By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
The new Miss Universe Thailand has some sweet things to say on Mother's Day
AS MOTHER’S DAY is celebrated across the Land of Smiles today, one mum is beaming with joy and pride more than most. Chanoksuang Poonlertlarb’s daughter is Maria Poonlertlarb Ehren, the newly crowned Miss Universe Thailand.
The 25-year-old beauty (whose first name is often transliterated as Mareeya, though she prefers the Western version) will represent the Kingdom in the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas in November, and she’s already being tipped as a top contender.
Just over 1.8 metres tall in her bare feet, Maria was born in Bangkok. The family spent several years in Hanoi, but she was back in her hometown by age seven.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from Erasmus University in the Netherlands and a master’s in marketing from the Stockholm Business School in Sweden. Her father is a Swedish engineer and her mother is a university lecturer. Maria is fluent in Thai, Swedish, English and Mandarin. Her twin brothers, 12 years older, live in Texas in the United States.
Maria got into show business when she was just 13 and has modelled professionally and acted occasionally ever since. She released the song “Boong” in 2010 and later had a modest hit with “Come Along”.
She saw entering the Miss Universe Thailand competition as a step towards a planned career in women’s rights, and specifically working on issues such as education and teen pregnancy.
Maria and her mum had a chat with us this week – in English, with Maria showing a decidedly American accent – about life, fun and family.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST FONDLY ABOUT MARIA’S CHILDHOOD?
Chanoksuang: She was a very pleasant and joyful child. I was always the one who sang to her until she fell asleep on my shoulder and who put her to bed. I’d sing “Bua Khao” [“White Lotus”] or “Let It Be Me”. I read to her a lot, so she’s always been inquisitive about things.
When her brothers came home from school, if she was still awake, they’d pick her up and dance around with her. She’d always insist on being picked up again and again, tricking them by saying, “Just one last time!”
WHAT MAKES MARIA HAPPY?
Chanoksuang: Our family is very warm and loving. Her brothers contributed a lot to her development. They liked sports. By the time Maria was one she could bounce a ball, counting to more than 100 without slipping, which we thought was very unusual for a little girl.
WHAT MAKES YOU PROUDEST OF HER?
Chanoksuang: The whole family was very proud when she beat more than 200 other students around the world for a chance to attend a Nasa space camp.
Maria: It was the most amazing experience of my life. When I was young I had many dreams, and being an astronaut was one of them. When I got to eighth grade there was a competition to go to America for two weeks, to Florida for this Nasa space camp.
WHAT MAKES YOUR MOTHER HAPPY?
Maria: We’re very similar in the sense that we’re sabai sabai. She works very hard, so just relaxing makes her happy. Whatever I do for her it always makes her happy too, and that just makes me want to do more, like playing the piano for her or making her an apple pie. She loves my apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream!
The most important thing is that she loves it when all of her children are home, when my brothers come for a visit. That’s when she’s happiest.
WHAT DO YOU GUYS LIKE TO DO TOGETHER?
Maria: Watching a movie, getting a massage, going out to eat, especially at a buffet.
Chanoksuang: We love buffets! Maria is funny. She likes to start with the salad and everything, then she goes for dessert, and then she goes back for more salad, then more dessert, and so on – it’s never in sequence. She just hops here and there.
Maria: My mother’s oven dishes are very good, though – potatoes, meat, vegetables and lasagna!
HOW HAS YOUR MOTHER HELPED YOU GET THROUGH THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF LIFE?
Maria: My mom has always been very supportive. The question she likes to ask which I think is really important is ‘Is that what you really want to do?’ Both my parents do that, actually. Even though they might have different ideas, they still respect my opinion, my thoughts.
Chanoksuang: Whatever she thinks or she likes, we value her opinion.
WAS BECOMING A BEAUTY QUEEN ANOTHER OF YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAMS?
Maria: I never thought of a beauty pageant as the end goal. I realised that people listen to you because of the title you hold, so the question is what should you do with that.
I want to open a foundation or an organisation that helps the community. I think I’m really in that position now, so it’s a dream come true – and it still feels unreal!
Being a beauty queen is a dream for a lot of little girls. For me, it’s more about what comes after that, what it really stands for.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS YOUR FAMILY’S HELP IN MAKING YOU WHO YOU ARE TODAY?
Maria: Growing up with two brothers was really amazing, because you develop faster by trying to copy them. It’s human nature to mimic, and whatever they ate, I’d eat the same. They left for university when I was very young and I was so sad – I missed my brothers.
Chanoksuang: I missed them too, but luckily I still had her, and that was a big help.
Maria: So my mom got me into a lot of activities – ballet classes, piano lessons, drawing, tennis, taekwondo, even ballroom dancing with her! I’m very lucky to have had all these opportunities.
Chanoksuang: One thing I admire most about her is that everything she does, she does well. Her tennis coach wanted her in the junior league because she was so good. Taekwondo too, because she had long legs and arms and no one could match her reach. She also likes science.
Maria: My family has always been very positive and reinforcing. If I didn’t do something well, my father would say, “Let’s practise until you’re able to do it well.”
Anyone who takes lessons can do anything – not just me. It’s really about surrounding yourself with a good support team that makes you want to do the fullest.
When I was onstage in the pageant, I saw a sign that said “Texas heart Maria”, and I knew instantly it must be from my brothers – so sweet.
IT’S MOTHER’S DAY – WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO YOUR MUM?
Maria: I think it’s important to know that we’ll always be together and support each other. My mom has supported me my whole life and I want to give that back.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve always said that if I get married, my husband can stay out in the garage and my parents will be with me in the house.
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