In autumn 1931 the Kingdom of Thailand and the Swiss Confederation signed Treaty of Friendship and Commerce which marked the start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This was the reason for the meeting between the Swiss citizens residing in Thailand at The Oriental Hotel (today’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel), on 1 November 1931, to discuss the purpose and aim for the establishment of a Swiss Club in Thailand. In the following weeks, the constitution of the Swiss Society Bangkok (SSB) was drawn and approved by the first General Assembly on 6 December 1931. The main purpose of the organization was to promote friendship and contacts among the Swiss Community, arrange social and cultural activities, and give benevolent assistance in the case of unusual need by a resident fellow-countryman.
The founding members of SSB were comprising of 40 executives and employees of the established Swiss companies in Bangkok, such as Diethelm & Co Ltd, Berli Jucker & Co Ltd, Züllig & Co Ltd and Bangkok-Swiss Trading Ltd, as well as, employees from the Swiss Embassy in Bangkok. SSB’s first social activities were predominantly singing lessons, when people met after church ceremonial services to sing a couple of songs, and meetings for a cozy get-together. Card games, chess games and bowling were soon added to the program.
An important task of the association, however, was the solidarity support of compatriots in need. Yes, they often existed back then, the adventurers who tried their luck in Southeast Asia but failed and sometimes had to be repatriated back to Switzerland on the Swiss Society’s expense. There was a young guy back in 1932, named Gustav, arrived in Bangkok from Burma without any means, partly by train, partly on foot, dressed in ripped khaki pants and a cotton shirt, to look for work. SSB tried to find a job for him but without any success. The association, therefore, decided to send Gustav off to Penang, Malaysia. After arriving in Penang, he became very sick and had to admit to a hospital. Luckily, the company Diethelm & Co. Ltd. took care of him and paid all the hospital costs. Gustav later returned to Burma and got fortunate enough to pay back all the money that the Swiss Society had spent on him earlier.
There were many other cases which the Swiss Society helped, not only to their compatriots, such as the support for the Swiss soldiers at the border of Switzerland during World War II. SSB also supported the local community in need, for instance, during the catastrophic flooding in Bangkok in 1942 or the thousands of refugees in the camps on the borders between Thailand – Laos and Cambodia in 1970s.
Another SSB’s important task remaining to this day was the organization of the Swiss National Day celebration. In the past, this was the main event of the year when the members of Swiss community would dress up elegantly and meet at the gala dinner in Mandarin Oriental hotel, Polo Club or Trocadero hotel. The festivities traditionally ended after midnight with a “Basler flour soup”.
The Swiss Society survived the difficult years of war in the 1940s and started to grow rapidly. Singing and chess activities were no longer popular and were replaced by other social activities such as shooting – the “Embassy Cup” thrived into a prominent shooting event – or the Swiss movie nights. These movie nights gained popularity and probably every old Swiss movie from “Uli der Knecht” to “HD-Soldat Läppli” made its way to the club’s movie theatre. In 1975 a football club – Swiss Inter Bangkok – was founded and every Thursday evening the team played football in Lumpini Park.
Today the Swiss Society has well over 200 members. The interests of the members have changed over the years but the aims to promote friendship and contacts among the Swiss Community, arrange social and cultural activities, and extend benevolent assistance to the Swiss and local communities in need are still the same.
Swiss Society Bangkok (SSB)
The Swiss Society Bangkok (SSB), founded in 1931, is a non-political, non-profit association of Swiss Nationals and friends of Switzerland residing in Thailand. The purpose of the organization is to promote friendship and contact among the Swiss Community, and with Thai friends of Switzerland. The Swiss Society will act as a liaison between the local Swiss Community and the Swiss Embassy and/or organizations in Switzerland which act in the interest of the Swiss expatriates. It will support the interest of the Swiss School and will assist in organizing National Day Celebration.
More information about SSB at https://www.ssb.or.th/
Swiss Stories in Thailand | เรื่องเล่าชาวสวิส
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