siam Society, and the National Museum Volunteers in which she actively participated. She even had a spot for a while on Thai TV Channel 11, and served on the committee that helped train Indochinese journalists – the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation.
Finding herself single a few years back, Jane got in touch with an old flame from her Belgian high school days. After an interval of 40 years, the two reconnected and now happily spend half a year in Thailand and the other half in France. Thanks to the internet and modern technology, Jane continues to highlight the possibilities available to expat women and works virtually for her Thai law firm and maintains much valued connections with Thailand.