If Punyisa Chalauysophon were a colour, it would be something vivid, either a hot pink, an iridescent yellow, a luminous orange or firetruck red, as you would find at either sunrise or sunset. She is never happier than on her morning run, which she likens to a meditation session. How you can run 5 or 10 kilometres without huffing and puffing is beyond my comprehension, and the idea of doing it to create tranquility boggles my mind. But this is where Punyisa, (Ma Pukky to her friends) is guaranteed to find peace and happiness in her day. It is one thing she can’t live without.
Punyisa is highly confident and competent when it comes to social media usage, and loves to inspire others with quick snaps she takes on her morning runs. Stopping just long enough to take an image when something captures her eyes, Punyisa and her developing skills have caught the attention of local photographer Patrick Jacobs, who has passes on his compliments and some tips to her.
Energised, fun and strong is how Punyisa described herself. My choice would have been effervescent, extroverted and powerful. This woman has made a wonderful contribution to the lives of the people of Hua Hin since she moved here only four years ago.
Although she is Thai, raised in Buriram as the fourth child in a family of 5 children, Punyisa arrived in Hua Hin in 2018 a bit like an expat. Her empathy with the vulnerability and uncertainty the new expat feels has had a profound effect on Punyisa. She had left her parents, successful but very hard-working farmers who valued the opportunity to enable a university education for all their children, to study nursing in Bangkok when she left school. She had begun her nursing career in Bangkok, and then continued it in Phuket. Indeed, she had not been working long in Phuket when she was forced to live with the reality and trauma of the Boxing Day tsunami, which struck with devastating force. She had lived in Hong Kong then Jakarta, Indonesia, with her now former husband and returned to live in Hua Hin alone, knowing no-one, starting a life from scratch, single again.
Luckily, one of Punyisa’s super-power is that she communicates so well. Punyisa can make friends with anyone. A quick glance through her social media shows she has a very large circle of friends. The thing she likes most about living in Hua Hin is the ability it gives her to interact with so many people, of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. This ready smile, quick laugh, and genuine interest in listening to and actually hearing the stories of others certainly held her in good stead in her nursing career, where talking and chatting to elderly, often foreign patients was just as important, at times, as the actual medical care they were receiving.
Some people talk about a calling when they are discussing their path in life. Punyisa discovered her calling when the Covid-19 pandemic struck Hua Hin. She became “Vaccine Lady”. Working inside the health system, she was able to access information relating to the pandemic, and used her skills to disseminate essential information, in English, to the farang community. Punyisa established the Hua Hin Covid-19 Community Support Facebook Group, which was a lifeline eagerly embraced by the community. She provided case number updates, data about case locations, information about vaccine availability; accurate, medically correct and trustworthy information at a time when suspicion, distrust and misinformation were being peddled by numerous internet sources.
Punyisa recounted a proud, recent moment to me. She was attending a beach picnic, one of her favourite pastimes, at Sam Roi Yot, when she was approached by a couple telling her how important her group and FB page had been to their ability to cope during the pandemic. She found it touching that they wanted to offer their personal thanks to her. Her actions as “Vaccine Lady” undoubtedly impacted virtually everyone in the English-speaking community, at the same time as ensuring she had a sense of purpose, when lockdown had left her feeling the mental consequences of isolation.
Another of Punyisa’s super-powers is her openness to trying new things. It is only in the last 4 years that she has truly embraced her physical prowess. Now in her very early 40s, she is an accomplished runner, with a number of marathons under her belt, and a very passable cyclist, in her own opinion. So, her next challenge is to learn to swim, and swim well, a skill not so common in Thailand where public pools are few and far between. Have you guessed why Punyisa needs to learn to swim? If you guessed it was so she can compete in triathlons, you’d be correct. Swimming is just another skill she will need to develop from scratch.
These are significant achievements for a woman who was not a confident teenager. Punyisa believes her teenage self would truly admire the social butterfly she has become. If Punyisa could offer that younger version of herself a pearl of wisdom, it would be to get out and do a lot, lot more and not be afraid to try anything and everything.
A positive mindset and an ability to visualise the successful achievement of the goals she sets herself helped Punyisa maintain her physical and mental health during the difficult times of the pandemic. She admits she started to lose herself as the pandemic began to wind down, so in April 2022, she left her job at the hospital. She was burnt out, suffering from frustration and in need of a career reset. Punyisa intends to return to paid employment next April, but is still contemplating her options, looking for a new challenge which will match her impressive skillset. She feels she has 2 new careers ahead of her in her working life, and she intends to give each of them a concerted effort. The bar will never be lowered for Punyisa, she can rise to overcome it.
While there is worry at the back of her mind about the future, Punyisa chooses to remain positive and to live in the moment, exercising self-care so that she can continue to make a difference in this world. Visitors to Punyisa’s Facebook page will be used to seeing her with a glass of wine in her hand, even when running. But do not be deceived, this is more than just an opportunity for a quick tipple, this is serious education. Punyisa studies with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, an organisation established in the UK in 1969 which is devoted to the development and delivery of courses and qualifications in wines, spirits and sake, and has currently completed her Level 2 requirements. She hopes to gain Level 3 accreditation, and aspires to complete a tour of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to deepen her appreciation and understanding of wine. When I asked about her favourite wine, I was surprised to hear she doesn’t have one. It is rare for her ever to buy more than 3 bottles of the same wine, no matter how much she enjoys it. There is a world of wine out there, waiting eagerly for Punyisa to sample it. Indeed, I had to laugh out loud when Punyisa posted on her Facebook, moments before the scheduled time for our chat, that she had received a couple of “Christmas cards” from police as a result of her recent trip away. Punyisa equated the speeding fines to how many bottles of wine she would have to forgo as a result. I had to feel sorry…. for the wine!
Punyisa lives by the maxim that you only have one life to live. She does her best to respect all living things and finds it most annoying when her respect is not reciprocated, though as a nurse she understands that people under stress may not always display their best sides. She is yet to find her favourite place in the world, the place where she experiences a complete sense of belonging. Although she is settled, with a permanent place to live, Punyisa has a deep understanding that she is yet to find her true home. She knows she has a lot to share, but as yet isn’t sure who is going to run her lifelong marathon by her side. That will surely be one lucky, lucky person.