Since childhood, Madame Yan Donko has appreciated history and culture. Joining her husband, HE Wilhelm Donko, the Austrian ambassador to Thailand, on his various postings, Madame Yan shared with Elite+ glimpses of her interesting and exciting life, particularly since their arrival to Bangkok last April.
Madame Yan was born and educated in Shanghai, a Chinese city famous for its glorious European influenced architecture art and culture. With her Chinese heritage, she studied History at Fudan University, and subsequently went to Japan to pursue postgraduate studies in History of Japan after the Meiji period at Tokyo University. It was in Japan that she met Ambassador Donko in 1989, who was a student from Austria also at Tokyo University. They shared many common interests and married not long after.
“I am very proud of my Chinese heritage, but I also learnt to love Japan for the richness of its history and culture. I enjoy the harmony often present in Japanese culture. My husband and I both learned the Japanese language and continue to appreciate our time as students there.”
As Ambassador Donko has moved around throughout his diplomatic career, Madame Yan has continued to support her spouse. Outside of Austria, their various overseas postings Russia, Algeria in North Africa, Turkey, South Korea, the Philippines and Norway, from where they moved directly to Thailand.
With each of her foreign residences, Madame Yan has appreciated the local culture and strived to learn as much as she can. She candidly shared, “I have tremendous curiosity about foreign cultures, so I try to learn the local languages. For the past decades, I have studied German when in Austria. I have also studied Turkish, Korean and Norwegian. As a diplomatic spouse, I strongly believe that it is important to learn the local customs, beginning with the language of our country hosts. I am currently learning Thai.”
Putting her words into action, Madame Yan has enrolled in the National Museum Volunteers course in Bangkok to study Thai history. She recently assisted The National Museum to translate Treasures from The National Museum Bangkok into Chinese to benefit the many Chinese visitors to Thailand, who never before had access to this publication. Madame Yan proudly explained, “I saw this as a very worthwhile project, and this is why I volunteered. However, after starting, I realized it was not an easy task as the translation had to be very professional with the official terms correct with no room for error.” She sincerely hopes the many Chinese visitors who read the translation will be able to better appreciate Thai culture and history as she has since arriving in Thailand.
Painting has been one of Madame Yan’s joys since her posting in Korea, where she learnt the art that quickly blossomed into a passionate pursuit for the past 20 years. Her love for painting has allowed her to express her appreciation for local cultures in a unique and creative way. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to host exhibitions of my paintings in Austria and the Philippines and also in Norway. In the Austrian hometown of Ambassador Donko, I experimented with Chinese watercolor painting techniques to display the local attractions. While in Norway, our posting prior to Thailand, I attempted drawings of their mythical creatures with Chinese interpretations. I treat my paintings as gifts to the host countries we have been blessed to reside in. The proceeds raised at these exhibitions is always donated to a worthy cause. In the Philippines, the funds were contributed to local street kids projects.”
Madame Yan went on, “In terms of charity work, I believe action speaks louder than words, and do not want to place special emphasis on my activities.
" When asked her opinion on the roles of women, she commented, “I believe there are special roles for men and women. What I mean is my personal role as an individual person. Everyone deserves to achieve a position because of their qualities. I want to be a woman, not simply a person. It is my firm personal belief that we emphasize much more on the roles we play.”
Prior to their posting in Bangkok, the couple visited Thailand multiple times, travelling to Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket. Madame Yan frankly admitted, “We first visited Thailand together in 2003 while my husband first came in 1986. After that we came many times as tourists, together with our two children. When news came that we would be moving directly to Thailand from Norway, we were very happy. We always feel at home here thanks to the kind welcome we have received wherever we are.”
To conclude the list of her beautiful Thai experiences, Madame Yan talked about her involvement in SHOM, Spouses of the Heads of Mission, and National Museum Volunteers. “In each country where we have been posted, I have joined the local chapter of SHOM. In Thailand, I have enjoyed becoming good friends with many members. A few of us also attend the classes together with the National Museum Volunteers.”
Madame Yan has actively supported the Austrian embassy in promoting cultural exchange between Thailand and Austria. Whenever possible, she supports Ambassador Donko in many cultural activities. One example is the recent publishing of an article on Austrian cuisine by Elite+. Madame Yan supported a food demonstration of Austrian dishes to complement the article at their official residence. No one can deny the marks Madame Yan has left in the countries Ambassador Donko have been posted to. At their residence, the Chinese-influenced watercolor paintings depicting Norwegian mythology are prominently displayed. Many Chinese visitors will also now benefit from her methodical translation she did for The National Museum in Bangkok. Her involvement in SHOM and National Museum Volunteers demonstrates her commitment to promoting cultural exchange and understanding.
As our interview drew to a close, Madame Yan happily wrapped up by saying, “All the years we first visited Thailand, we felt inspired by the rich culture of Thailand. Now that we are residing here, we look forward to experiencing more happy memories to add to all we have.