Khantha Sawitree, Thailand: “Whenever I saw it I would think of my caring and inspiring teacher, and would be reminded of my dream of learning Chinese, along with all the trials and errors I had gone through as I worked toward achieving it”.
By Khantha Sawitree, Thailand, Capital Normal University Confucius Institute scholarship student
The Kunming-Bangkok Expressway has a total length of 1,880km, stretching for what seems like forever between the two cities, but to me it carries a very special meaning.
I clearly remember that in 2005 I was first accepted as a Chinese language major at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University. When I went there I was a very naive girl, maybe even a little bit dumb. I didn’t know any Chinese at all, while other students in my class had started learning it from middle school or high school, and could already sing Chinese songs really well, while I was stuck struggling through the basics.
For me that was a time in my Chinese studies of complete befuddlement, as I couldn’t understand anything, nor could I speak, read or write it. I was constantly full of torment, and always felt really down. I thought to myself, “Are all my dreams just wishful thinking? Am I really capable of learning Chinese? Should I give up my study of Chinese?”
Then, just as I was overcome with desperation, I came across a Chinese teacher who had a deep influence on my entire life. Meeting her helped me pull myself out of desperation and gradually become stronger, and feel that there was a chance of realizing my dreams after all.
On that day, a fashionably dressed woman walked into the classroom, her hair flowing behind her like a waterfall, a charming smile on her face as she walked gracefully to the center of the room, her red lips moving softly as she introduced herself. My eyes fixed on this beautiful and elegant teacher’s every expression and every smile, listening to her passionate teachings of the Chinese language, as well as her encouragement for us in our studies. I felt better in a flash, as if I had suddenly rediscovered my motivation to learn Chinese.
“It could be said that the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway is a truly “exciting” route for the people of southeast Asia; not only does it connect with the other major highways of the subcontinent, but it also serves as a bridge of friendship between these countries and China.”
What I found especially memorable were her words after I had told her about my troubles in learning Chinese. She said, “Don’t worry about your using Chinese in the future. In the near future the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway will be completed, and it will pass through Chiang Rai Province, which will become an important gateway. More and more Chinese tourists will visit it, and we’ll have more and more chances to talk to Chinese people, become friends with them, and help them get to know Thailand. We will be ‘folk cultural ambassadors’ between Thailand and China.” What she said inspired me, and from that point on I recovered my will to learn Chinese.
Afterwards, as my Chinese language study advanced, whenever I ran into problems I would go to her. Our chats grew longer and longer, my confidence in learning Chinese became stronger and stronger, and my speaking skills constantly improved. I believe that she was a bridge by which the other students and I could learn about Chinese language and culture. The Kunming-Bangkok Expressway that she mentioned at our first meeting became a beautiful sight on my way home, as well as my new motivation for learning the language. Whenever I saw it I would think of my caring and inspiring teacher, and would be reminded of my dream of learning Chinese, along with all the trials and errors I had gone through as I worked toward achieving it.
In 2008 the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway, which both countries attached great importance to, was officially opened. I was in my fourth year at the time, and just happened to work as an intern at the Thai Consulate in Kunming for three months. During that time, every day I would translate news related to the expressway. When I first started the translation I did not know much about it, other than the fact that it was close to my home, and I was even less familiar with the Maritime Silk Road. But after three months of working “intimately” with the expressway, upon completion of my internship I had gradually come to understand the road’s origin and deep significance. It begins in Kunming, southern China, continues through the territories of three different countries, over 1,880 km and bypasses Chiang Khong and other provinces of Thailand before finally coming to an end in the Thai capital, Bangkok. It could be said that the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway is a truly “exciting” route for the people of southeast Asia; not only does it connect with the other major highways of the subcontinent, but it also serves as a bridge of friendship between these countries and China.
In 2011, I became a Chinese language instructor, teaching middle and high school students in Chiang Khong, eventually going on to become a key teacher and Director of the Chinese Language Department. I often tell my students about the changes that have occurred since the opening of the expressway, and the development of Chiang Khong that has followed. At the same time, I continue to wait every day to watch and experience the changes that take place throughout the region thanks to the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway.
In2013, after the Chiang Khong-Huay Xai Bridge was officially opened, its immediate influence was the economic boost and development of tourism along the expressway. Chinese tourists can drive to Thailand themselves. That year there was suddenly a huge influx of Chinese tourists, and since the customs officers couldn’t speak Chinese, many of the Chinese tourists ended up in detainment. I brought some of my students to customs to act as volunteer interpreters for them. For my students, this was a great chance to get some valuable experience. From that point on my students also became forever connected to the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway. Even more gratifying to me was that the students were really looking forward to the extension of the expressway, which would bring even more tourism to the area.
The amazing Kunming-Bangkok Expressway renewed my motivation to step back into my Chinese language studies; it also brought me closer to China, gave me countless opportunities to experience China and grow to love it, and helped me become the proficient Chinese speaker that I am today. It is a road which is very close to my heart, and in the future I will lead my students down it as they travel to China, where they will become friendship envoys between our two countries.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 49. Volume II. March 2017.