“I Built My Life”
by Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra
(Prime Minister of Thailand, 2001-2006)
Chapter 1 (Tuesday, January 26, 2010)
A lot of my self-appointed enemies are now working so hard in branding me a figure of corruption. Thai media in the likes of The Nation, The Manager Group, Naewna, Thaipost. All of them are busily doing “negative campaign” hoping to influence the court soon to judge me and my family of the seized 76,000 million Baht, which is the fruit of my life’s work. Influencing the court is indeed a violation of the court’s jurisdiction. But they still do. That is precisely why I must ask you to allow me to use a portion of this show to tell you of my life struggle, as some people, especially those of the new generations, do not know what is true and what is pure fiction. They must know that I and my family have been wealthy long before our entrance to politics, and politics have never been a tool or a source of our wealth.
Such seizure, deemed “robbery” by some, is against all principles of ethics and morality. These people are in total lack of life principle. I may dislike someone intensely, but I have never gone after the person beyond these principles. Look what happens in the US. The government is financing in great amount the struggling financial and insurance corporations. One must look at the bright and gloomy sides to understand the overall. Have I been bad from day one, when I assumed Thailand’s premiership, to the very last? My premiership has absolutely nothing to claim credits for, hasn’t it? Our loan to Myanmar, to cite just one such accusation, is portrayed as my financing them so they could buy products sold to them by my family companies. How about those concessions they granted to PTT (Thailand’s Petroleum) along the years? Don’t they count as a merit to obtain such loan?
This is my way of explaining to all of you, the fair-minded international citizens, of the truth betrayed nowadays in Thailand. If you like it, I will consider expanding the show into 2 hours. It is not my self-advertising. Rather my life anecdotes. I will tell all. My colorful fights in my working life. Hope it help you in your own tough times right now.
I was born in the country, San Kampang, Chiangmai, away from what you would call an urban life. The nearest town was 13 kilometres away, with big trees on the 2 long road sides. My father had a motorcycle and struggled to make ends meet. At the age of 3-4, I started my memories of his and my mother’s hard works. He opened a small, country-style coffee corner. My mom woke up first, along with me, and boiled the water for dad. He would come down and start selling. By that time, my mom went to the open market for her business of selling clothes. Before she arrived, I would get there with a helper of hers. I was a little one so I sat in the frontal part of a wooden cart we used for clothes. I would just sit there, watching out for our products, till my mom showed up. I went back home and helped cleaning coffee glasses. Sometimes I did it on the stretch of my toes, as I was so small. This became my routine before going out to school.
There was no such thing as kindergarten at the time. However, there was a volunteer at the Rongtham Temple by the name of “Kru Kwai” (Teacher Buffalo) from Uttaradit. She was not highly-educated, but she was one superb teacher. Parents paid her 80 Baht per month to teach their children. I was a student of hers. She would give us an individual session. Interested students got a longer session. From basic Thai language to Mathematics. Kru Kwai was an excellent Math teacher. I learned plus, minus, times, divided. Pretty advanced for a child that age. I believe Kru Kwai was responsible for my progressive and interactive thinking process, which benefits me in later years.
My family helped here, too. Senior family members always challenged me, teasingly, to do Math. They would keep asking my all those Math puzzles until I was cornered. Math helps you think.
When I was in Grade 3, my dad changed from a coffee shop business to farming. My granny gave him a piece of land and he turned it into a fruit field. I learned a lot here. Dad was not highly-educated, but he was fond of new technologies. He went to Thammasat, which was then an open university much like Ramkanheang today. I remember that our little coffee shop had a refrigerator. It was oil-generated. The only one in that area. The fridge attracted a lot of people. We sold soda water and my mom’s frozen foodstuffs. I helped them selling “Wanyen” or an ice stick with a bit of sweet syrup, one “Slung” (one cent) a piece. Same as lottery results. One Slung a sheet also. My dad grew oranges and bananas. I sold banana leaves (people used them as today’s plastic bags) and flowers attached on banana’s trunk. Money from that was used to buy food back home. I grew up all my life like this, making a living with hard works.
At the time I enrolled at Montford, which was and is a famous school. I was forced to repeat Grade 3 because the first 2 Shinawatra boys’ academic performance was so poor they thought the third one must be as bad.
My very first visit to Bangkok was when I was in Grade 4. A cousin bet me to obtain 80% or over on my academic report. The reward was to take me to Bangkok. I got 84%. I traveled to Bangkok with my granny and we stayed for 4 days. On the way, we stopped at Kao Samroyyod (the Mountain of 300 Peaks), where my now well-publicized photograph among pineapples was taken. It was owned by my dad’s friend, who sold him tractors for our farm. With 400 Baht given by my granny, so much at the time, I bought some toys back home. One of them was roller-skate shoes, the wheel kind. We the kids played them at night when the road was empty. I played with these toys. I got into sports of every kind. We played all seasons, even when it rained.
