Vol. II No. 28 Saturday 12 July - 18 July 2003
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Weekly Local Biography

 Rainer Manfred Loehnert

 

Rainer Manfred is the acting headmaster of CM-Tech, Industrial and Commercial College. He is German, he is an engineer, but a most outgoing and lateral thinking engineer who has applied that lateral thinking to the principles and practice of education.

Rainer Manfred was born in Munich, the only son of a police officer, in a long family tradition of police officers. When he was close to finishing his secondary education, his father said, “In six months you will be finished school and I will bring home the application forms to join the police academy.” This was not what the young boy wanted as his future and this was imparted to an incredulous father. “So what do you want to do?” was the response from Loehnert Senior. Suddenly put on the spot, young Rainer Manfred said the first thing that came into his head, “I want to be an electrician.”

So off to vocational training did he go, and three years later emerged as an electrician. He also secured a position almost immediately with the municipal authority at the Munich Power Station. There he changed fuses, light bulbs or whatever else electricians do in power stations for three years, but then was offered the opportunity to do an electrical engineering course. “I was not really clear as to what I should really do, or where I was heading, but I took the chance.” This was a five-year slog which involved rotating shift work as well as classroom tuition. He also began to show an individual streak of lateral thinking. His car needed painting, so he attacked it with a brush. He could not afford spray painting, “So I did it the easy way. Nobody says you have to spray. The paint went on, which was what I wanted.”

Now with his engineering qualifications he was supposed to again enter government service, to “repay” his five years tuition, but as Rainer Manfred said himself, “I was lucky. Siemens needed engineers for a new project and I applied and got the job. I was also lucky that I did not have to pay back the government for my education!”

So he went to work in power generation, looking at steam boilers, attempting to develop new shape ones for the world market. During this time he also had his first contact with Thailand, coming over here on holidays. It may be of interest to the ‘powers that be’ in tourism, that Rainer Manfred chose Thailand following the recommendation of the German travel agent who showed the ‘better’ side of Thailand, with an emphasis on temples and spirituality, rather than the beaches and chrome poles!

When Siemens interested the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in these new power generators, they brought a team of three Thai engineers to Germany, and because of Rainer Manfred’s experience of Thailand, he was detailed to look after them. When EGAT gave the project the go-ahead, Rainer Manfred was naturally selected as one of the six German engineers to come to Thailand. That was 1989 and the site at Ban Kapong was not really ready. “It was a rice paddy!”

The power generating station was built in two and a half years, but there were problems. Cooling water temperatures in Thailand were far higher than the ambient temperatures in Germany. This was overcome, but then there were other Thai style problems that German engineers had not seen before - shrimps in the cooling water clogged the pipes and produced overheating. The power generator had become a tom yum goong manufacturing plant!

However, all these glitches were overcome and the plant was handed over to EGAT in 1992. Rainer Manfred was given a plane ticket back to Germany and signed off. Rainer Manfred was not ready to leave Thailand at that time. He stood in line at the airport till he found someone wanting to buy a ticket to Germany and sold it!

He asked friends in EGAT if they knew of any work for him and scored a 12-month contract in Lampang. “When that was finished I was on the road again, and was told to try Chiang Mai. This was a nice place. You could still ride a bicycle here without being hit every day!” There were no engineering jobs on offer, but he was offered a job to teach German and spent the next five years teaching the language at schools and to Thais training as tour guides.

At the end of that time he was asked why he was not teaching engineering - after all, he was a fully qualified and experienced engineer. Teachers were needed in vocational schools, and there would be positions there. It was at this stage that Rainer Manfred showed his abilities again in lateral thinking. “I could speak Thai by this stage, so I said I would give the lessons in Thai, for Thai students.”

With that simple premise, Rainer Manfred changed the face of vocational training in Chiang Mai. He received a Diploma in Education from the Thai government and joined CM-Tech as a subject master in 2001, and has worked his way up to being acting headmaster today. A long way from changing light bulbs in Munich - or from being a policeman!

Again, using his lateral thinking, he has begun to put training sessions onto CD’s in a long-term plan to make it possible for students to gain the advantages of good tuition, but yet study at home.

Rainer Manfred believes that you must always have a dream. One of his was to work “somewhere else” (outside Germany), and he has fulfilled that, and has no thoughts of going anywhere else. I asked him where the future lay for him and he said that he did not think about it, taking each day as it comes, in some ways a Buddhist philosophy - a faith that he adopted in 1990. One of his dreams is entering the monkhood. He has enough time! “Maybe two weeks!”


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