Weekly Local Biography

  Pravit Arkarachinores

The Honorary Austrian Consul in Chiang Mai is Pravit Arkarachinores, a man who was born here, worked here, and has spent all his life in service to family and society. To his knowledge, he is also the only holder of an international Master’s Degree in Economics to have run a suburban drugstore in Thailand.

His parents were from China, and his father was a businessman. Pravit was the third of eight children, and they all lived in the typical shop-house, from which the family business was run. “The children have a duty to help their parents, father in the family business and mother in the house,” said Pravit.

I asked him why the concept of running businesses always seemed to run through Chinese families. Was it a genetic inheritance in their nature, or was it environmental nurture? His answer was enlightening. “We learn business from seven years of age, because we are living there (in the shop-house). We grow up in those surroundings. We don’t have to learn business, we grow up with it. We didn’t discuss psychology at home, we discussed the principles of honesty, hard work, helping our parents and giving respect to our elders.”

Young Pravit went to Montfort College, a Catholic school, so I asked him if he was a Catholic, but no, “I am everything because I believe all religions teach you to do good,” he said. A refreshing approach in today’s narrow minded world.

When time came for young Pravit to leave Montfort there was pressure on him to go and study medicine, since one of his father’s businesses was a suburban drug store, but the young man felt that he should study economics, as it was not a field that was well understood in those days. His father was happy with his choice, so he went to Thammasat University and then off to New Zealand to continue his studies towards a Master’s Degree. After 18 moths in NZ he then was accepted into a course in Colorado in the USA, to give him American qualifications as well.

Personal study now being over, it was time to return to Thailand. “I should help my father run the drug store.” He also assisted his father and his family in the other businesses that they were pursuing, by that stage being involved in a rice mill, a saw mill and mining ventures.

Whilst his university degrees gave him “honour and dignity” Pravit did say that in those days, formal tertiary qualifications were not necessary. “There is an old Chinese proverb that goes; People who can read and write, may not be able to catch fish,” said Pravit.

However, it became apparent that Pravit who could not only read and write, but also add up, was catching something else other than fish. He was coming to the notice of Chiang Mai University who asked the drugstore operator to become a part-time teacher. Very shortly after that he was appointed as a member of the Chiang Mai Municipal Parliament and then a councillor for Chiang Mai.

With that background it came as no surprise to me that Pravit was approached to run for parliament. It was also no surprise to me that he turned the offer down. “I did not want to be in the situation where corruption might happen,” said Pravit.

Another public office he took on was to bring the drugstores in Thailand under one umbrella, being founder and president of the group for 10 years. He was very aware of the role of the corner drugstore in society. Doctors were not so plentiful and the people sought medical help at the drugstore, which would carry Chinese, Thai and western medicines. He is still part of the group, these days being the advisor, after all these years.

Almost 30 years ago, Chiang Mai established its own chamber of commerce and Pravit was naturally elected as deputy president, and then a few years later to be president.

CMU was noting all this as well and he was elected to the board and to president of the committee formed to promote CMU.

These were all mainly public office responsibilities, but another opportunity came up that could use all of Pravit’s talents. Lanna Hospital, which had been founded four years previously, found itself in a losing money situation and asked Pravit to be its managing director. He did what was asked of him, in turning it around. “I had the knowledge, connections with the banks and pharmaceutical people, and I knew how to run a drugstore!” He stayed with the Lanna Hospital for 16 years, proudly saying, “It is now a famous private hospital in Thailand.”

During all this time, he met and married a dentist (Dr. Apinan) who was teaching at the CMU Dental School. She had trained in Germany, and could speak the language, and this was to become an important factor in the next phase of Pravit’s career. The Austrian Embassy in Thailand wanted an office in Chiang Mai to look after the Austrian tourists, so Pravit added ‘Honorary Consul’ to his list of achievements, a position he still holds.

During all this time, they began their family, with their daughter now studying economics, like her father had done so many years previously, while their son is studying engineering. I asked Pravit if the ‘traditional’ Chinese family idea was still the guiding force, but he said it had gone. “My children grew up in a private house, so they came home to play, not to work in the family business.” He also added, “We have to blame ourselves too, because we spoil them.” Such is the price of progress!

These days he is very content with his lot in life. “I have no further aims. I have fulfilled what I wanted to do. I have a comfortable life. I am not rich, but I did not need to be.” What a delightful way to be!