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
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
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
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!