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Friday, July 24, 2009

Puritans in Thailand

In November 1961, a young woman, later to become my mother, was inspired by a speech of President John F. Kennedy to join the Peace Corp.

A navy brat and direct descendant of Mayflower Puritans, mom had only recently become the first woman in her family to graduate from college and was thus eager for adventure and an opportunity to make our collective a better place.

Now mom had few "useful" skills, but she did know how to swim. She had swum for the US Olympic team in the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne Australia and I guess this must have interested Peace Corp administrators. They selected her to become one of Thailand's first Olympic swim coaches and sent her to Bangkok with the Peace Corps' first class (photo of mom coaching that team above).

Bangkok of 1962 fit my mother like a glove. With the military vacuum created by French and British military withdraw from the region and the subsequent American military entry into that vacuum, mom's background simply worked for that time and that space. For mom was the rather attractive daughter of the captain of one of our nation's largest aircraft carriers as well as being the granddaughter of one of our nation's great 4 star admiral heroes of WWII- I kid you not, the navy named a 560ft destroyer after my great-grandfather.

When mom traveled to Bangkok, her military background served her well.

And it is here our story turns to France and the lovely little town of Bormes les Mimosas. For mom's military connections slipped her into a program with Royal Thai Air Force where she learned to pilot Spitfires and Hurricanes... I know, I know, it seems too hard to believe. But this was Thailand in 1962; still a third world nation that appreciated the genuine helping hand of a well connected navy brat. In that light the story seems less impossible.

Anyway, in this same fighter pilot training program was a French diplomat to UNESCO named Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane- they became friends and much more.

Now Louis-Jacques was/is a truly interesting and wonderful man whom I will comment no more on. But noteworthy to this story, he was very sexual, as was his wife- Marayat Bibidh- a royal Thai princess whom he married at 16. Though I must mention I have since been told that royal Thai princesses are actually rather common. Anyway, without getting into too much detail of mom's affair (as I really don't know much about it and I never will, this being a story about my mother and all), the affair apparently involved still others- enough said.

Several years later, Marayat wrote a fictitious novel titled Emmanuelle. It was a story about a young diplomat who visits Thailand and the novel is loosely based on several people including my mother. I am unsure if the book is/was very good or if it was even very successful, but I know Louis-Jacques turned the book into a movie and the film version of that novel (movie poster below), and subsequent spawns of the original, were quite successful in France.

Anyway, all this is a long way of saying that in the Summer of 1984, having graduated from high school, a friend and I took our bikes on a loop of France. I knew no one in France and so mom arranged for us to stay with Louise-Jacques and Marayat when we biked near their home (a little north of the coast). Louise-Jacques took my friend and I for a day trip to Bormes les Mimosas and it truly was spectacular.

... And the clever amongst you will see a connection in all this to my name ;-)


SS said...


It seems like if I am not mistaken that was a famous book at the time. Perhaps Deb can find out. Anyway seems to be little of the Puritan there. Thanks for sharing a very pleasant story.


Debra said...

Emmanuel was a really hot soft porn film that spawned (hé hé) sequel after sequel in France, before "sexual liberation" made soft porn too soft for most people's tastes (sigh, I regret our collective coarsening...)
Your Mom sounds like a really interesting person who must have TONS of stories to tell. Is she telling them to you and your children ?
I am devoting myself to writing down the stories of my mother's/grandmother's both incredible and ordinary life (religious conversion at 50+, for example...) because I have noticed that my kids really WANT and NEED these stories. They help them feel anchored in a very mobile world.
And your Mom was/is a beauty too.
My Dad went through Cornell medical school on a Navy scholarship, and my Mom got a college degree in.... the 1950's, when NO-ONE was doing it. But... she obviously lacked the confidence in herself that YOUR mom had/has.
No Puritan stock there, Thai. Admitted.
Strangely enough, my Dad's side of the family (his mother) are also "Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution", because that's what the Mayflower brats are called, right ?

Thai said...

Re: mom

Yes, she has tons and tons of stories.

Re: Daughters of the American Revolution or DAR.

I am not too up on this but as I do hear the name DAR come up about every third year or so (usually when I visit a museum or historic building, etc...), I looked it up.

From the Wiki:

DAR eligibility is apparently reserved for women who can prove lineal bloodline descent from an ancestor who aided in achieving United States independence.

Whatever that means?????

Don't they realize that in a closed system like our planet (a fractal world), everyone aided US independence?

If someone's ancestor was a particularly inept British soldier who contributed to British defeat on a battlefield, wouldn't this count towards eligibility?

