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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Mona – Maestra of the melody | People of Hua Hin

Mona de Brot has been an active member of the Hua Hin community since she first started living here in 2007. I had neither met nor heard of Mona until she was recently recommended to me as the subject of my next article in the People of Hua Hin series I am planning.

Wendy Herbert went as far as describing Mona as one of Hua Hin’s hidden heroes – it seems we both share a penchant for alliteration. Having now met and chatted with Mona, I think I will stick to the rather ironic description of her as an “unsung” hero since her involvement in conducting the Hua Hin Community Choir is one of her better-known achievements.

With this series of articles, I am proposing to shine a light on community involvement and exceptional talent, passion and commitment within Hua Hin.  My involvement with Hua Hin is less than 5 years old, and two of those years were in forced separation due to Covid.  So, I acknowledge my understanding of the Hua Hin community is limited at best. 

This is the reason I have decided to allow the local community to direct the selection of my “victims”, for a fortnightly article series. I asked Wendy Herbert to recommend two others who had a great story to tell, and she gave me some names. A bit of googling later, I asked her to recommend me to Mona De Brot.  Mona has also been asked to provide me two names to choose from.  I like this plan, and hopefully it will be less painful for all involved than the infamous Ice-Bucket challenge where you had to nominate the next person for the task.  I will get to share with readers the stories of people I am just learning of myself. I hope that the articles I write will eventually profile individuals who are Thai as well as members of the broader expat community.  I desire to travel a path less frequently trod and predict there will be some very interesting weekend reads in these articles.

Back to the delightful Mona, a born and bred Swiss national who raised her 2 children near Lucerne but now lives life to the fullest in Hua Hin with her Thai-Australian partner. After emigrating from Switzerland, Mona tried out the expat experience in South Africa but found the Milkwood tree a fierce adversary causing a severe allergic response. Thailand and its famous golf-courses beckoned and she followed, glad to leave the cold winters behind anyway.

Mona loves the sheer convenience of the Hua Hin lifestyle: the nearness of the sea and the easy access to shopping and services that you would expect in a city, in a town still maintaining its provincial character. She feels a strong affinity with the people of many nations who choose to reside here as well.

Mona determined very early on in her time in Hua Hin that mastering the Thai language would be highly beneficial to her happy integration into the community.  She approached this task with gusto, learning Thai through any and all means available, to great success, even with reading. A musically trained ear was undoubtedly an advantage here.

A highly social, yet private person, Mona deplores certain aspects of social media usage such as the need of some to post about their every breakfast, lunch and dinner. She makes good use of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to keep in touch with her constantly evolving circle of friends and speaks with great affection of her longest friendship which began in her hometown 62 years ago when she was a girl. This friendship flourishes still, despite the many kilometres which separate the pair, and the years it may be between their face-to-face meetings. This is not just a friendship of convenience but rather one deeply rooted in caring and respect. During Mona’s last sojourn in Switzerland, Mona stayed in this friend’s apartment with her.

When invited to describe herself in few words, Mona chose, “positively open, friendly, enjoying life” to so encapsulate herself. At the very core of her social being is the ability to communicate in seven different languages.  This multilingualism gives Mona the ability to see the world from the perspective of others and draws people to her, seeking her advice and wisdom.  And she is prompt to respond to requests for counsel or assistance, yet she is aware that she needs to place a greater priority on self-care if she is to be in the best position to help others out.  Mona finds it all too easy to drop everything and run when others call.

When Mona finished her studies, she perceived three different paths open in front of her. One was to pursue her musical studies as she had been awarded a scholarship to the Conservatorium of Music. A second was Medicine, but she was already cognisant of the terrible demands the hospital system made of young medicos.  A third option was through the study of politics then into the Diplomatic Corps.  Mona lists her ability to share the joys of music with others as her greatest achievement but she still isn’t sure that she chose the best path.  She is certain, however, that she chose the path that was meant to happen.  This fatalistic approach is at the centre of her self-awareness, as is the adaptability she needs to handle this belief.

So, Mona studied at the Conservatorium and the Academy of Church and School Music receiving a Diploma in Direction. She went on to lead a public music school near Lucerne with an enrolment of 300 students from kindergarten to their final year and a staff of twenty teachers.  This career kept her very busy for 20 years.

It was easy to see why Wendy Herbert recommended Mona De Brot to me. They share a passion for lifelong learning and a deep-seated love of all aspects of the creative arts.  They worked hand-in-hand to start the Hua Hin Community Choir, which although currently in hiatus, is as sure to rise again as a phoenix from the ashes when the time is right. 

If given the power to change one thing about Hua Hin, Mona, ever the optimist, would insist on changing two!  Some people!  Mona would very much like to see the number of cultural activities on offer in Hua Hin increased.  She has great memories of packed bus trips to Bangkok to see a show or performance, but would love promoters and organisers of all artistic endeavours to better understand the appreciative audience which could await their acts in Hua Hin.

Like many locals, Mona is continually saddened by the rubbish she sees as both visual and environmental pollution, carelessly abandoned in local streets.  We spoke about how our mothers would never have allowed us to discard rubbish in this fashion, perhaps our “education” being accompanied by a swift slap. 

Mona’s passion for cultural, artistic and musical expression is matched by her need for sport and movement.  Any day without the opportunity to exercise and use her body leaves her feeling blue, although the gym is not her regular haunt.  She much prefers riding her bicycle, even on the beach, swimming or playing pickleball to keep her body active.

Mona truly does have the mind and tongue of a diplomat.  She declines to offer an opinion on whether the world is a better or worse place than when she was young, concluding it is a totally subjective assessment but that she grew and changed in each country she lived in.  She will admit, however, that living in Hua Hin now allows her to feel much greater freedom that at other times in her life. Mona doesn’t need to ponder or plan where she will be in five years’ time, since health is a determining factor.  But the future will happen as it does, and she is going with the flow.

Luckily for Mona, her day-to-day life suffered minimal impact at the hands of the covid pandemic.  She is keenly aware of how hard it has been for many in the local Thai and neighbouring Burmese communities and took an active part in attempting to relieve their suffering. Mona revelled in the smaller tourist numbers but was forced to toast one birthday via social media with friends, physically alone, when her partner was unable to return to her side from Chiang Mai due to provincial border closures.

This dynamic lady continues working on her knowledge base and is grateful for each new day. Still pulling at her is the desire to refresh her fluency in Spanish and Italian and to recapture her full mastery when playing more technically pieces such as Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude.

Emigrating from Switzerland was never something Mona expected to do, even though she had an aunt who lived overseas for most of her life until the age of 85, before returning to Switzerland to live until the age of 99. Unlike myself, she would have no sage advice to give her teenage self, because life has to be lived through your own learning, and that involves owning your mistakes. And unlike many who would choose something luxurious and exotic for our final meal if we could, Mona would just stick to a simple meal of salad. Mona remains ever grateful, even for salad.

Watch out for my next article, which will offer insight into one Hua Hin resident with a very patchy past.

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february, 2024