SHOM (Spouses of Heads of Mission – the wives and partners of the foreign Ambassadors in Thailand).

by Kathleen Pokrud

Spouses of Heads of Missions Bangkok (known affectionately as SHOM) is a support group for spouses and partners of the foreign ambassadors in Bangkok, Thailand. It started in 2004 as an informal coffee group, known as ‘Diplospouse’. This was led by the spouses of the US and New Zealand ambassadors at the time. The group provided support for newcomers to Bangkok and an opportunity to share experiences as a diplomatic spouse. It became a more established entity the following year with a committee set up to help organise get-togethers and activities. 

Expat Life sat down with the 2020 committee for an exclusive interview, to learn about how the membership has supported their diplomatic life in Bangkok. The group shared their “must-do” lists when exploring Thailand with family and friends. 

The SHOM President this year is Madame Christina (Chrissy) Macpherson from New Zealand. She said, “The objectives of our group remain largely the same over the last 16 years; to provide support and friendship to members. We typically meet monthly and have several interest groups. The current membership of both men and women come from over 20 different countries and regions. Spouses and their partners bring with them their own professional and family backgrounds, experiences and achievements. So our get-togethers are always interesting and enjoyable.”

Madame Chrissy added, “Wherever possible, we also look to promote mutual cultural understanding between the Kingdom of Thailand and member countries. We are keen to learn more about Thailand through a range of activities including meeting interesting people, undertaking cultural activities and visiting community groups.”

Impressions of Thailand

I asked the group for their impressions of Thailand.  Their universal answer was that they all felt “honoured to accompany their spouses on their diplomatic assignment to the Kingdom of Thailand.” During their tenure here, many have had the opportunity to travel to a number of incredible places in Thailand. Without exception all have found the Thai people to be “incredibly warm, friendly and welcoming.” Discovering delicious Thai cuisine and the vibrant city life in Bangkok were popular activities.

Many SHOM members were delighted to get the opportunity to participate in the 9th Celebration of Silk: Thai Silk Road to the World 2019 Festival last year with designers from their own home countries and Thailand. The project honoured H.M. Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother’s continuous contributions to the promotion of Thai silk locally and globally.

Another particular highlight and honour was the opportunity to attend parts of the Coronation of H.M. King Rama X throughout 2019. As Madame Chrissy said, “The Royal Barge procession last year was moving, impressive and historical. It is something many of us will remember for the rest of our lives.”

SHOM President

Madame Christina (Chrissy) Macpherson

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Taha Macpherson, Ambassador of New Zealand

A member of SHOM since August 2018, Madame Chrissy joined the committee last year. She serves as President amid the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic this year. “We have been impressed by Thailand’s strong public health response to Covid-19. We have also reflected on the challenging past months and how so many people’s lives have changed due to the global pandemic. We think of those here in Thailand, in our home countries and around the world, which have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Keeping in mind those who have lost loved ones or friends, those who are unwell, those who are separated from family, and those who are experiencing economic hardship, we recognise the challenges that remain ahead of us and the importance of co-operation, friendship and support at this time.” 

Charity work

During the lockdown, SHOM members found different ways to stay connected the past several months through virtual get-togethers and activities. Because of the social distancing policy, a planned fundraising event by SHOM was put on hold. Madame Chrissy said, “A group of members recently volunteered with the Covid Relief Bangkok project which is a coalition of organisations coordinating a relief effort for low-income communities in need. The coalition includes SATI Foundation, Scholars of Sustenance, and Urban Studies Lab, with support from Bangkok 1899 and the Thai Health Volunteers Foundation. As of 7th July 2020, Covid Relief has helped 20,000 households in Thailand, covering 80,000 people, providing enough food for 600,000 meals. The coalition is now planning phase two of the initiative, which will focus on mental health and economic recovery.” 

SHOM members also participate and lend support to other major fundraising activities. A number of embassies have in the past participated in the YWCA and the Red Cross Diplomatic Bazaars held annually to raise funds for local charities and groups. SHOM members often take a leading role in helping with the organisation of these events, and they hope to continue to do so in the future.

