Living through it all

Listening with the hearts through generations: Khun Yai Pueng

This story is part of the series "Listening with the heart through generations" in which 11-13 year-olds tell the stories of those living on the fringe of society in Asia and how they found strength and inspirations to endure through decades of hardship and heartbreaks.
In partnership with D-PREP International School and Dreikönigsaktion Austria

Khun Yai Phueng, 94, can be seen sitting on a bench in front of her apartment holding her umbrella surrounded by people, looking relaxed in the shade under the tree. Her eyes are full of delight even though they look heavy, she has a welcoming smile on her face. She is thin, short and has many wrinkles throughout her body which is a sign of old age and wisdom.

Khun Yai Phueng was born in Thailand during King Rama VIII’s reign in 1928. She lived through King Rama IX’s generation when his majesty was young until he passed away.

For her, the beloved king is the best example of how she lives her life. Like King Rama IX, she is resilient and hard-working. Khun Yai Phueng does not easily give up in times of challenges, and she has persevered all these years to support the people that she loves.

Khun Yai Phueng when she was about 16 to 20 years old.

Khun Yai Phueng when she was about 16 to 20 years old.

Stolen youth

When Khun Yai Phueng was young, her dad passed away, and right after that, her dad’s friend robbed their land in Uthai Thani.

This resulted in her family becoming very poor and barely having anything to eat. Her mother, who suddenly became a single parent, did not have a choice, but to draw water from the pond to sell it. She could not afford to send Khun Yai Phueng to school, so Khun Yai Phueng only studied until the 4th grade. 

The lack of food and money led to the reason why Khun Yai Phueng left home to live in Bangkok for 2 years and didn’t come in contact with her mother.

She was 16 years old at that time and heard that Bangkok has endless running water and is better than where she lived.

Khun Yai Phueng traveled to Bangkok by boat, hoping to have a better life for her and her family back home. 

During the 2 years away from her family, Khun Yai Phueng got a job as a maid, working for a wealthy family. No matter how hard it is for Khun Yai Phueng, and how much money she needs to support her family, she would never think of stealing from them. She was well-trusted by this family. 

Khun Yai Phueng holding a photo of her mother.

Khun Yai Phueng holding a photo of her mother.

After those 2 years of leaving home, Khun Yai Phueng was at one of the lowest points in her life.

She was crying everyday, missing her family and feeling guilty for leaving them. She just wanted the pain to go away; the pain from missing her family, but mostly her mom.

Khun Yai Pheung decided to visit Uthai Thani and embrace her mother once again. Tears of happiness appeared on both of their faces.

Her mother thought that she was dead all along.

She could not believe her eyes as she embraced Khun Yai Phueng in her arms.

As Khun Yai Phueng told this story, tears started running through her face. The room is filled with emotions, as we listen to her reminiscing about this moment.

Background photo: Bangkok by John Thomson (via Wellcome collection - CC BY 4.0)

Personal sacrifice

Not long after, she returned to Bangkok to work without her mother. Each month, Khun Yai Phueng would send half of all her salary to her mother to support their needs.

However, Khun Yai Phueng does not only wanted a better life for her family, but she also wanted to be with her family.

This is the reason why she finally brought her mother and younger  sister to live with her in Bangkok.

Sadly, soon afterwards, her 80 year old mother passed away in her sleep at Khun Yai Phueng’s apartment in Bangkok. 

After seeing what her mother had gone through her entire childhood, Khun Yai Phueng decided that this was not the life she wanted.

She did not want to go through the difficulties her mother had gone through, the life of having children and not having enough money to take care of them.

Therefore, Khun Yai Phueng was never in a relationship or was not married.

She did not want to have the responsibility of taking care of children because of the hardships she saw from her mother. 

Khun Yai Phueng is never afraid of death.

At one point of her life, she had breast cancer and that did not scare her. She is never afraid to get sick. For her, she has lived her life fully.

However, she has been scared of suffering from hardships, and this made her decide not to have a family and just focus on supporting herself and mainly her younger sister.

To this day, Khun Yai Phueng still lives in an apartment in Bangkok together with her family and her 14 year old dog, Fasai.

