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Hua Hin
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Lizzy – Hua Hin’s living icon

I am told my regular readership is blooming, so I would like to take a moment to orientate new readers.  This People of Hua Hin feature series, which I write and then allow to be published in huahin.locality.guide, is a labour of love for me, to give back to the community which has been so welcoming to me. I receive no payment for it. I pitched the idea to the publisher as a way of maintaining my contact with the Hua Hin community during the period each year I spend in Australia, as I can continue my interviewing and writing via the internet.  This allows me to feel that in my own small way I can be making a difference, which for me is a happiness-builder.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying there are other benefits for me, too. I get to meet and write about fascinating people, I broaden my local circle of friends and contacts, it is self-affirming and best of all, it helps keep my grey matter in great shape.  

But I am not in total control of who I write about.  The series was intentionally structured to give control to the people of Hua Hin.  Each person I write about gets to nominate 2 people they think have interesting stories to tell, and I get to choose from these candidates.  I am truly grateful that the people I have written about have such insight into where my path through the community should take me, allowing me to write about both Thai and expat men and women. So, thanks Henrik Fagersson for the great recommendation that led to today’s article. I sincerely hope the people I have been writing about have enjoyed and benefited from the experience.  I have been told it has helped promote their business, it has boosted their self-esteem, it has helped them examine themselves and their motivation, it has shown them in a new light and hopefully all this at the same time as being an interesting read on a Saturday morning. 

Now, back to the person at the centre of today’s article, the dynamic Lizzy. If I asked a group of locals to name the icons of Hua Hin, I’d expect to hear about the rocky headland near the Hilton, the historic railway station, the Hin Lek Fai lookout, the monkey-filled Khao Takiab and perhaps the sunset from the Sky Bar at Vana Nava, the nightlife along Soi 94, among other things.  But on the list, a single name may feature, and that would be Lizzy.  Does anyone know she has a surname?  It is Ginsel, by the way.  You know you are famous when you are known by a single name, ala Cher, Madonna, Pelé and Houdini.

Everyone who resides in Hua Hin recognises Lizzy. She is the flamboyantly dressed one, the lady with startling white hair, sometimes with a flower in it or else a hat perched jauntily on her head, brightly coloured clothes, statement jewellery, mismatched shoes and a collection of glasses I have heard is the envy of all, including Sir Elton himself. But very few people in Hua Hin actually know the story of the amazing life of Lizzy Ginsel, that I am privileged to be able to bring you today.

Lizzy first visited Hua Hin a quarter of a century ago, and has been residing in Hua Hin for 20 years, only leaving it for a few trips up to Chiang Mai. She loves everything about living in Hua Hin except for perhaps the lack of bureaucratic acceptance experienced by the broader farang community. Arguably Lizzy’s favourite place in the world is on a sunbed at Anantasila, soaking in the sun and sea and the oasis-like atmosphere created by the colourful lounge cushions and the extensive, lush garden atmosphere. 

To understand the pivotal role Lizzy plays as an advocate for Hua Hin’s multicultural community and a catalyst for change, a quick look at Lizzy’s family background suffices. Lizzy was literally born out to sea, on a boat, off an island north of Australia, between it and New Guinea.  She was the first-born of her parent’s eleven children, and so from a very early age became a “mother hen” responsible for the care and nurturing of her younger siblings. This need to help people in every way possible has never left Lizzy, who wakes every morning with the desire to do good for others.

The public persona of the delightful Lizzy has been well-documented in the past.  Lizzy is a tireless worker for good causes, of which Hua Hin has plenty. She believes her greatest achievement was founding the MCC, the multiculture community charity, which she credits with bringing together the disparate nationalities present in the expat community and giving them a collective voice.  She readily lends her name and easily-recognised face to other charity groups and events such as Rotaract and the local school for disabled children.  Not every one of Lizzy’s good deeds feature in the public record though.  She is responsible for many acts of support and kindness which slip below the public radar and she likes it like that.