Introducing the 2020 committee:

Madame Olga Shumylo-Tapiola

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union 

Madame Olga was SHOM President in 2019. Born in Kyiv, Ukraine, she joined the group in October 2017 and served as Vice President in 2018. She says of her membership, “SHOM is both a place where many cultures meet and where one feels at home. A beautiful paradox.” 

On her ‘must-do’ list in Bangkok, “The Royal Palace, together with the renovated National Museum, are a must-see for any family member on their first visit. To go deeper, we like to take our guests to less mainstream places. Favourites include the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum, Chakrabongse Villa and Nai Lert Park Heritage Home, to show the history of Thailand through the lives of prominent families and personalities. For fans of textiles, a visit to the Old Siam Plaza is a must.”

Madame Marie Patricia Cotter

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Joseph Anthony Cotter, Ambassador of Ireland

Madame Marie is the current Vice President of SHOM. She has been a member since September 2018.  She feels that SHOM membership has been a great benefit in helping her settle into Bangkok. “Members are always available to advise on all matters from Thai culture and customs from hairdressers, to restaurants, places to see, health issues etc. The members are likeminded people who understand the issues involved in being an ambassador’s spouse. Whilst we share many things in common, we each bring our own experience and culture to the group. Through SHOM I have met many interesting people and gained an insight into the Thai way of life. Our regular meetings keep us all in touch and all interests are catered for. The book club is fantastic and has introduced me to many books that I know I would not have otherwise come across.” 

Like many visitors to Thailand, her historical favourites are the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Jim Thompson’s House, Ayutthaya and the River Kwai. She also recommends a dinner cruise down the Chao Praya River. “It is very enjoyable and affords spectacular views of Bangkok from the water.” Madame Marie adds, “For a really fun evening, a personal favourite of mine is a street food tour by tuk tuk which includes food tasting at several stalls in Chinatown, a visit to the flower market and a view of the Grand Palace and other historic buildings all lit up at night. Of course, no trip to Thailand is complete without visiting one of its numerous beaches. I particularly enjoy the neverending wide, sandy beach at Hua Hin. Whatever you like to do and whatever your level of fitness and sense of adventure, Thailand provides ample choice to cater for everyone.”

Madame Louise Åkerblom

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Jean-Paul Senninger, Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

Madame Louise comes from Sweden and she joined SHOM in February 2019. She appreciates that SHOM has provided her a great network. “I have supportive colleagues, and I turn to them whenever I have any questions.”

Her list of ‘must-do’ things in Bangkok starts with “a bicycle tour through Bangkok and surroundings, or take the boat from Khlong Toei over and ride around the ‘Green Lung’. Take a picnic and enjoy it in the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park. Use the Khlong boats to get around town. Take a midnight tuk tuk food tour.” For places outside Bangkok, Madame Louise suggests travelling to Kanchanaburi, and staying at one of the floating hotels on the River Kwai.

Madame Ximena Rios Hamann

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Fernando J. A. Quiros Campos, Ambassador of the Republic of Peru

Madame Ximena has been a member of the committee since 2018. She finds that being part of the SHOM committee has enabled her to get to know many people from different cultures and has given her different perspectives of life. “SHOM has different activities that allow us to know more about the many aspects of the culture of Thailand, its people and history. This has allowed me to be more integrated into Thai society and to have more access to what is happening in Bangkok.”

Her three favourite places in Bangkok are the Grand Palace, Wat Po and Wat Arun, as these offer an excellent way to show the royal, cultural and religious components of Thailand. “The elegance and the art of the Grand Palace and the spirituality of both temples always impress people.” She adds, “I also like to go to Ayutthaya for a day trip. Peru has a millenarian civilisation, the Inca Empire, so it is interesting to see the Ayutthaya civilisation which is from the other side of the world and see its similarities and differences.” Other recommendations include the MOCA and the BACC, which showcase Thai art in multiple expressions and periods.

Madame Ewa Dubaniowska

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Waldemar Dubaniowski, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland

Having plenty of positive SHOM memories and experiences from her husband’s previous posting in Singapore, Madame Ewa eagerly became a member in October 2017. In 2018, she joined the SHOM committee. 

