The writing of The Boy with a Bamboo Heart

The Boy with a Bamboo Heart – The story of a street orphan who built a charity

Serendipity is the notion that a person has a bent for making fortunate discoveries by accident.

On a sultry March day in 2010, Yok, an eight-year-old Thai girl, tugged on my hand. Impatient to show me her home, she wanted me to walk faster.

On that day, I met Dr. Amporn Wathanavongs for the first time. Two weeks later we had an agreement that I would write his life story in English.

For the next three and a half years, I spent hundreds of hours learning about his life. I interviewed him in person and via Skype. Depicting someone’s life story in a way that engages the reader and elicits empathy is a complicated task. We had to take into account our cultural differences (Dr. A is Thai and I am French Canadian, currently working and living in the U.S.A.). We also needed to reconstruct the era in which events unfolded. We agreed that accuracy was our first obligation. Where necessary, we filled in gaps with fictionalized dialogue and description, always with the goal of telling an authentic, compelling, and entertaining story.

In March 2011, to absorb the sounds, smells, and character of Dr. A’s world, I visited the places that played an important role in Dr. A’s journey. The temples were either in disrepair or had been completely renovated in the intervening years. The villages, even the more remote ones, retained the essence of Dr. A’s descriptions, but had been touched by modernization. The people had cell phones and scooters, yet their mannerisms matched his descriptions. Unfortunately, few photos or recorded materials exist from those days.

Writing this book has been as much of a fortunate discovery as a challenge. I had to leave behind my prism of an educated woman brought up in modern Canada, with French as a mother tongue. I had to acquire the skin of an orphan who begged for his food, carried and used a rifle as a boy, took the vows of a monk, and dedicated himself to social work. If travel provides the launch pad for discovery, writing another person’s life is nothing less than an exploration of one’s own perspectives and views. In telling this story, I hope to successfully capture the life of a man who had the courage to survive and thrive against tremendous odds and define for himself what belonging really means.

For more information about Dr. Amporn Wathanavongs, please consult the links below to some articles about him and his work.

Foundation for Rehabilitation & Development of Children and Family
From Thief to Foster Father of 50,000 Street Children
Former Child of the Streets Now Works to Save Other Poor Children