Dad changed his work again. He was now a compradore of the Nakorn Luang Thai Bank. A compradore at the time screened loans giving out to the applicants. Eventually, he took over some troubled businesses from his clients. I remembered one called “Charoenchai”, a Honda motorcycle agent. I went everywhere to collect monthly payments from our clients, 100 Baht per month a piece. My life had always been close to people’s real life. I understand them well. My study was also prospering. I didn’t spend so much time reading my textbooks. But I did my homework, and that helped me understand it even better. Dad got involved in several businesses this way. Then he was cheated by business partners. The family fortune started sinking. It was the beginning of our rough time. One of my dad’s helpers asked me to stop school and came to work full-time to revive the business. I told him no. “Money and properties can be earned back. But without knowledge, we will be lost”. Those were my words to him.
I attended the national military cadet school at the time, which took 2 years. Before getting accepted, I wasted the first year because of a health result. They declared I had a spot in my lung. It was later proven a shadow of a rip or bone. By that time, the family’s financial situation got worsened. After graduation, I received a salary of 1,300 Baht or so. I rented a small room around a Bangkok’s area of Kiak Kai at 300 Baht per month. There were a bed and a small closet and that was it. Toilet was pool with other renters. I had to place my Buddha image on top of the closet, which was the highest location in the room. I lived like that until I obtained a government scholarship for a Master’s Degree. My family could no longer support me financially.
I was in love when I was between Year 1 to 2. Pojaman, who eventually became my beloved wife, and I started our relationship since then. A few years before my graduation, she went abroad for language study. I was tempted to come with her. At the time I was first in my police-cadet class and student leader. I chose police because no Shinawatra was in the police force before. We were present in the Army and the Air Force. Navy was never a choice for a boy from the mountainous north, since he was hardly a good swimmer. Now, this police-cadet scholar wanted to further his study in the US.
It was my desire to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I got accepted. But the government salary of a scholar at $160 a month couldn’t allow it. I went instead to another institution. My mom gave another $1,000 of the family’s hard-earned money. As a young man, I had needs and wanted more money. Wanting a sporting car, Free Bird, I took an extra job at KFC, selling fried chicken. My senior Thai friends, Chidchai (Wannasathit, later a Ph.D., Drugs Suppression Chief, Deputy Police Commander, and Deputy Prime Minister) and Wichienchote (Sukchotirat, later a Ph.D., Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Justice Ministry and Government Spokesman) all worked. Chidchai was at UPS, doing the hard labor of loading boxes and all. Wichienchote waited tables at a hotel and he asked me to join him. I did. Eventually, I was also working in the hotel’s breakfast kitchen since I loved cooking. With little extra money, Pojaman soon joined me. We went out sometimes. My Master’s Degree took 1 year and 4 months to complete. It was longer than I should because I decided not to take summer courses but rather took a long drive around the US. Anyway, I was a straight A student. A in all courses.
I returned to Thailand alone because my love was still pursuing her degree. My rank was adjusted based on the new degree into Police Captain, with 1,800 Baht per month. Soon Pojaman came back and we were married. We had no home of our own. Not enough money for that. We then stayed with my wife’s parents until we decided that I should pursue my Ph.D. in the US. We returned to the US. I went to school. She didn’t. As fate would have it, I was away from Thailand at the times of our two major political riots: October 14 of 1973 and October 6, 1976. I only got news from here and there about what had happened. Even the May Incident of 1992, I was again out of the country.
The life of Bangkok Bank’s founder, the billionaire Chin Sophonpanich, inspired me to enrich myself in business. “If a person with only Grade 4 of educational background can do it,” I said to myself and my wife. “I as a Ph.D. pursuer must be able to earn some 100 million Baht in life”. We went to the US this time with that determination. Remember that my family, all 9 brothers and sisters, were all poor. My youngest sister Yinglak, currently AIS President, was only 9 years old. My father-in-law, who was then Commander of Bangkok Police’s Southern Area, contributed $100 a month for us. I combined it with $90, my police salary at home, and went off. My wife found a babysitting job for small children and a sales clerk at a department store. I studied hard, and also worked. My job was to fold newspaper and deliver them to home. Sometimes I missed out and had to recollect them. Some vicious dogs chased me with vengeance. Finally, a doctorate degree was obtained after 2 years and 8 months. My oldest son Oak was born in the US. When we carried him back with us, he was barely 5 months old.