Or what if you had an Italian merchant as an ancestor who was late delivering the British gunpowder the really needed? Wouldn't this too contribute to American independence?

...Somehow I suspect they wouldn't want me on the membership committee

Debra said...

LOL, Thai, you've got too much DEMOCRATIC (or what passes for democratic...) blood in your veins, and you're being TOO rational about these entitlement things.
You MUST realize that this is a covert manifestation of American ARISTOCRACY, right ?
And... reserved for WOMEN ?
You should E-Mail our national women's lib icon Katha Pollitt on this one. She must have missed it somewhere, and I'm sure she'll be interested and excited to light into this antique American institution.

Thai said...

I think the men have an equally silly institution known as the Society of the Cinicinnati.

I happen to know this because the headquarters is a beautiful old mansion on Mass avenue along embassy row which I must drive past every time I visit downtown Washington DC and the historic monuments.

Actually, as I read the Wiki, it appears our biker chick organization is a bit more democratic than its male counterpart:

"to preserve the ideals and fellowship of the Revolutionary War officers"

Apparently cleaning soldier's latrines doesn't work if you want male recognition bonding.

Do the french have equivalents- they must? America has no monopoly on theater of the absurd.

SS said...

It was very big at the time, I'll vouch for that. Seems like in Debra's enthusiasm she missed something here that is Thai's nick name and eagerness to share this with our select little group. For Freudian's there has to be a lot there.

One other thing as long as Thai has opened the personal, and I really don't mean to intrude on anyones private space, so either don't answer or lie if the question is put of bounds. But I've been blown over by how a practicing Doctor in an emergency room can find the time to most so often and such thoughtful and referenced pieces at that. Have you retired, is there some other explanation. Debra and I not even keep up and we're full time.



SS said...

Note the delicious irony of the posting of Rimbaud's reflection on beauty and Eammanuelle. Odd.


Thai said...

SS, my name really is Thai and the roots of my naming are deeply intertwined with my parent's time in Thailand, but I think it is a little less Freudian than just this post would suggest.

Re: free time. I work full time (honest), though I also do a lot of medical reading on the computer (I am a voracious internet reader) as well as a lot of non-clinical work on the computer from home (I perform a lot of quality improvement functions, etc... for my group) and these blog comments come to me as distracting emails while I work which I simply respond to and then go back to working.

AND I also work a lot of very odd hours (overnights, evenings, etc...) and this often puts my life's schedule temporally out of sync with everyone else (including my family) as the rest of the world runs Mon-Fri 8-6.

So my fee time is when no one else is around in the day and I have found blogging chat fun during this time when I am not otherwise working.

Does that answer your question?

Thai said...

Also, SS
you may not be aware of this but most continuing medical education has moved to the internet. It is simply much more efficient to stay current that way. EM physicians actually have to take yearly internet tests in order to maintain our licenses and these tests have lots and lots of articles associated with them that we need to be constantly reading in order to stay current- honest, there is lots of grumbling in the EM world, this stuff we do to prove competency to the public is killing us. ;-)

In the past, we would go to yearly conferences to stay up on research; I will attend this October's ACEP conference in Boston- ACEP is the American College of Emergency Physicians- but I will cost me 4 full days in the process so the internet is easier in that you can do things in short packets that you fit in with everything else.

Some of my favorite CME sites:

Audio Digest

e medicine

There are lots of others, this is just to make a point

... So your blog chats are often a welcome distraction, even if they mean I take longer completing everything in the process


Debra said...

Come on, SS, we have ethics in my business that prevent us from doing what is called "interpretation sauvage", that means making psych interpretations to people who have not asked for them previously.
But there IS one above that I can't resist Thai :
FEE time for FREE time...
Actually REAL Freudian slips tend to get us all worked up, you know, and defensive ?
Too bad the Internet/virtual is squeezing out the REAL, Thai.
This little disadvantage means that you don't get to go to medical conventions in places like... Bormes les Mimosas anymore, right ?

SS said...

@ Thai,

Now I am doubly impressed, you must be a very fast worker. I thought Thai was your blog name so the Freudian does go down a notch, I would think. Also, Have you ever been to Thailand? It does sound like a nice place fro everything I've heard. a Buddhist culture that is non-judgmental and very welcoming.


Thai said...

I am off today- actually practicing for a part in a neighborhood production of Oklahoma so wish me luck!

re: Thailand. I am asked this question all the time when people hear my name. I have never been and would love to go one day.

re: Asia's relative "tolerance" vs. this particular puritan.