She still thinks positively and never lets any thoughts of negativity get into her pure mind. She goes to the temple every day, since she was young and until now, to pray and give thanks for her life.

At 94 years old, she is healthy and can walk up to four stories on the stairs everyday.

At 94 years old, Khun Yai Phueng is living peacefully and happily surrounded by the people whom she took care of and now are taking care of her.

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Pai’s Reflection

Through this experience, I learned how to be an interviewer. It made me realize that I enjoy talking to people and hearing their stories. In the beginning, I was so nervous about the thought that I would be interviewing a stranger. I am not very confident when talking with strangers, so it was hard for me at first. But that suddenly changed when I met the person that I interviewed. She was friendly and super kind, so I got comfortable talking with her. 

I learned and developed many new skills from this expedition. I learned how to transcribe the recording of our interview, write an article, photography skills, make a camera, create a website, learn how to research, and last but not the least to work collaboratively with my partner. 

When I interviewed Khun Yai Phueng I had to be friendly with her. I  have used communication skills when we ask her questions in order for her to tell her story. I wanted her to be comfortable with me, so I listened to her well when she spoke and showed her respect throughout the interview.  

I was inspired by Khun Yai Phueng because she always thinks positively and she does not easily give up. She also does not take advantage of other people and I like how she loves herself. She is not  jealous of rich people, she likes how she is. Her thoughts are so positive. These qualities are very inspiring. 

After this experience, I was able to develop my confidence to have a conversation with strangers, develop my writing skills, have the opportunity to research and learn about new things, and create a website. This was a great learning experience for me that I will never forget.

Peter Monthienvichienchai, Executive Director of LiCAS.news, inviting pupils at D-PREP International School to tell the stories of those living on the fringe of society in Asia. (Photo by D-PREP International School)

Peter Monthienvichienchai, Executive Director of LiCAS.news, inviting pupils at D-PREP International School to tell the stories of those living on the fringe of society in Asia. (Photo by D-PREP International School)

Ai’s Reflection

In this experience, I had to go and interview a person and write an article about that person’s story. Then, we published the article in Licas.news for the world to read the person’s fascinating story. I interviewed a 94 year old lady who’s story is really intriguing. I also learned interview skills as a preparation for the interview and wrote interview questions that I did not use during the interview. These questions are important as it is a guide for what to ask the interviewee, but sometimes the questions may not be used while interviewing.

What I discovered about myself is that I am courageous to go interview a stranger who I have never met before and knew nothing about her life. At first, I overthought the interview, thinking about what might go wrong the whole time when we were traveling to the location. When the time came, the interview went flawlessly well, and I just realized that I was just worrying too much about embarrassing myself. I also learned that I am capable of doing an interview confidently and asking follow up questions.

In the beginning, I felt really  tense because we arrived at an unfamiliar place, and saw new faces. However, as I adjusted to my new surroundings, I felt more comfortable. I also enjoyed talking to Khun Yai Phueng and developed a good relationship with her since I know how to communicate with the elderly. It helped me to have a grandma whom I would normally take care of.

Khun Yai Phueng inspired me to take care of myself and stay healthy to live a long life, so I can tell interesting stories to the new generations. She also gave me a new perspective that being short is not always bad. When I saw her, she was as short as me, and I also heard that short people live longer than tall people. She inspired me to not be depressed if I am short, she reminded me that I have a long life ahead of myself and to make wise decisions in life.

This experience will prepare me for my livelihood in the future by taking Khun Yai Phueng’s experiences as my example and deciding my path in life. I would like to live a longer life and work hard like she did. She taught me to work hard and be resilient, so I will not end up struggling in life barely being able to afford food or whatever I want.

I admire Khun Yai Phueng because she lives a long life. She is able to experience a different generation and see how much Bangkok has changed in time. People who are in their 90s often have more experience than the new generations, so learning from them would be beneficial.

Through this experience, I have grown into a person who is now brave enough to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.

At first, I thought that this expedition was impossible and was unsure of starting a new task. Finally, I have accomplished my first Learning Expedition.

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