This year’s Asian Festival charity bazaar, organized by the Asian Ladies Friendship Society, will be held April 27. Benchapa Krairiksh, wife of the ambassador of Thailand to Japan, says she is “honored and delighted to serve as chairperson of the festival in the year 2000.”
Principally the festival raises funds for welfare and disaster relief in the Asian region, “but also,” Benchapa pointed out, “it gives plenty of opportunities to work together for charitable causes with the 24 Asian member countries, and to get to know each other.”
In her eagerness to know others, and with her energy and friendliness, Benchapa is an ideal festival chairwoman. She is also a prototype first lady of Thailand here, though “Madam Ambassadress,” she says, is not a title she ever expected.
In her own life, and doubly so since her marriage, Benchapa belongs to noble circles. Her father is a prince of Thailand. Her father-in-law was brought up by Princess Athorn, whose father was King Rama V and whose mother was from the Krairiksh family. Her father-in-law assumed the name Krairiksh, which is now Benchapa’s name.
She is the youngest of five sisters, and the only one not to have studied abroad. Her father, a former rector, Cabinet minister and privy councilor, studied in the U.S., and became a specialist in improving and developing agriculture in Thailand.
Benchapa graduated in political science and public relations from the oldest university in Thailand. She wondered, “What am I going to do with my life?” She received a British Council scholarship to study humanities at London University.
“My father advised me a good man is hard to find,” she said. “So I met and married my husband, who was then in the Ministry of Interior. He later transferred to the Foreign Office. That was fine — I am adaptable.”
She and her father shared a love of music, he as a composer of popular songs and she as a singer. “I sing for charity, like the wind, coming and going, naturally,” she said. “And I write. I began writing after we lived in Cambodia, which was my husband’s first ambassadorial posting.” Before going to Cambodia, the young family lived in Washington, D.C.
Benchapa had long cherished a desire to write. “I thought writing would be wonderful, but it was like a dream. I thought I couldn’t,” she said. “Then we went to Cambodia, which was wonderful for me. I knew nothing about the country when we went.” She decided to find out all she could.
She investigated the distant past and the recent past. She went around photographing the famous ancient monuments, the recent killing fields and everything in between, plus daily life. Her photographs help illustrate the 80 chapters of the book that, initially, she published as a magazine series. She is still writing a weekly story, in longhand in her native language, and the Cambodia book awaits its final editing.
Benchapa is also writing a biography of a former minister of foreign affairs and scholar of Thailand. In Japan she is writing local stories for a magazine put out by the Thai Students Association.
A further commissioned project is to be coauthored with her husband. It will be the story of the Thai ambassador’s residence in Tokyo, where she now lives and is very happy. This house is regally beautiful, on a quiet side street, and set in a magnificent garden. A prewar building, it survived air raids and is meticulously maintained. Its treasures include a hundred-year-old grand piano and, occupying an entire wall, a huge painting that belonged to the original owners of the house. Benchapa feels that the palatial house, its setting and treasures deserve commemoration.
She is busy, and painstaking. “I didn’t come here to be just a wife,” she said. “We represent our country, we want to protect our culture and reflect our ways. At the same time, I know now that the proudest thing to be is a mother.” Her three children are all successful in their studies and their work.
The Asian Ladies Friendship Society holds several events each year, of which the most important is the Asian Festival, scheduled this year for April 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Tokyo’s ANA Hotel. Asian crafts, accessories, jewelry, food and home-baked goods will be on sale, and a show will be given of traditional dances of the member countries. The top door prize will be airline tickets and a hotel stay in Phuket, Thailand. Raffle prizes will include 15 round-trip air tickets to Asian destinations.