First, to be fair to me, although it may often not seem so from some of my comments, I actually feel pretty strongly people should be allowed their life however they choose (within some bounds of course).

The issue again gets back to consequences and how much others are required to bail you out from the consequences of your own actions.

I might remind you that these highly tolerant Asian nations DO NOT have significant social safety net. People may be incredibly tolerant of each other, but if the consequences of personal behavior require collective assistance, they are likely to find Asia a cruel mistress indeed.

There simply is a huge difference between letting someone do whatever they want and living with the consequences of their behavior (which is exactly what happens in Asia) and letting people do whatever they want and then demanding the rest of us give up significant resources and/or time away from the people we love in order to assist them.

Further, again to be fair to conservative, we assist each other more today than we have ever done before and yet still nothing has changed. AND when the people who are providing the assisting start to question how their assistance is used, liberals attack their integrity and call them mean spirited.

Have you ever heard anyone receiving assistance from the collective say "thank you" to a wealthy person who was paying both more in taxes to the collective as well as a larger share of their life's work (we have the most progressive tax system in the world and in the history of the planet) to help people in need?

I know I have never heard this done once. Instead we have the same class warfare rhetoric we have always had.

I would be the first to point out that modern conservatives have all kinds of unfair illusions that are easy to "pop"; still modern liberals continue to hold just as unfair illusions.

Honestly, live your life however you want and you will never hear a peep from me telling you right from wrong.

But start cutting the slice of collective resources that go to things I care about (and which I and people I know put into the kitty) and I will start to wonder how the money is being spent.

I do believe in this world of endless risk we have responsibilities to each other- indeed, I would think it would be clear from this post that my family for generations has understood sometimes we must even unfairly put our lives on the line for the collective and that this is just in the nature of things if the collective is to survive, even if it is often unfair.

And I certainly welcome newcomers. Have you ever read a single anti immigrant comment from me? Indeed, it is their American children I often have more issues with ;-)

SS said...

all this because I praised Thailand saying I heard it was a Buddist culture very welcoming and non-judgmental, in the context of your mother enjoying it; and it is liberals who are judgmental? Stranger than Rimbaud. Maybe if you have some time you can tell me what this raw nerve is all about?

I feel truly sorry if wealth and success has not brought you more peace than that. I don't come to the site to criticize people, did not criticize you, said your work ethic and productivity was awesome, your mom famous, what is this all about? I could ignore it but I think you need to answer it for yourself.


Thai said...

SS, thanks and my sincerest apologies.

I enjoy you comments very much and thought you were taking the same line of attack several on Sudden Debt have taken over the years and I suddenly felt betrayed. Indeed the possibility that I would ignore a genuine compliment does suggest I need to get my head examined.

re: wealth. There are few things I care less for than the personal use of wealth. I did not become a physician for money or lifestyle: I have much much greater interests in issues of social justice, etc... But I guess it is fair to say I am still a little angry at God for the implications of the conservation of energy.

Re: peace, Buddhism and being judgmental: I hear you... Perhaps once I forgive god I think this might be possible. ;-)

Anyway, thanks you for the compliment. I am not sure mom is famous, but it is a fun story (at least to me) which I thought I would share.

lorenzo71 said...

hi THAI...IS marayat still alive?And louis jacques?They were a very interesting couple by the sound of things

Thai said...

I don't really know.

It has been a very long time since I've heard anything on them.

They were (are?) interesting indeed

lorenzo71 said...

TRhanks for the reply you have any way of finding out of what actually happened to them?

Thai said...

Next time I speak with my mom I'll ask her what she knows though I suspect it has been a great many years since she has spoken with them and probably doesn't know.

If I find anything I'll let you know.


lorenzo71 said...

Thank you very much thai...any info would be greatly appreciated

SASS said...

A fascinating read and dip into the past. Your Mom's early travels and adventures sound pretty remarkable!Thanks so much for sharing!
I am especially interested in the subject as a writer working on a book about Marayat Arsan(Andriane)at this time.
I would be very grateful if you could perhaps share some of your own recollections from travels in France in 1984. I understand that Louis-Jacques and Marayat were living in Provence at this time.
Did you perhaps talk with her? What were some impressions that you had?

Unknown said...


Thanks for sharing this story about your Mum.

I'm writing a movie about Marayat and Louis - and hoping to chat with people who actually met the couple, which I gather you have. Would you consider giving me a few minutes of your time by phone or skype? I'm in LA.



SASS said...


I am writing a book about Maryat and Louis Jacques. Could I ask if your mother has access to any information about them? I am interested in Louis Jacques' philosophy on sex and eros and related matters. Thanks!

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