When Lizzy decides something must be done, she is unstoppable, a force of nature not to be toyed with.  If she is told by Thai bureaucracy that it is not possible, Lizzy interprets this as a challenge, not a rebuff.  I was unsurprised to learn she has been nicknamed “Lady Now” because of her powers of insistence. One defining motivator for Lizzy is her belief in standing up for right against wrong.  This keen sense of justice has not always made her life easy, but to Lizzy that is not a crucial factor in her decision-making.

But to assume that this public persona is the “true Lizzy” would be a grave mistake.  Lizzy is certainly not a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out who is trundled out in all her magnificence for a glamorous event, surrounded by the community’s political, governmental and social notables. Some people believe that Lizzy’s high profile in the community allows them to take shots at her with impunity, forgetting that there is a real person behind the constantly smiling face she shows to the seemingly ever-present cameras. People need to understand that Lizzy bleeds red like everyone else and also can be annoyed and even hurt, particularly by lies, gossip or by people not honouring their promises. I sat and patted her hand as she was on the point of tears at one point in our length chat. Lizzy clearly has her vulnerabilities and I appreciated her all the more for her honesty and humanity. She touched my arm frequently, to make a point, during our discussion, and admitted to me that she has suffered from “imposter syndrome”, my words, not hers.  She apologised to me for the level of her English language skills and her need to communicate with gestures and facial expression, admitting to feeling ashamed of her English.  She told me, “Everywhere I am a fake”, an opinion I forcefully disagreed with.  It just goes to show that even the seemingly most successful among us can still have insecurities. And like us all, Lizzy has had profound sadness in her life, darkness so deep she considered ending it all, as well as times of joy and exhilaration.

That “true Lizzy” is a natural leader.  She understands that wielding power is not a leadership quality in itself, since it must be accompanied by persistence and vision. Lizzy has always admired the graphic of the globe entwined in joined hands, it has been both a dream and a potent symbol of her aim of bringing people together. She has structured what I would describe as a web of interconnectedness around herself, but without the predatory intentions of a spider.  Lizzy’s superpower, I have concluded, is her ability to bring together people who individually have limited capacity to affect change, but together can move mountains.

One of her school teachers made this discovery early in Lizzy’s life when he called her a terrorist, because she was clearly not one to follow rules blindly. This is still true of the mature Lizzy today. She is always active, always busily involved in giving a helping hand wherever she perceives it necessary or appropriate. Lizzy told me that her favourite animal is a squirrel and it is not hard to understand her affection for this busy little creature. I believe that much of what Lizzy achieves in her advocacy role with the various levels of Thai bureaucracy also involves a delicate balancing act.

Here are a few snippets of insider knowledge about Lizzy I found particularly interesting. (She has vetted these, so I am confident they are not too personal.)  Although she likes a wide range of food, if she had to eat only one food for the rest of her life, it would be chicken wings.  Her first job after leaving school was as a typist. Lizzy was a wonderful singer and performer earlier in her life, but now the 2 strokes she has suffered have robbed her voice of the necessary power for public performance.  (I have to wonder, though, does she still sing to herself in the shower?)  Lizzy’s Opa, her paternal grandfather, was a medicine man in his local community, with respected healing powers, which were also passed to her father. You won’t find Lizzy wearing red, because in her early Dutch/Indonesian community red was strongly associated with prostitution. 

Lizzy will always stay a lifelong learner.  She is keen to finally join the Facebook community, to have greater control of how information about her is presented to an open audience. Her best pieces of advice, from a woman who has not a thing still to do on her bucket list other than perhaps taking more conversational Thai lessons, are to ignore money, follow your heart, travel as widely as possible and do something that no-one can take away from you. Sage advice indeed.

I have to admit, I am truly pleased that Lizzy is still speaking to me, since I inadvertently crashed her recent birthday celebration.  So, just now old is Lizzy? As my grandmother used to say, if so rudely asked, “As old as my tongue and just a little bit older than my teeth.”  You’ll have to ask that question of Lizzy personally, if you are game enough.

Photos provided by Lizzy Ginsel.

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.

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