Veena Thoopkrajae is well known for her open mindedness and her reflective approach on Thai Culture. She is a journalist for The Nation, a broadsheet English-language daily newspaper published in Bangkok, Thailand. She came from Thonburi and has been living in Bangkok, and her family as well, since she was born. She took Journalism at Chulalongkorn University and worked as a freelancer before becoming a journalist for The Nation.
How did your journey for Journalism begin?
I studied journalism at Chulalongkorn University’s Communication Arts Faculty. It was rather good since our curriculum includes three month training with a newspaper and we had a chance to publish “Nisit Naksueka” newspaper and magazine. The journalism major is rather small compared to more popular major like TV/radio or advertising. But my year was one of the biggest classes in the faculty record. We had 20!
Where did the ‘drive’ come from to write about your own country?
As a journalist, I have greater access to information and when you have a lot of information, you are almost obliged to share it. And since I’m Thai, I guess it is unarguably that I know Thailand much better than any other country.
We feel your work is always very reflecting on Thai society, what would you say is the general message you want to impart with your work?
I would say Thailand, like any country in the world, has its strength and flaws and that my works mostly reflect Thailand as it is. She has a lot to impress visitors and at the same time she has done may annoying things to upset visitors too.
You are not shy to criticise the way Thai behave or act in some situations. Which is something that is not embedded in Thai culture at all. How come you have this fresh and distant look at things?
Maybe it is because being a journalist gives you exposure of different ideas and cultures so you are able to have a critical look at yourself. I won’t say I am negative about Thai people, but I’d rather say, I understand why those from other cultures criticize Thai people or Thai culture. Let’s face it nobody is identical and so are Thai culture and Thai people.
How would you describe ‘The Nation’ as a workplace?
To me, The Nation is like a big marketplace where you can sell idea within professional scope. And I think this is very important if you take journalism seriously.
How did you start working at ‘The Nation’?
I was working with an entertainment firm as a part time staff when I was studying at university. When I graduated, I wanted to work straight away and since I used to be a trainee at The Nation before for three months. Senior editors told me I could come and apply for a job when I graduated. I did that. I called up the editor and got a job. I started my work two weeks after that as I told them I wanted to go to Koh Samed first before I really started working. I took my vacation and then started working right away after my trip.
Some say ‘The Nation’ is more favorable pro-royalist and pro-elitist governments being compared to Bangkok Post for example. What do you say to this?
Whoever said that doesn’t really read both newspapers thoroughly or cover to cover.
Thai Politics are known for being a bit unstable from time to time.. Where did it go wrong? What is the essence of this problem in your opinion?
I think we don’t have common value. Our constitution vested interest doesn’t reflect peoples wish. And when new power arrives, they will draft a new constitution for their own purpose. It is a vicious circle.
Going deeper into that, the amnesty bill debate is on the high rise at the moment. What is your opinion about this?
I think I have already answered that in the previous question but I may add that only in Thailand you would wake up and find out they have passed the bill at 4am while you were sleeping.
You are a heavy Twitter user, which is great! Can you explain why you use it so much?
I must admit that I first started using it to catch up with fast-growing social media. In order to know the new medium you must get involved. And once I started using Twitter, I realize that it could well complement my work. It is a very efficient way to communicate with others. That, I mean people from all walks of lives. It’s a place where you can post questions to police, politician or a movie fan. As a journalist, this platform is very convenient for spreading information. It has become very useful tool during the political turmoil as well as the flood disaster in Thailand. Another benefit I could get from Twitter is that there are so many experts and news sources on Twitter who help enhance your information and knowledge. You can also find people who share the same interests or passions such as football fan of same team. And if you are lucky enough, you make friends and some of your Twitter pals turn to be a good friend.
If there would be one scoop/top story you would have liked or would like to cover what would that be?
I’d like to have an interview with our Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, or have a chance to write a feature about her life like an eye-witness account. Being a woman, I think I could bring about a different perspective. Unfortunately, she is a journalist-shy person and so far she has never granted any one-on-one interview to any journalist.
In your career you covered a lot of happenings. What was the best and the worst experience?
I couldn’t think of any particular best experience. Normally, I felt excited when I get good stories. Most journalists are moved on busy news day such as general election. I would not call it best experience but covering news on Tsunami was one of the most exciting experiences. Everyone was depressed but the news was immense in scope. We were working so hard to find any piece of information we could.
My worst experience was when someone tried to “bribe” me and other journo friends in Guangzhou, China many years ago. They handed me and others envelopes with money inside. We refused to take it. Offering us money is really an insult to our profession. I felt they did not respect us at all. I came back and did not write any story about them. Apart from that, we feel bad when we try to get a story but there is no story.
Bangkok is a big and crazy city.. How is she treating you? What are the good and bad sides about living here?
She is like your best friend who is bitchy yet fun to be with. You can find just almost anything you need in Bangkok. You don’t have to be very rich to entertain yourself in the city. You can have fun shopping at Chatuchak or ultra-modern mall like Paragon; dine out in a posh restaurant or have some somtam on the roadside. There is always something to everyone. But she is seriously in need of more green space and that she should stop bringing along new shopping malls. Oh, the worst thing about this city? I think it is traffic jam and some selfish people on the streets.
If you could recommend a place to go for people to have a nice dinner, what place would that be?
It depends on who ask me this question. We have so diverse choices. When it comes to fine dining, first thing first is to define “a nice dinner” as it means different thing to different people. If a foreigner asks me, I’d suggest them to go to a popular seafood restaurant like Sompong or Thai restaurant like Baan Kanittha or Taling Ping. But if a Thai asks me, I’d see which location is convenient and what kind of food would be suitable. Frankly speaking, I think all Bangkok restaurants are good candidates for “a nice dinner’. All you need is to decide about your kind of food, price range and the most important factor is that you must have good company.
A place to have a drink?
It depends whether you like to drink Thai whisky, wine or beer. After you decide your choices, then you know. The convenient location may be at so-called beer gardens that would be available during Thailand’s “winter” like the one in front of CentralWorld. If you like Thai whisky, you may check out places where students hang out like those near Hua Chang Bridge near Pathumwan. But if you like upscale places for wine and beer, a conventional choice would be those on Sukhumvit or Soi Thonglor. But a classic one that one should try is to drink in a roadside Isaan food shop, you know the somtam stalls. Try it!
A place to dance the night away?
I have no idea where people dance nowadays but my generation just went to pubs or discotheque and had fun. I couldn’t remember when I danced the last time.
You can follow Veena on Twitter at: Veen_NT