What is the definitive answer to the question that people ask you most often?
“Where are you from?”
I was born in the States, so I grew up there and also in Thailand. I am fortunate to have both passports, so living in each country was never a problem. My parents met while studying at Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, but their story doesn’t start there.
My grandfather, from the Guangzhou Province of China, traveled south departing China from Hong Hong. He travelled through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia before entering Thailand. Upon arrival in a small fishing village, called Hua Hin, he met a school teacher. He fell in love with her and this marked the end of his journey. They married, and would spend the rest of their lives together.
In the 1930’s, my grandfather wasn’t alone as many other Chinese made a similar journey. At the time, the Thai government declared that for Thai citizenship, the people would have to take Thai last names. So he decided on Maneesilasan, a long, thai style name.
His original chinese family name was Zhu, meaning precious stone, specifically perl. In the process of creating a Thai last name, he decided to mix elements from the chinese family name and his new home. “Manee” which meant jewelry or something of high value. Sila which meant stone, to signify Hua Hin, the name of the town where he met his future wife and which jutted into the sea resembling a “stone head” on a map, “ and “san” which meant happy or calm in thai.
Manee = มณี : Valuable Jewels
Sila = ศิลา : Stone, but stronger and more valuable
San = สันต์ : Happy or calmness
Maneesilasan = มณีศิลาสันต์
With that, the Maneesilasan clan came to be. My father would be the third of nine children, all born and raised in Thailand, to a Thai mother and Chinese father.