Arnaud Dubus, astute chronicler of Thailand, dies at 55

Arnaud Dubus, a French reporter and sage to Thailand’s community of journalists, died yesterday after taking his own life. He was 55.

Police said Dubus, who had lived in the kingdom 30 years and recently took a job at the French Embassy, arrived in the late afternoon to BTS Saphan Taksin, where he leaped to his death.

“He was appreciated by Thai journos and non-journos. He had an understanding of the country that few foreign journalists reach,” said Carol Isoux, a veteran French reporter living in Bangkok.

She said Arnaud was her first call when she had any questions about what was going on behind the scenes in politics, business or much anything.

“For not only me but all French journalists here, he was the journalist we liked, journalist we admired and journalist we trusted the most,” Isoux said.

Dubus was 24 when he wrote a master’s thesis on the Khmer Rouge, Isoux wrote in an obituary published by French daily Liberation. From the northern French city of Roubaix, Dubus was in his mid-20s when he came to Bangkok for the first time two years later in 1989.

Arnaud Dubus in 1982 from his Facebook profile.
Arnaud Dubus in 1982 from his Facebook profile.

In the ensuing years, Dubus’ life became deeply entwined with Thailand as he created work across the media spectrum, from French television and public radio to dailies including Liberation.

Tall and thin and a little inscrutable, Dubus was active with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. The club expressed its condolences for a member “who contributed much.”

“A gentle and modest person, Arnaud was thoughtful, well informed, and always exceptionally considerate toward others,” it said in a statement.

Pierre Queffelec, who manages French expat magazine Le Petit Journal in Thailand, said he was one of many arriving newbies wise enough to go straight to Dubus to get up to speed.

“I had the pleasure to meet him 15 years ago,” Queffelec said. “He was very knowledgeable about Thailand, and he had a way to speak about the country – its very appealing side as well as its dark side, in a way that was always factual.”

Last year, Dubus published his most recent of several books, Buddhism and Politics in Thailand.

The two subjects had taken a deep hold on him. His final tweet was to reshare a BBC Thai story about their collision.

In an interview last year with Khaosod English, Dubus spoke rationally about how state-centric Buddhism had proven unable to adapt to the times, the central subject of his book.

“I think he was drawn to anything related to spirituality – Hinduism, Buddhism, other things,” Isoux said, adding that he had recently seemed obsessed with these things and would explain everything happening in Thailand through that prism.

Dubus as memorialized by his friend, the cartoonist Stephane Peray. Image: Stephane Peray / Courtesy
Dubus as memorialized by his friend, the cartoonist Stephane Peray. Image: Stephane Peray / Courtesy

Last year he decided to stop pursuing the exhausting and financially fruitless life of full-time journalism for a position at the French Embassy. Friends say that he had been troubled for quite some time, years even, some said for as long as they’d known him.

Queffelec said he’d thought the new job and more stable life would translate into time for Dubus to write “dozens” more books.

Like Isoux, he said there was craft and method to his countryman’s work, and he kept his feet planted firmly in both worlds.

“He very close to Thailand, but not one of these people who lose their identity or culture to another one,” Queffelec said. “His approach was a little scientific and journalistic, and he was, we say, on the middle path. … [H]e could speak about things without the strong feelings that could blind us.”

Thailand and those who observe it will be deprived of his insights.

“He was so rigorous, he was almost a researcher, he set the bar quite high,” Isoux said.

Dubus is survived by his wife.

Funerary rites will be held Tuesday through May 9 in Sala 14 of Wat That Thong, just across from BTS Ekkamai. The funeral starts at 6:30pm Tuesday, and 7pm on Wednesday and Thursday, with the cremation at 8pm, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

The club will host a wake beginning at 6:30pm on May 10.

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