Madame Ewa says that SHOM was and still is an ideal springboard to make new friends. “I still remember my first Bangkok SHOM meeting when I became immediately richer of having 25 new friends. This is such a nice and supportive group, and a lovely experience. SHOM welcomed me with open arms and I feel so lucky that I have never experienced loneliness or felt like a stranger in Bangkok. Moreover, thanks to social media I also found a more practical side of SHOM. It serves as a very useful forum for us, where we can find or share advice, tips or recommendations.”

On the ‘must-do’ list in Bangkok, Madame Ewa loves the Chao Phraya River and its fresh breezes, and finds it relaxing after exploring the hot and stuffy streets of Bangkok. For her guests, “It is almost obligatory to ride from Sathorn Pier to the downtown (Tha Tien Pier or even to Thewes Pier) by orange flag river boats. I love how they navigate at every pier, how they announce information, and even how they check tickets; it’s so authentic. I must also mention the cafes and small restaurants along the river, the smaller and better hidden, the nicer they are!” In the evenings, Madame Ewa likes to send friends to Chinatown to experience the special atmosphere at Yaowarat Road. Their visitors are always overwhelmed by how fantastic the restaurants are. “I love exploring places which are off the beaten track, our visitors must be prepared for very local and authentic experiences! And of course, meeting with monitor lizards in Lumpini Park is another must for my Polish friends.” 

Dr. Kevin Colleary

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Francisco de Assis Morais e Cunha Vaz Patto, Ambassador of the Portuguese Republic 

Dr. Colleary joined SHOM as a member in Nov 2015 and volunteered for the committee in 2017. A native of New York, USA, he says, “My SHOM membership has been incredibly beneficial to me these past five years. This is my husband’s first ambassadorial posting and so I needed to learn a lot about this life. My more experienced SHOM colleagues have taught me a great deal about diplomatic life and many other things over the years. I have built important friendships and met incredible people through this group.”

On their favourite places in Bangkok, “Since we live alongside the river, we always include a khlong visit by boat for our guests. We also always stop on the Thonburi side to visit the beautiful Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan with the amazing Buddha statue and gorgeous sounding bell. Then we go to visit Kudicheen and the fascinating Luso-Thai neighbourhood including the lovely Santa Cruz Church and the wonderful Baan Kudicheen Museum. This is a hidden gem of Bangkok that many visitors never see but that I never let our visitors miss!” 

Madame Low Hui Ching

Spouse of H.E. Mr. Kevin Cheok, Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore

Madame Ching became a member of SHOM in June 2019, and joined the committee a few months later. She says, “Moving to a new country always presents a fresh set of challenges, and SHOM is a terrific platform to make new friends, and to learn more about our host country Thailand. From queries about practical matters to more intellectual questions, you can be sure someone in SHOM will have the answer or at least point you in the right direction!”

She considers The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles a beautiful jewel of a museum. “It showcases clothes and textiles as part of Thailand’s history. There is currently an informative exhibition of batik collected by King Chulalongkorn, as well as occasional, temporary exhibitions of H.M. Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother’s clothes and photographs.” Plus, there’s an excellent gift store for souvenirs such as handwoven silk from various parts of Thailand. “We also love to introduce guests to Khao Yai, with its peaceful green surroundings. Walking in Khao Yai National Park and coming across waterfalls and wildlife is a lovely way to spend a weekend.” Visitors from Singapore love Thai food, so “eating and snacking our way across Bangkok is always fun and memorable!”

As our group interview comes to an end, Madame Chrissy says that “one of my favourite things to do in Bangkok with friends is to explore the fabric markets in Bangkok including Pahurat market, Chatuchak weekend market and other destinations in Chinatown, such as the Old Siam Plaza Silk Zone.”

Throughout the interview, Expat Life was impressed by the genuine friendship and support amongst the group. SHOM provides a platform for members from a diverse range of geographic, professional and family backgrounds, to learn more about Thailand and member countries through their different activities

SHOM provides a platform for members from a diverse range of geographic, professional and family backgrounds, to learn more about Thailand and member countries through their different activities.

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