Weekly Local Biography

 Suraphol (Eddy) Thubtong

 

The director (amongst other things) of Gap’s Thai culinary arts school is ‘Eddy’ Thubtong, a local Chiang Mai resident who has made laughing in the face of adversity an art form itself.

His father was a hotelier who had worked his way up from humble guesthouses to building the first five storey hotel in Chiang Mai. He named this hotel the Suraphol Hotel, after Eddy, his only child.

Eddy was not an exemplary student at school and was sent to Assumption College at Sriracha as a boarder to try and get him away from some of the local distractions. Eddy did not elaborate what they were, but one has the more than sneaking feeling that they would have had names like Noi, Nui or Nong!

After Assumption, he was sent to Australia to continue his secondary education and hopefully become proficient in English. After that he went to Sydney Technical College to gain qualifications in accountancy. “I was good at mathematics and it didn’t need too much English,” he laughed.

On his return, Eddy began to make a name for himself in Chiang Mai. Not as the smartest accountant, but as a hedonist! “I was the best known playboy in town. I was the first person with an air-conditioned car and I even left it on in winter to show off!”

Despairing of his son’s lifestyle, father sent son to Bangkok to run a wood carving warehouse for his father. This did not really interest him, nor change his ways. “I fooled around a lot, but I got fed up with Bangkok so I applied for hotel management training in America.”

He ended up in New York and after a somewhat chaotic start where he ordered 10 kilograms of chives for the salad instead of 10 grams, decided to study cooking, something he had been doing since his days as a boarder in Australia. “This was a turning point in my life. I was also very lucky because I met a great French chef who looked after me.”

He was indeed very lucky, but was obviously a keen student as well, who was prepared to learn everything he could and was not averse to standing in for any of the kitchen positions when the incumbent was having a day off. This was to stand him in good stead and he was able to command a good salary. He needed it! He was gambling in Las Vegas. “I needed two jobs!” He was also a regular at the famed Studio 54 in New York, the hangout for people such as Andy Warhol and Truman Capote and all the ‘beautiful people’ in America. (At this point in the interview he went and got an old photo album to show me the chef who was his mentor. There, in amongst the faded photos was the young Eddy - long curly hair, fashionable moustache and the playboy grin.)

However, his father did teach him that he had to work for his keep, so he left the disco scene in NY and returned to Bangkok. To the disco scene in Bangkok, where he helped set up the disco in the Dusit Thani. He was offered a good salary and entertainment allowance, but he was very quickly in trouble. “I overspent my entertainment allowance every month and had to pay back more than my salary!”

It was time for Eddy to get back into his own business, and use some of those accounting skills he had been taught in Australia. He also needed to keep his playboy image intact, so what was he to do? “The only way to get to know the girls is to start a boutique,” he said, laughing again. It was successful, as he met a writer from Dichan magazine and eventually married her.

The fashion business took him around the world, Hong Kong shows and even to Dubai. He designed and made uniforms for Thai Airways and became involved in textiles, using cotton and linen. However, after getting married, he left that side of the business to his wife and went into the antique trade.

He had been left some antiques by his parents, but not enough for Eddy the entrepreneur. Borrowing 4 million baht from the bank, he became the biggest antique dealer in Bangkok overnight. He also knew that the nouveau riche wanted antiques, to make their ‘new’ money look as if it were ‘old’ money. He also knew where these people were. “When you are a playboy you meet a lot of people with money.”

But after six years of this he tired of it, and got out before the baht was in trouble. He had also been getting involved in property development, however, building the most expensive condominium unit in Chiang Mai. This he did not manage to get out of before the economic crash and lost an estimated 60 million baht. On the advice of one of his friends in high places he gave it all back to the bank and ended up with 500 baht in his pocket, but with Eddy’s luck another good friend came up and bought 200,000 baht of antiques that he had left over from the antique business.

He began again, going right back to follow his father’s steps - he built a guesthouse on land left to him by his mother. He named it after his son Gap, just as his father had done so many years before. It became a successful business with 100% occupancy rates. He became bored with it, so returned to his cooking days and opened the cookery school, which is also successful.

Is he ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labours? Not likely! Eddy (or should that be ‘Lucky Eddy’?) is looking at property development again. It is the same old Eddy, the laugh, the twinkle in the eyes, the scallywag, who is ready to do it all over again. Chiang Mai’s playboy ain’t dead yet!