My wife and I arrived in Thailand in January 1964, the first farang teachers to be appointed to the brand new Chiang Mai University. Classes did not begin until May, so we spent the first three months designing the syllabus and writing teaching materials. When we reached Chiang Mai in April, only three buildings were finished: an administrative office, a dormitory and a classroom block.

From Doi Suthep



Here is the official photograph from 1964/5 of the complete staff and student body.

The Royal Opening took place much later in the year and was a thrilling occasion. The King and Queen came with other members of the Royal Family and were greeted enthusiastically; one got a real sense on that day that we were all trying to turn Chiang Mai University into "the best university in Thailand".

The students assemble.

Monks chant while we wait.

The Queen and Princess arrive.

The ceremony begins.

We met several famous residents of Chiang Mai. One was W.A.R.Wood, who had been the British Consul-General in Chang Mai in the 1920s and had written a History of Siam which was the standard work in English. He gave a talk when he launched his memoirs under the title Consul in Paradise. We also got to know the current Consul-General, Donald Gibson.

We were also lucky enough to know Roy and Apawn Hudson. Roy had been a major in the British Army, had married and settled in Chiang Mai in the 1950s. He and his wife gave us Thai lessons in their garden. His teaching style was based rather on the way he had learned Latin at school, with a great deal of translation. I particularly remember a lesson that began, "Today we are going to learn about the word hai. Hai can be used in five different ways. First of all it can mean to give. Now translate into Thai: Give Muriel the book." He and I would often go to the Gymkhana Club where he regularly beat me at squash in spite of being fifteen years older, sending me leaping to the corners of the court while he distributed his shots effortlesly from the centre.

I also met Dr Aree, the director of the Suan Prung mental hospital. He was interested in encouraging English language learning and urged me to create some radio lessons. I assembled a group of four and we recorded eight lessons which were recorded and broadcast by a Chiang Mai radio station. The accompanying booklet was typed and printed by some of Dr Aree's patients, learning these skills as part of their therapy. They did it perfectly in spite of having very little English themselves.

Our appointment was only for two years, so we were unable to see our first students graduate. However, I returned to Bangkok ten years later as an English Language Officer of the British Council, running training courses for teachers, and we then met one or two of our students who had qualified as teachers. I left the British Council in 1986 and joined the staff of Bristol University, and then in 1992 set up a specialised MA course at Stirling University in the use of computers to teach language. At both these places it was a special pleasure to have some students from Thailand with whom to practise our remaining words of Thai, to share memories of places and to enjoy Thai food.

John Higgins, Mae Rim, May 2023.