September 12, 2002 - The Nation: Thailand RPCV Darryl N. Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, returns to Lamphun 40 years later

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 09 September 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: September 12, 2002 - The Nation: Thailand RPCV Darryl N. Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, returns to Lamphun 40 years later

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, September 12, 2002 - 10:26 pm: Edit Post

Thailand RPCV Darryl N. Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, returns to Lamphun 40 years later

Read and comment on this story from the Nation of Thailand on Darryl N Johnson, the US ambassador to Thailand as he returned to the small school in Lamphun where he taught almost 40 years ago as a young Peace Corp volunteer at:

LAMPHUN reminiscence*

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LAMPHUN reminiscence

Last Tuesday was an emotional experience for Darryl N Johnson, the US ambassador to Thailand. He returned to the small school in Lamphun where he taught almost 40 years ago as a young Peace Corp volunteer.

But the ambassador maintained his pose as he met old friends and students at the Chakkhamkhanaton School. Most of his students are now in their 50s.

Accompanied by his wife Kathleen, Johnson kept smiling under the burning sun, and could have stayed there all day to remind him of the past when life was less hectic.

Deep inside Johnson must be feeling very content and proud, for when he left Lamphun in 1965 he vowed to come back one day - as the US ambassador.

"Today is a special day for me. My dream of coming back as the ambassador has come true," he said in fluent Thai. "I am glad to meet you all again. It's like I'm coming home," Johnson said. "Over the past years, I have been thinking of Lamphun and every thing here. In those days, it was more quiet and peaceful. But it is still a very beautiful city."

When he set his foot in Thailand, Johnson was only a 24-year-old graduate from Seattle. He joined President John F Kennedy's famous Peace Corps programme, which sent out thousands of American volunteers to teach English and spend a few years of their life with people in developing countries.

Johnson could not have imagined that one day he would make it big in the diplomatic world and come back to Thailand to serve as an ambassador. On the day of his visit, the students were lining up to catch a glimpse of him like they were anticipating the coming of a star.

Obviously, Johnson witnessed a lot of changes. The Chakkhamkhanaton School he taught at in 1963 has dramatically transformed into a modern institution. It used to have only two wooden buildings, with only 300 students and 10 teachers. Now the school has grown into one of the biggest in the province, with 3,000 students and 300 teachers.

An exhibition of old photographs was displayed along a school walkway. There were a number of pictures of young Johnson that the school borrowed from his old friends. In one, he was pictured standing shoulder to shoulder with his Thai teacher friends. The other showed him carrying goods on his shoulder like a hawker.

Although last week's visit was Johnson's first reunion, he has kept contact with some of the school's teachers and students over the past 37 years through letters and postcards.

Back then, Johnson managed to become a part of the community and learned to speak the language like the locals. He became the first farang teacher in the province when he started teaching the high school students - under his Thai name "Damrong".

He went back to the US after two years, and although it's been 37 years since he left the school - the enthusiasm for the American teacher remains unchanged.

Sumethee Srisaengkaew, a teacher, proudly showed The Nation a photo album, which shows Johnson putting his arm around Sumethee's shoulder with "good friends" written underneath. The postcards between Johnson and Sumethee in the album also reveal their lasting friendship.

When Johnson arrived at the school, his old friends were trying to reach him from the crowd, to ask if he could recognise them. He worked the crowd and charmed his well wishers throughout. He wore a jacket and tie and his cheeks were flushed from the hot sun but he spent time observing every detail of the exhibition stand.

"I remember this, yes," said Johnson, as he talked pleasantly with his old friends. He stopped by the "coolie" pole that the school prepared for him, to remind him that once he had carried it like a local vendor. Johnson was not hesitant to lift it up on his shoulder and drew laughter from his fans.

Boonsak Khoemkaw, one of his students, shouted out from the crowd in English, "Kru Damrong. I remember the first thing you teach me. 'Where you are going Bob? I am going to school'."

Johnson turned to the man and smiled back, "Yes, yes. I remember."

When the ambassador first arrived in Thailand, he broke the ice with his shy friends and students right away by asking them to call him "Damrong", the Thai name with a pronunciation closest to his first name.

Johnson also made his students familiar with the English sound by giving each of them an English name. Preeda Hopataraputhi, who is now a manager of Bangkok Bank in Lamphun, is "Paul"; Boonsong Srisaringkarn, now a teacher and operates a herbal spa business, is Sandra; Poonsuree Chamchongloj, a teacher at Lamphun Kindergarten, said she was called Tammy because "I was a tomboy".

Johnson's first encounter with his Thai students worked well. Buakhew Boonma, or Helen, said, "At first I was scared of Kru Farang. But he's very kind and generous. So I was not embarrassed to speak English with him."

Johnson and his former wife, who was also an American Peace Corps volunteer in another school, blended perfectly with the local community. They lived in a Thai house and biked to school every day and ate the same local food, even though some of it was too spicy for Westerners. He recalled eating noodles and rice in the school for Bt3 a dish. During the evening, he taught the school's teachers and other interested adults English, including Prmual Chillanond, who later became a deputy governor of Lamphun.

