THAI expatriate Nontapat Panchan could easily be mistaken for a Malaysian, due to his tanned complexion and familiarity with using the colloquial lah while conversing.
Yet, there is more than meets the eye with this 32-year-old who has adjusted well during his stay in a foreign country.
Nontapat was an international fencer who had won several major tournaments.
Looking relaxed during an interview at a cafe in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Nontapat, who is fondly called Non by friends, said he was born in Bangkok.
“My family came from the south of Thailand, hence the darker complexion.
“When I was 13, my sister and I were sent to the US to study. I lived there from 1995 to 2006.
“Then I went to Germany for two years to prepare for the Olympics. From 2008 to 2010, I travelled to Singapore to help a friend expand a fencing club there,” he said.
Nontapat had represented Thailand in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
“Shortly after that, I moved to New York for a short period of time to prepare for the 2012 Olympics but failed to make it to the games.
“In November last year, I moved to Malaysia to continue my career as a coach,” said Nontapat.
The young expatriate’s eyes lit up whenever the topic of his favourite sport came up, reflecting a passion he channels to his charges after setting up a club in Kuala Lumpur.
“I find it worth investing my time training someone else.
“It is fulfilling to see these trainees grow and compete in national competitions,” he said.
While most of his day is focused on coaching, Nontapat spends his free time reading.
“Recently, I read Shantaram by Gregory Roberts, East of Eden by John Steinback and Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, and all of them are good.
“The books are a reflection of my life and remind me that life is a gigantic adventure.
“I feel the sense of freedom and excitement that I had in life while reading those books, just like how I made it into the Thai national fencing team when I was about 16 and travelled to about 15 countries yearly for competitions,” he said.
Living in the US led Nontapat to realise and appreciate the countries in South-East Asia.
“There is a huge difference between Kuala Lumpur and New York.
“Although city folks are caught in the rat race, the people in Kuala Lumpur are more gentle and the mood is not as hectic as in New York.
“When I first came here, I was surprised by the lush greenery in the city.
“I constantly share my experiences with my parents about the melting pot of various cultures here, as well as how people of different races co-exist,” he said.
Nontapat also likes to keep tabs on current affairs and politics, and enjoys indulging in the variety of food the country offers.
“Lately, I have been craving for wanton noodles. I tend to traverse the city to look for the dish, sometimes to the extent of eating it for breakfast and lunch.
“Sometimes it is served with barbecued pork. I also like asam fish head curry,” he said.
Nontapat described Sekeping Serendah, a place he has been to recently, as a “fantastic natural escapade”.