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Royal Thais
During a simple vacation, I suddenly got to be queen for a day

Blast Tennessee Bureau

BANGKOK -- To the outside observer, my life is as plain and ordinary as anyone else's. I live with my parents, I have no boyfriend, no job, and I stay at home most of the time. All I do all day watch television, eat and sleep. I watch MTV and daydream of a glamorous life and stare at beautiful girls in fashion magazines and wish, "Man, wouldn't my life be so much more exciting if I was a cover model or something?" and sigh.


I graduated from high school this year, and for my summer vacation I really wanted to go to Thailand and visit the folks, who I haven't seen for seven years. The last time I went, I was eleven years old, skinny, awkward, with huge glasses that were too big for my face and bangs that were cut too short. I was hardly attractive.

I can't say that I'm beautiful now, but I've improved. I got contacts, gained some weight, grew out of my awkward phase. I actually look like a member of the human race now.

So I went to Thailand with my mother, sister, cousin and aunt for five weeks. I was planning to do all the typical vacation stuff that people usually do: hanging with relatives, sightseeing, shopping, that kind of stuff.

My family and I stayed mostly in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, where most of our relatives live. There we had the luxury of flushing toilets and air conditioning. Once in a while we would make the hourlong drive to the small town of Ayutthaya, which was once Thailand's capital before Burma destroyed it in 1767. My grandparents live there in a house on stilts in the middle of a rainforest. It was a tropical version of a typical house in the American countryside. Roosters crowed at 5 every morning and when it rained, it poured. There was no indoor plumbing and no air conditioning.

My mother's side of the family consists of just regular folk, average civilians like anyone else. They're not exactly rich, but they are basically happy and life-loving people with whom I enjoy being around.

There's my two-year-old cousin, a beautiful and bright girl who loves to laugh and smile, and with whom I share a special bond. There's my grandmother, who loves us dearly and who is very strong, but stubborn. There's my uncle, a mechanic who hardly speaks three words in a day, and when he does speak, you don't understand a word he says because it's all a bunch of mumbling.

My father's side of the family consists of civilians too -- but it's a little more privileged. My great uncle is a famous author of several books in Thailand. And somewhere along the line, I happen to be related to the King of Thailand.

One of my great- or great-great or great-great-great grandmothers married a son of King Rama IV. I'm not quite sure of the specific ancestry, but I think that's how it goes. Who'd have thought it, huh? I, the Thai-American couch potato kid, had royal blood running through my veins.

I'm not saying that anyone has to bow down to me or anything, although it would be nice. I love both sides of my family just the way they are. It was so much fun to be reunited with them, to hug them again. It felt good.

In the middle of my fun-filled vacation with the folks, I received some surprising news: SakulThai Weekly, the most widely circulating and oldest magazine in Thailand, wanted to interview me.

How did this happen?

My aunt on my father's side, who happens to work at the United Nations, showed a few of my better-than-average senior pictures to one of her cousins, who works for the magazine. She showed the pictures to the head honchos at that place, they were interested, and before I knew it, they wanted me to appear in their magazine.

Wow! Me, in a national magazine, I thought. How unbelievable. I thought for sure it was just going to be a little blip on page 29, one of those brief little paragraphs profiling any kid. But I soon learned that I was to be the subject of the cover.

They had it all set up: I was to be interviewed and photographed at the Oriental hotel in Bangkok, which is one of the best hotels in the world.

Was I excited? Yes. Was I nervous? Very.

A couple of weeks before the big shoot, all of my family members told me to be careful, take care of my skin, don't do anything too strenuous, etc. For a brief period of time, I drastically altered my lifestyle: I had to stay out of the sun, or wear long-sleeved shirts in 90-degree weather. I couldn't go outside without a hat. Suddenly my relatives would nag me: "Save your energy! Eat healthy! Watch out for mosquitoes!"

Another thing that bummed me out was that I couldn't really go see my mother's side of the family in Ayutthaya, where there were more mosquitoes. I was forced to take extremely good care of my skin. It made me sad that I couldn't see them for almost two weeks, but I wanted to try this new experience so much, I sacrificed my time with them.

The morning of the photo shoot, the unthinkable happened: I developed a redness in my right eye. It was so red, so clear and so visible to anyone who barely glanced in my direction. Of course, my family members panicked.

The magazine crew came, and my family explained to them the situation with the red eye. There were maybe seven or eight people all staring at my eye: the photographer, his assistant, the writer, the makeup artist, the hairstylist and some important-looking lady. I started feeling really self-conscious, because they were all examining me and my red eye. It was decided that I should go ahead and be interviewed and the photo shoot would be rescheduled for another day. In the meantime, I was supposed to rest thoroughly and try not to strain my eyes too much.

The interview went pretty well. Since I can hardly speak a word of Thai, I had to get my cousin to translate a lot for me. The interviewer and the rest of the magazine crew asked me simple questions like: What do I like about Thailand? How is the United States different from Thailand? They were mostly interested in what I was planning to study in college -- civil engineering -- but their eyes lit up when I mentioned that I played soccer in high school because that sport is the craze over there and very few girls play it. Besides, we were in the middle of World Cup fever, and any girl who played soccer was found intriguing.

After getting my eye treated with antibiotics and eye drops, it was back to the Oriental the next week for the photo shoot. And, boy, was that one hectic day.

For the shoot, I was supposed to wear my own clothes so they could get a glimpse at the fashion sense of a Thai girl living in America. But I only packed shorts and tank tops and they didn't want that. They wanted something classier, more presentable for the cover, so I had to go shopping for some nice outfits to wear. I don't think they were the kinds of clothes I would wear back home. I also had to borrow some dresses from my cousin's girlfriend. Everything was put in a closet at my aunt's house. When it was time for the shoot, I grabbed everything in the closet, but because of a mix-up I didn't grab the borrowed dresses.

My aunt got upset at me and everyone in my family started ragging on me for forgetting the dresses! What could I say? I mean, I had to take good care of myself and remember the clothes, not to mention I was extremely scared of my first photo shoot, how could they be so critical? I think the crew was probably less panicked about it than my family members were.

I liked the makeup artist a lot. He was very good-looking, and very proper and polite and well-dressed. He was very good at what he did, a true professional and all, but since the hairstylist wasn't there, he ended up doing my hair, which wasn't one of his strengths. I felt sorry for him. So for the first set, I had to do my own hair.

The whole thing was really fun. The thing was, though, since I was wearing contacts, and since they used a flash, I kept blinking. There are probably like a million goofy pictures of me with my eyes closed. But I was glad that everyone was so great and nice to me. They made me laugh and they made what would have been a totally tense experience actually enjoyable. It lasted an exhaustive six hours. I had no idea that a photo shoot would be so tiring. By the last set, I was beat. I just wanted to get things over with.

When it was done, everyone clapped. I felt like a star. The photographer looked very happy with my "work," but he also looked very relieved that it was finally over. I was a little sad that it was over, though. The crew had become kind of like a family to me. I was going to miss them, even though I spent only six hours with them.

The magazine should be coming out on newsstands in Thailand any day now. I'm still sort of overwhelmed by the experience. Even though I landed one magazine cover, I figure my life will still be ordinary and boring like it always was. I don't think I'll ever have that glamorous life that I always envisioned. Still, I guess my ordinary teenage life isn't so ordinary after all. I mean, how many people my age can say they are related to the King of Thailand?

Nitaya Chayangkura is an 18-year-old freshman majoring in civil engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She spends her free time at home with her family or close friends. She can be reached at