When the school was closed due to flooding that often hit the province, Johnson got around by boat with Sumethee. "I was with him in the flooded areas because Kru Damrong did not know how to row the boat," Sumethee said.

Johnson's first child was born at McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai and he called his American daughter "Darawan". His Thai friends said she was named after a daughter of Somboon Vipromchai, an educational officer in Lamphun, because Johnson loved the sound.

The former Peace Corps teacher's story has passed into school legend. Ask any of the students about the "Go to the Window" class, they will be able to tell the story of a young farang teacher who told one of his students to "go to the window" to teach them vocabulary.

But instead of just doing that, one of his students was about to jump out of the second-floor window before the American teacher pulled him back into the room.

The American also strongly encouraged his students to find the opportunity to see his country. Three of his students, Annop Pongwat, Kamtorn Chandacham and Chaveevan Thongchai, won scholarships from the American Field Service to spend a high-school year in the US.

He went back to the US to join the Foreign Service in 1965. On the day of departure, nearly all the 300 students crowded the train station to see Johnson's family off, and prepared a beautiful Thai garland for him and his wife to show their gratitude and respect.

Preeda, one of his students, said, "I knew he would come back to see us. Kru Damrong told me once during those times that he would come back as the American ambassador.

"The greatest lesson that he taught us is that we have to dream. He showed us how a man can work to achieve his dream and he is the best example for us," Preeda said, beaming with pride.

Jeerawat Na Thalang

The Nation

(c) 2000 Nation Multimedia Group
44 Moo 10 Bang Na-Trat KM 4.5, Bang Na district,
Bangkok 10260 Thailand
Tel 66-2-317-0420 and 66-2-316-5900; Fax 66-2-317-2071

Darryl N. Johnson
U.S. Ambassador to Thailand

Darryl N. Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand

Darryl N. Johnson was sworn in as American Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand on December 7, 2001. He took up his post in late December and presented his credentials to King Bhumibol Adulyadej on March 29, 2002. His previous assignment was as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, responsible for China and Mongolia.

Before joining the Foreign Service in 1965, Ambassador Johnson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, teaching English in Lamphun Province. His first Foreign Service assignment was to the U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai, India, after which he undertook Chinese language training, followed by assignment to the Consulate General in Hong Kong (1969-73). His other overseas postings have included Moscow (1974-77), Beijing (1984-87) and Warsaw (1988-91). He served as the first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Lithuania (1991-94), and later served in Taipei as the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (1996-99). In Washington he held a variety of positions, including Yugoslav Desk Officer (1977-79), PRC Desk Officer (1979-81), Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (1982-84), Deputy Coordinator for Assistance to the countries of the former Soviet Union (1994-96), Deputy Director of the Bosnian Task Force (1996), and Political Adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations (1999-2000).

Ambassador Johnson received his BA (cum laude) from the University of Washington and also attended the University of Puget Sound, the University of Minnesota and Princeton University. He was selected for the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and for the honor societies for military science, music and literature. In addition to Thai, he speaks Chinese (Mandarin), Russian, Polish, and some Lithuanian.

He is married to the former Kathleen Desa Forance, and has one daughter, Darawan (born in Thailand), twin sons, Loren and Gregory (born in India), and two grandchildren. His home is in Seattle, Washington.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; RPCVs return to their COS; COS - Thailand



By Steven Wiley ( - on Sunday, January 02, 2005 - 6:57 am: Edit Post

Mr. Ambassador Johnson, My name is Steven L. Wiley. I would fist like to give my sincere condolences for all involved. I am 33yrs old with prior military, (4 yrs 82nd Airborne Division), I am currently working as a Locomotive Engineer in Seattle Wa. I am also The President of United Transportation Union Local 324 Seattle Wa. I am also Co-Chairman of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe R.R's Diversity Program and standing member of the company's Safety Counsel. I am a Army brat who has lived all over U.S and Asia/ pacific. My family is directly involved in Pacific rim Operations and Law enforcement in Seattle/Tacoma.

I will be arriving in Bangkok on 13 Jan. 2005 with my best friend who is also former 82nd Arbn.. We planned vacation in December 04 to go to Thailand and Phuket in January. My purpose at first was to enrich myself with the culture and learn more about my Buddhist faith. My only thought now is to be of any service possible. I would not feel right being in Thailand if I knew I could be of any help in any capacity. I am physically fit to handle any task required along with my friend who is also more than qualified.

Sir, we are very sincere in requesting our involvement in any way be considered. If our only role is to support the people in such a time as this then we will also do that. We need no expenses. I wanted to learn the Thai culture and faith and I believe that no reward could be greater than helping my Brothers and Sisters. Any information/ contacts would be most valued. Hope all is well.

Thank you for your time and, Go Huskies.


Steven L. Wiley
President / Local Chairman
United Transportation Union
Local 324 Seattle Wa.

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