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Hua Hin
Thursday, July 25, 2024

Jacqueline Van der Laan – a woman of contrasts

There is much more to Jacqueline than you might suspect.  She is chatty yet quite private, courteous but direct as well, strong yet vulnerable at the same time, all these things, with no pretence or guile.  Jacqueline has a strength of character and purpose it is very easy to admire.

I had met Jacqueline on several occasions on my last trip to Hua Hin and we had had some good chats over a glass or two of wine, but it was a real pleasure to catch up with her for the People of Hua Hin series.  I knew instinctively that there was a lot more to her than I had seen, and the two- hour long video call from my home in Sydney to her restaurant in Hin Lek Fai crystalised that impression.

Born in Groningen, a small village in the northern region of The Netherlands, Jacky is the youngest of 4 children and the “lucky” sister of 3 older brothers.  She jokingly told me of having 4 “fathers” as a teenager, as she recalled introducing her first boyfriend to a line-up of not-so-friendly male family members, while she nearly died of embarrassment and the poor boy of intimidation.  In retrospect, she now values the lessons she learnt at the hands of her brothers, who taught her to stand up for herself in all situations. She credits the person she is now to the values and attitudes she learnt from her family, key among them honesty, respect, diligence and resilience.  

Her father worked as a social worker and a tennis coach and held a respected place in the small, tight-knit community.  He is now 90 years of age, going strong, still playing tennis and Jacky is very much looking forward to his upcoming visit to Hua Hin in February next year. She hasn’t been back to The Netherlands for 9 years now, but feels no real pull to return.  Jacky lost her mother at a relatively young age, but was fortunate to have such a strong female role model in her life.  Mum was the home-maker of the family, but eschewed the traditional model of housewife. She was active in the local political scene, though she eventually tired of it when it became apparent her visions outstripped her ability to bring them to fruition.  An emancipated woman, she was forward-thinking and took a lead role in a women’s cabaret group.  Jacky learnt that you don’t have to slavishly follow social norms and expectations. Upon hearing this family background, I understood immediately how while she is private, Jacky is no “shrinking violet”.

Like every expat in Hua Hin, Jacky is a risk-taker: you have to be to even consider leaving your country of birth to live elsewhere in the world.  For many, moving to Thailand is an escape; from the discomfort of very cold weather, from the pressures of work or family, from the monotony of life.  For others, Thailand is a place of aspiration; a more social lifestyle, a healthy, outdoor environment, a place where hard-earned money stretches further.  But for Jacky, Thailand represented none of this. From her first holiday in Hua Hin over 15 years ago now, she acknowledged that Hua Hin just felt like home. That feeling was so strong she kept returning on an annual basis until she eventually took that leap of faith and made Hua Hin her full-time home.

As she did, Jacky embraced the culture, and started embracing a young Thai man at the same time.  Jacky met her husband Joe on her very first holiday to Hua Hin. They share the same birthday, 15th April, and a love of horses. She was keen on horse riding and he brought his horse to the beach in the famous Hua Hin tradition.  There was immediately a spark between the pair but a second horse-riding session the following day was abandoned when Joe turned up several hours late.  When an alternate arrangement was made, Jacky made her displeasure patently clear by making him wait the same length of time for her arrival. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. 

It was a few years before they declared their true feelings for each other, after Joe spent a gruelling 12- hour trip in the cargo compartment of a bus, travelling back from Phuket after hearing from friends that his girl had returned to Hua Hin. A novel way to the heart of a farang women, but a very potent statement of his affection, and a pivotal point in their developing and enduring love story. Like every couple, they have their ups and downs, but have worked together to raise two children from a previous relationship of Joe’s, not an easy task in an inter-cultural partnership. 

Jacky is a whole-heartedly optimistic person who nearly always takes the “glass half-full” view of the world, though she has been known to shake her head in amazement at the lack of tolerance and respect of others she sometimes encounters in today’s world.  These were values imbued in her from a young age. If she were offered an opportunity to give some good advice to her teenage self, Jacky would probably decline.  She strongly believes life is a learning process and each of us must follow their own path, making their own mistakes.  She might, however, just tell herself not to ever do anything you don’t want to do.

