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Beth Shaw (centre) with Lauren Giordano and Cindy Ryan on Phuket

Phuket Reunion as US Visitor Pursues Her Past

Sunday, July 5, 2009
FOR American Beth Shaw, being a tourist on Phuket today is a little like catching a time machine back 22 years to a different era.

When she was 16 years old, she spent a year at Satree Phuket School as an exchange student. How different the place must have been then.

This week, for the first time, Beth came back to Phuket to visit the family who cared for her during that year she remembers as remarkable.

''Phuket has changed a lot,'' she told Phuketwan. ''Patong is very different.

''When I was here, children would follow me and call out farang! farang! and I would say 'hi, how are you.'

''There were not many farang on the island then. Now there are farang all over the place.''

The family who looked after Beth has changed in many ways, too, and these days Paiboon Upatising is the energetic but slightly-beleaguered president of the Orborjor.

Sunday evening marks a time when Khun Paiboon, his wife and four children will gather to celebrate with Beth and her fellow-visitors, sister Lauren Giordano and friend Cindy Ryan.

But she and Khun Paiboon have already been back to Satree to meet the teachers, and Beth gave a talk there to students.

Surprisingly, her Thai remains excellent, although the opportunity to practice only comes when she visits Thai restaurants back home in Connecticut.

Back then, she was a New York girl.

''When I went to the Rotary interview, I said I would go wherever they sent me.

''People went to Korea, Japan, Thailand. To me it was an honor because they thought I could handle learning a new language.''

Because Thais had such problems wrapping their tongues around her surname, Shropshire, she became Getnapa Upatising . . . and the change in her life was complete.

''People were so kind. They were so nice,'' she says.

The time with Khun Piaboon and his family was ''unbelievable. They took me in and they treated me like their own daughter.

''They spent time with me every day, and at the time they had small children of their own.

''They always made time for me, they gave me time to not only see Phuket but also places in northern Thailand.''

She took to Thai life and culture with zest, showing Phuketwan that she is still capable of bending back her fingers in Thai dance style all these years on.

Phuket, she says, is better known since the tsunami and ''easier to access now, the airport is bigger.

''I like Thai people and I like Thai culture, so when I see it change to become more Western, it makes me a little sad,'' she says.

''All the different hotels on Patong beach . . .it has changed a little bit. A lot of it remains good.

''The driving is still terrible. The motorcycles . . . that's all so scary.''

Looking back, she recalls that mathematics ''seemed a little more difficult to me compared to in the US. But I had to understand the language, then I had to understand the maths, which may be what made it more difficult.

''Students here worked longer days, and sometimes on Saturday even. It was a good education because I learned a lot of things, Thai dancing, Thai cooking . . . fencing.''

Some things, though, have not changed a lot. Beth now has the chance to enjoy a favorite, somtam, along with mangosteens and roti. But not durian.

She rates Phuket highly, saying: ''Phuket is perfect because you can have a quiet and relaxing time, but if you want to go crazy, you can go to Patong beach.

''I tell everybody it's the most beautiful place in the whole world.

''I've travelled all over, many many places. Phuket is the best place ever. The most beautiful.''

Now a counsellor at a school in Connecticut, Beth renewed her contact with Khun Paiboon and his family through Phuketwan and plans to stay in touch.

Next time she visits Phuket, she plans to bring her husband and three children.

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