The chairman of the Chiang Mai Chamber of
Commerce is well known Chiang Mai businessman, Jumpol Chutima,
who can trace his Lanna history through many generations, and is
a proud proponent of Lanna culture. One obvious aspect of this
is one of his positions, being a partner-manager of the Old
Chiangmai Cultural Centre.
Jumpol is the only son of two prominent
business people from this region, with both his parents (father
now 83 and mother 79 years old) still active in the world of
their family businesses.
He was a good student, easily topping his
classes and had decided that he wanted to do engineering when he
finished secondary school. To this end, he was even enrolled at
Chulalongkorn College in preparation of going on to
Chulalongkorn University. However, his parents were not in
favour of this, and so they sent him to study in America. I
asked Jumpol if he was prepared to rebel against this
imposition, but he said, "You must understand it
(obedience) was ingrained in our culture, especially in those
times." So he left for the United States.
In the US he began studying mathematics, but
after one year, this was not to his liking, so he changed to
Political Science and International Relations. He was filled
with the youthful idealism we all had in our early years.
"I wanted to do something for the world, but all they
taught was how many tanks you should have and how many nuclear
warheads." Disgusted with that field of endeavour, he ended
up doing an MBA - the course his parents wanted him to do in the
first place. Perhaps Mum and Dad did know best!
He ended up staying in America for a total of
17 years, marrying a Thai nurse he met there and working for
corporations such as the Bank of America. This did not alter his
‘Lanna’ character and thinking, but he admits the extended
time in an alien culture did broaden his outlook. "I try to
look at the global picture. It is necessary to look
outward." This time abroad also saw him become critical of
not only the alien culture in which he was living, but also of
the Thai sociologists of the day. "American commercialism
is not a good thing, and our social scientists who studied
abroad and could see the trends, should have prepared Thailand
for the future, using those American and European models."
He cites one of the problems as being that of
the aged overseas, following the breakdown of the extended
family concept. This in turn led to grandparents who suffered in
silence at the hands of grandchildren who did not want to meet
the responsibilities (and duty) of care for their elders.
"I am worried that this will happen soon, here." His
views are that our senior citizens in Thailand are important, if
nothing else for the fact that they can impart their knowledge,
culture and experience. In Jumpol’s mind this is just as
important as the cultural concept of familial duty.
His philosophical thoughts on society and its
purpose and direction he says were formulated early at the
Prince Royal’s College, where the students were taught to be
responsible to the society. This was further emphasized at the
Christian college he attended for a while in the US. However,
how all this fitted in with tanks and nuclear warheads, were a
huge turn-off for the young adult Jumpol. I also felt that I was
not listening to concepts given to a young man, but ones that
were well held beliefs that had been formulated after much
observation, thought and self examination.
His time in the US came to an end when his
parents said they were getting old and Jumpol was needed to come
back and assist with the family businesses. This he did, and
found that the Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre allowed him to
indulge his love of history and culture. "It suits me
fine," he said, with a smile.
He holds strong views on the need for the
culture of the Thai people to be maintained, with all the
individual differences, which he does not believe weakens the
fabric of Thai society, but rather strengthens it, as each group
can assist the other when necessary. Again he returned to the
lack of foresight in local sociologists. "Look at
consumerism and 1997. We should not have followed it
In his new position as chairman of the Chiang
Mai Chamber of Commerce, his thoughts on being culturally strong
and independent thinkers comes through in his aims for the
Chamber. "I want to make the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce
strong and self reliant financially. We get no government
support, so I want to make my members strong and able to compete
commercially in the world markets."
In his personal life, he has two children, a
son aged 19 and a daughter aged 15. His son has expressed an
interest in studying physics at a tertiary level, but Jumpol
feels that accountancy would be a better option, and one that
would benefit the family enterprises. I asked him if this was an
example of history repeating itself and he smiled enigmatically.
"After accountancy he can always go back and study physics
later," he said. His daughter, on the other hand, is
showing an interest in architecture, a pursuit that appears to
have received paternal approval. Or perhaps it is just the fact
that daughters are more adept in getting around fathers - in all
Jumpol’s hobbies include reading books,
anything from history and culture, through to science fiction
and horror, watching all types of movies and collecting plates
with paintings of fish on them, but he admits that at this time
the collection only numbers ten.
His own personal ambition did not surprise
me. "I want to write a book about culture. Not Lanna, but
about the philosophy of culture itself." Jumpol is
interesting - a successful businessman, and also a cultural
philosopher. A rare mix.