We had 2 cars in the US: my left-steering wheel Mercedes Benz and my wife’s Volvo. The Volvo was sold as we wanted to keep the Mercedes. The problem was we couldn’t afford the tax. Our entire saving at the time was 200,000 Baht, but the tax was posted at 400,000 Baht. A loan was sought. We returned again to the home of my wife’s parents, who has 4 children. My wife and I was given a room. The others had to share. Every morning I went through every page of Bangkok Post’s Classified. I was so preoccupied with an extra income or more. I almost took a job as English instructor, somewhere in Nanglerng, and a job as Night Manager of a hotel. What choice did I have? No investment money. No network of friends in business. My wife’s family background was also governmental. No connection to business world, whatsoever. I built myself up one step at a time.
My family has had a silk business. We obtained some commodities without having to pay first. But we needed to open a shop. I joined a business group whose 5 members invested 10,000 Baht each. We took turn taking the whole sum of 50,000 Baht for business use. This was how I got started. I paid the rent to General Witoon Yasawat, who owned a hotel called Trocadero, where my rental shop was. My wife with our little boy baby went to the store everyday. Business was not good. We ended having boiled eggs for dinner everyday. Without the burden of payment for silk products, we were still in the red. I told my wife to mind the store and went out looking for other ways to survive.
Came another month, I found myself at a leading Thai film production company: Five Stars Promotion. My friend, Kiat Iampungporn, suggested that I purchased the right of his film to show at the cinema of the northern territory. The movie in question was one of the most popular ones: Ban Saithong (“The Saithong House”). The main female character was Pojaman, who bore my wife’s name. I thought of it as a good sign. Director Ruj Ronapop was also in support. So was Pracha Maleenont, Channel 3’s owner, whose friendship with me started there. We agreed. But the right fee was 1 million Baht, which I didn’t have. The Mercedes was put as a collateral so we had enough money to pay. Looking back, it was so risky.
The risk paid off. Within 1 month, we earned back one million Baht. The Mercedes returned to be ours. Another month was another 1.3 million, which was pure profit for me. It was the first time we touched upon that kind of sum. I went on to another film “Yod Talok” (“Super Funny”), played by Den Dokpradoo. This time, 300,000 Baht in profit. We went on to buy a house of our own. My wife asked to have a house in Chokechai 4, Ladprao, which belonged to my father-in-law. She got her wish. We then spent some money preparing the house and moved in for 6 years. This was where several businesses were conceived. My second baby girl was born here. With more success, we moved to a new house in Bangplad. Heard that a man came digging at the Ladprao house which was shut down. He claimed to get some dirt of a successful house to put among his own at a factory, so he too could be rich. Later, the movie business was in decline. Some were in red. My wife advised me to start a business which would rely on my own knowledge, instead of taking risks.
I was again in financial troubles. Bounced cheques started to appear. I became used to issuing pre-dated cheques. The middle man sold it at 5% interest rate. I was responsible for that. There were times I couldn’t even manage to pay the interest. They sued me. I went to court. Paying back and going to court in switching. I was sometimes close to put in jail. It was like drowning in a vast sea, but we managed to survive, barely so.
In Bangkok’s area of Rachawat, there was a movie house called “Dusit Theatre”. It was put out for sales. I wanted to own a piece of property. I went to “Maha Nakorn Trust” and asked for 18 million Baht (Actually, it was 18.5 million, but 500,000 Baht was spent on accommodation of the deal). I met the top person of the trust on Monday. He looked at me for a long time and granted it, at the interest rate of 21%. I asked him why he granted it. He said he mastered in the Chinese art of reading faces, and he found me never to go bankrupt on him. It was an old-fashioned way of doing business. I went along with it, too, but also with knowledge and information.
With the money, I owned several units of building there. Our plan was to sell 90 units for a big profit. Interest rate was so high and on my back all the time. I paid 325,000 Baht every month. Fridays were days of high pressure. Any Friday I talked the rate down to 300,000 Baht, it was a course for celebration. I packed up my family and we were off to Pataya. I needed a break to reduce my great tension. You must give yourself a break whenever you become too intense and stressful. You must sleep well. Closing eyes to rest and opening eyes to fight on. But the building construction hit a major roadblock. Interior Minister General Siddhi Jiraroj issued a ministerial order that all buildings near the royal palace must not exceed 21 metres in height. My 15 floors were reduced to 7 floors. A big chunk of profit went out the door. Even worse, the sales of buildings were eaten up by advertising cost. We decided to stop selling and bought back the sold units. My wife and I determined to go for a new direction, so our lives could stay afloat. She sought out 10 million Baht and handed it to me to embark on a new business: computer sales. It was Pojaman who asked me to march ahead with the business, and she would deal with the debts and financial problems it had caused.
That is the story for next time.