Back in December 1995 Sondhi Limthongkul was the subject of a long profile by Asiaweek‘s Julian Gearing. Readers looking to understand one of the more public faces of the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s (PAD) protests in Bangkok may find the following quotes from this cover-story are worth digesting:
“I’m not the type of person who likes to stash away money. I’m 48 years old. I don’t have much time left in this world, maybe 12 more years. When you die, what can you do with money?”
“I never play stocks. That’s a lot of bullshit. There are many myths about me.”
“Seventeen years ago when I was young. I wrote a bad check. I was sent to prison awaiting trial for 20 days. When the trial started, the plaintiff withdrew the charge. There was no secret about it. I was only 31.”
“I always think when I die I want to die as a pioneer; as the first Asian to get up and fight the Western press.”
Beyond these fragments, the profile carries some other interesting, but not entirely surprising, details. There is mention, for instance, that “after a press conference to announce the Laotian satellite deal, Sondhi hosted a dinner for several politicians and businessmen, including Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and an old friend, Justice Minister Chalerm Yubamroong.” There is also note of Sondhi’s activities during an earlier period of Thai political drama. Gearing reports that:
The agitation on U.S. campuses was echoed in the student activism he found on his return to Thailand. Sondhi took up work for the newspaper Prachatipatai (Democracy) as reporter and managing editor from 1973 to 1974, running into some of the people who would later join him in his media ventures. Sondhi had an outstanding political mind, a friend says, and wrote insightful exposes of the political developments that led to the bloodshed on Oct. 14, 1973, an event that brought the government down.
The article also offers useful details on the early years of the Manager media empire, and its various starts and stumbles. It does tell us that long before he led the PAD, Sondhi expressed grand dreams of pioneering a media empire with a distinctively “Asian” voice. His stated goal was to take on the Asian Wall Street Journal. I wonder — is this what he had in mind?