Laotian Refugee’s Journey

On Saturday, January 12, we interviewed Ms. Chansy Siboura at the Thai 999 Express, an authentic Thai restaurant on Johnnycake Ridge Road in Concord. The restaurant was established about two years ago by her husband, Bamrung, who is a very respected chef specializing in Thai cuisine. Although Chansy mostly performs management duties, she is no stranger to cooking; in fact, she had spent most of the previous evening preparing spring rolls.

Coming to America

 

Chansy first came to this country as a refugee from Laos when she was only 15 years old, along with her parents and three siblings. She has come a long way since then. She described the traumatic process of having to flee her native land in 1977 at age 12 out fear of the advancing North Vietnamese forces. Her grandmother organized the carefully coordinated escape. Over their long journey, various relatives left the group at intervals, but must of the family eventually found refuge in the Nong Khai Refugee Camp in northeast Thailand.

By the time Chansy and her immediate family arrived at the refugee camp, however, most of their relatives had already left and re-settled in France, which was also the goal of Chansy’s parents. By this time, though, France had placed caps on refugees, so they waited at the camp for three years.

In addition to the daily lessons learning English, French, and Thai languages, Chansy also expressed interest in participating in the one of the home economics classes in order to learn how to sew. Due to her young age, she was not technically qualified to register in the class. However, due to her determination, the teacher allowed her to enlist; she discovered that she really loved to sew. Life in the camp was certainly not without hardship, though; Chansy recalled an especially harrowing incident in 1979-80 where a large section was destroyed by fire and much of her family’s belongings were destroyed.

Fortunately, a Baptist Church near Dallas, Texas eventually agreed to sponsor Chansy’s family so that they could re-settle in the United States. Thus, the two parents and four siblings arrived here in July of 1980. Soon afterwards, Chansy started school in the 6th grade. Her English skills were not very good at the time, but fortunately, ESL program and other Laotians who had previously come to live here helped her a lot.

Building a Life and Working Hard

All told, her family remained in Dallas, Texas for nine months. During this time, her father had discovered through friends that his younger sister, with whom he had lost contact over 13 years prior, was living in the Binghamton area of New York. So, the family moved there to join Chansy’s newly found aunt and her family.

Not only did Chansy soon complete high school, but she became a United States citizen during her senior year in 1986. From there, she earned an associate degree in accounting in 1989 from Binghamton Community College. Later, Chansy would earn a bachelor of arts degree in business and economics from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in upstate New York. She married in 1990 and relocated to the Saranac Lake area in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, which she found to be scenically beautiful.

Of course, we discussed with Chansy how much we both enjoy winter weather although we, ourselves, are a bit frightened of driving while it is snowing. Chansy, an Adirondack veteran, laughed and said that it was all part of the winter experience; she told us to just put our car in 4-wheel drive and go for it!

While living in Saranac Lake, Chansy took advantage of opportunities offered to her as an employee of a local bank and held several positions that enabled her to learn first-hand about the banking industry. She was then hired to fill an even another position concerning banking at the local economic development agency. Due to these invaluable employment experiences, she was not afraid to accept such challenging jobs as manager of a a state-run retail store, a bookkeeping/financial specialist at a physician’s office, a medical billings specialist at a medical practice facility, and, now, the manager of this carry-out Thai restaurant where the pace is quite fast.

On a more personal note, her first marriage was dissolved after several years, but, in 2010 she married Bamrung. As we wrote previously, he is a very talented chef who got to travel all over the northeastern section of the United States to perfect his Thai cooking. He, himself, is from Thailand and re-settled in the United States in 2006. In 2015, however, Chansy and Bamrung moved back to the Binghamton area so that Chansy could care for her father, whose health was declining especially after the death of her mother.

But, in the course of business/cooking excursions to Erie, PA, Bamrung had become familiar with the Lake County area of Ohio and believed that a Thai restaurant had the potential to flourish there. He shared his idea with Chansy, and soon afterwards, the two of them, along with her father (who is now doing better) and her youngest sister, moved to the Concord, Ohio area where Thai 999 Express was established as a family-owned and operated small business.

We spoke to Chansy about its success; she told us that Thai 999 Express is doing well but had the potential to do even better. Along these lines, expansions in the near future have been planned  with the goal of transforming it from a “carry-out” cafe to a more traditional restaurant. She says that its team will always work to improve their cuisine according to the demands of their customers and “not give up until our customers are happy.”

When we asked Chansy for her thoughts on leading a successful life, she replied as follows:

“Success for me would probably stem from my family ‘s background going back generations. All my life, I have witnessed my family members always struggling for success. We worked hard against poverty. I am very happy and proud of my parents who brought us here to the land of the free. Here, we have all kinds of opportunities. Having a job is the opportunity. They could be small or large projects but they’re all important. So, we should do our best to explore our opportunities and expand our skills. The recognition of my work always makes me feel like a winner; and that is my success. Success is what you can make of it. It will stay within you forever and make you proud of your work when you know you have given all your best.”