By Agneta de Bekassy
Meet Katarina Svensson and Pang Varaporn Premsot.
Pang was born in Bangkok at Siriraj Hospital and aged four moved with her mom to Sweden. She grew up in Tyresö, just outside Stockholm - and that’s where her mother still lives at and where Pang and her family go to visit her mom.
In the past, Pang only saw her father once a year when she and her mom came on holiday to Thailand. “Now that I’m living in Thailand, I meet my dad more frequently. He lives in Surat Thani.”
Pang’s ‘soul sister’ Katarina was born in a small village outside Lampang, in northern Thailand. She was only three months when she arrived in Sweden, having been adopted by Swedish parents. Growing up in Hedemora, a small town in the county of Dalarna, Katarina was always aware of the reasons for her adoption. “My biological parents were poor and being the eighth child in the family, they were not able to keep their baby girl,” says Katarina. “I always had some photos of my biological family and I could write to them.”
In her early twenties, ever curious Katarina wanted to find out about her family in Thailand, and discovered that her father and four brothers were still alive. “Since our first meeting, we have had an on and off contact,” she says.
“Hedemora is such a small city, and I wanted to see more of the world. In Stockholm, I started to work in the media while also studying to become a marketing economist.
“I met my future husband Lars on Gotland, the biggest island in Sweden and a very popular summer destination. We moved to Singapore in 2002, where initially I worked for MTV Asia and later at the Swedish Embassy.
“In 2010 we transferred to Bangkok because of my husband’s job. He was part of the team that launched IKEA, the furniture and home accessories store, here in Thailand back in 2011.”
Today, the couple have two children, both born in Singapore.
Says Katarina: “I started to work at the Swedish Embassy in 2012, but at that time Pang and I were in separate sections and we didn’t have that much to do with each other. In 2017 we started to work in the same team. After that, we became close friends.”
In her younger years Pang dreamed about becoming a lawyer or flight attendant; later on she wanted to become a TV host travelling the world and trying out different cuisines. To this day, she loves to travel and to eat.
For a few years, Pang split her time equally between Sweden and Thailand as she wanted to spend more time with her grandparents and family here. She was also fed up with the cold seasons in Sweden and was finding this Scandinavian country “too small – like a duck pond,” she says. “Everybody knew where you were and what you did. If you went out, you knew exactly who you were going to see at each place.” So, in 2003, she moved to Thailand fulltime.
She met her Thai husband during the filming of the TV series ‘30 degrees in February’ in Phuket in 2011. Pang had taken three months’ leave from her normal job in order to work as a translator, and it was during the making of the film that she and her husband-to-be, who was on the set as a sound technician, fell in love. Today, they are proud parents of two sons, Anwar (5) and Akin (4).
At home, the family speaks Thai, since it’s the first language of her husband and nanny. “I must confess,” confides Pang. “I rarely speak Swedish with my kids. It’s so easy to forget when times are a bit stressed. My kids used to watch Pippi Långstrump on TV in Swedish, though, and I sometimes read to them in Swedish. They get English at school.
At the embassy, both work on communications, with Pang focusing on cultural issues and Katarina on trade. “Communications are a daily task, updating Facebook, our Home page, Instagram and sometimes twitter,’ says Pang. “Other than that I plan several events, such as the Nordic Film festival, events for students or inviting a ‘reading ambassador’ from Sweden to talk about children’s literature. I also have regular meetings with EU and all member countries.
“Our job is fun and no day is the same. Working with Katarina makes my job the very best.”
What do Pang’s kids think about Sweden? Will the family one day move back to Sweden?
“My kids just love Sweden, and meeting their cousin is a huge happening. They also love to see their uncle and grandma. When the kids are older and we think about security, maybe moving back will occupy my mind.”
Apart from office hours, Pang and Katarina see each other during free time as well. “We go for lunch together and sometimes after work. On Fridays, we may have a prolonged lunch as we finish work early. In fact, I spend more time with Katarina than with my husband in terms of working hours of both myself and my husband.
“In some ways, we feel like sisters. We know almost everything about each other, we know what the other one of us is thinking and how she will answer questions and act. This makes life so much easier. I think we are closer than biological sisters. We do enjoy the same things in life.”
What about hobbies?
If Pang could choose anyone in the world to dine with, who would it be?
If she could choose an outfit for this occasion, from whom would it be?
This answer also comes just as quickly: “Stella McCartney”.
Close buddy and colleague Katarina joined the Swedish Embassy in 2012, but at that time she and Pang were in separate sections and didn’t see much of each other. Then in 2017, they started to work in the same team.
One of Katarina’s greatest frustrations living in Thailand is the assumption that because she is Thai by parentage, she can speak Thai fluently.
“Most people don’t believe me when I say that I only can speak ‘nit noi’ Thai, and they keep on talking to me in Thai. Our daughters go to an International school and their main language, which they feel most comfortable with, is English of course. At home we only speak Swedish and they are both fluent in writing and speaking Swedish.”
Katarina finds her job at the embassy very satisfying. “Working on trade issues and communication is a very rewarding and interesting, with the possibility of supporting Swedish companies in Thailand and to promote the country of Sweden. Having the opportunity to work with a close friend like Pang is a huge bonus. We really do cooperate together and it works out very well. During the Corona virus outbreak, we have to operate in separate teams, but it still works out perfectly well, though we do miss seeing each other.”