The hospitality industry has played a major role in Jacqueline’s work-life and career.  At her very core, Jacky is a “people-person”.  Before coming to Thailand, she worked as assistant purchase controller in a 5- star hotel in Amsterdam for 2 years, a role which promised career progress but lacked the public contact she craved.  Although the transition to work in Hua Hin was initially quite difficult and saw Jacky working at the local market and delivering huge bags of fresh produce on a scooter, she persisted and eventually landed a job at Anantasila, where the resort arranged her work permit and visa, giving her the required legal status for entry into the Thai hospitality scene.  A subsequent job at Sanae Beach Club allowed Jacky to develop the skills and competencies needed to venture out on her own and open Jacky’s Garden, her own restaurant in Hin Lek Fai, in October 2021.  Although she has hired help, particularly when she hosts functions, the restaurant is essentially a 1 woman show, with Jacky cleverly juggling the front-of-house hosting with the role of chef in the kitchen. If I were Jacky, I would certainly be proud of what has been achieved.

Jacky’s Garden is like no other restaurant in Hua Hin.  A seasonal, 3 course menu with 2 options for each course changes every day, based on what is best and freshest at the markets or on the farm.  It allows Jacqueline the chef to showcase her favourite European dishes whilst using premium produce and building lasting partnerships with local food producers.  She initiated her series of events to promote the breadth of the Hua Hin food scene and they have been a resounding success.  Using Facebook has been an essential means for patrons to be tempted by the new menu Jacky creates with care 6 days a week. 

Arguably, the key to Jacqueline’s success is her understanding of what is important in life, and what is not.  Paramount for Jacky is being happy, and all her efforts and decisions are made towards this goal.  She recounted the “stupid question” she was asked at 21 years of age at a job interview for a Japanese hotel in Amsterdam.  The interviewer wanted to know here she saw herself in 5 years’ time, and was perplexed by Jacky’s response of “being happy”.  That was one question which promptly got struck from my interview list!  I couldn’t ask Jacky that old chestnut, which I sadly admit to using at times.  Although she is polite, I couldn’t risk Jacky taking me to task.  Like all of us, Jacky likes nice things, but isn’t materialistic in the least.  One of her brothers had his eyes opened to the beauty of a simpler, less stressful lifestyle when he first visited Jacky in Thailand.

Jacqueline described herself as strong, loyal and passionate.  Talking to her and watching her role her eyes back as she searched inside her head for answers to my questions told me she is no stranger to introspection.  She understands herself and her motivations at a deep level and is comfortable in her skin. She is a very social person and on a fine day off loves to relax at home, read a good book and then have dinner out with friends. Yet, she is also supremely comfortable alone, with just herself as company.

Perhaps Jacky’s favourite time of the day is the early morning.  Even if she has a lot to do, she will set her alarm to give her 45 minutes or so to start the day in a leisurely fashion, with a cup of coffee, before Joe wakes.  This uninterrupted “me time” sets a positive tone for her day, and is a great way for Jacky to feel content with her lot, knowing she is living a simple authentic life. Jacky finds joy in the little things: the beauty of a single flower or the sight of 2 soi dogs playing with each other.  Or cheese.  Jacky adores cheese, in all its varieties.  I hope to sit in the shade of her restaurant with her one day again soon, and enjoy some great cheese, smooth wine and good company.

The seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm of my next interview subject and her drive to help others makes her a role-model we should all aspire to emulate.

Felicitee Lawrie
Author: Felicitee Lawrie

Felicitee Lawrie spends as much of her life as she can in Hua Hin, Thailand. She is passionate about exploring the local culture, keen to make contacts among the Thai and expat residents of Hua Hin and in particular wants to learn more about the food culture of this area of Thailand. If she is able to promote local businesses and producers along the way, this is indeed a bonus. Felicitee has also been enjoying her writing in the People of Hua Hin series of feature articles, finding so many local people have fascinating stories to share with her.

Hua Hin Features

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