Weekly Local Biography

  Mohamad Jesr

On a recent hot afternoon, we joined Mohamad Jesr in his cool and elegant townhouse for tea. Big Boy, one of the largest dogs I’ve ever seen in my life, snoozed on the floor behind Mohamad. Big Boy had answered the door, and I must admit to being startled by the sheer size of this magnificent animal. It soon became apparent, however, that he’s a loving and intelligent dog with excellent manners.

Lebanese delicacies and a Kiwi meringue filled with raspberry sauce were served with our tea. Big Boy never asked for a handout, and I was happy about that. It would have been a tough decision.

Mohamad Jesr is Lebanese, a man who lost both of his parents in an airplane crash when he was only seven years old. His uncle, whose portrait hangs on the wall behind us, was a loving substitute. Mohamad speaks with love and admiration for him, telling us of philosophical differences they discuss in correspondence even today when his uncle is in his eighties. He returns to Lebanon several times a year to visit him and other family and friends.

Mohamad had only completed a year of college when war sent him from his home country to nearby Saudi Arabia to complete his education as an architectural engineer. He attended what was then named Aramco University, an engineering university, and then went to Houston, Texas in the USA to work with a big architecture firm in a one-year practicum. It was a good experience. He had lived in Saudi Arabia long enough to understand the architecture of mosques, and noticed some problems in a design that had been completed by an experienced architect. He puzzled over what to do about it, not understanding the corporate culture of either the country or the firm. Should a student correct a tenured professional? A colleague encouraged him to write his observations in a memo and send it “up the chain”. He was amazed at the results. Not only did the firm praise his suggestions, they circulated his written critique and encouraged others to do the same. He made lifetime friends and returns to Texas on a regular basis.

He graduated from university, intent on studying for a master’s degree. A cousin advised against it, encouraging him to gain valuable practical work experience first. So Mohamad went to work for a construction company in Riyadh. He worked there for two years, learning the basics and traveled all over the country. Next he worked for a company that manufactured steel components, working in his first management job in a remote part of the country. He describes the mountainous regions of Saudi Arabia as being beautiful with perfect weather. For two years while living there he needed no heat or air conditioning in his home. He enjoyed the scenery and the wildlife, but there was little for a young man to do. His next move was to Jeddah on the Red Sea. He was there for about six years, but was becoming more and more interested in interior design and architecture rather than construction and engineering. The owners of the construction business asked him to help design their homes, and the word was soon out that this was a man of distinguished taste. It wasn’t long before he left the construction company and opened his own interior design firm.

In time he holidayed in Thailand. Like many visitors to the country, he was charmed and began returning regularly. He started purchasing designer items in Thailand, and eventually bought a small boutique hotel in Chiang Mai. He began developing the hotel, and hired a Thai man to manage it.

His design business in Saudi Arabia thrived but the craftsmen in Thailand did not respond well to the pressure of international contracts. Mohamad says he didn’t understand Thai language or culture, but he wanted to maintain his contacts in Thailand. The death of his hotel manager was the catalyst for a big change. He eventually sold his business in Saudi and moved to Chiang Mai.

He began to study the language and learn about the culture. He read, and he learned to meditate. He began to understand how to work with his staff. He turned the hotel around. The noisy shop across the road was bothersome to his guests, and he looked for a way to solve the problem. In a few years, the business was gone and he decided to turn the shop house into the elegant townhouse that is his home today.

His training as an architect is evident. The townhouse is multi-level, the former balconies enclosed, and new large windows bring in light. Hidden doors and alcoves abound. He has created spaces in areas that would normally have gone unused. The roof is a garden, the perfect place for entertaining in the cool season. Of course his interior designs skills are also evident, and that part of his business began to grow again as people saw his home. Today he says he has too much business.

So what interests Mohamad in his limited spare time, this man of many talents and life experiences? He loves the cinema, and has an extensive collection of films old and new. He writes poetry. He is involved in charity work. Travel is a lifetime interest, and he travels the world. Paris is his favorite city; its timeless beauty never fails to move him. Southern Italy, in his opinion, has the most natural beauty in the world.

But this man from the religious traditions of the Middle East is also passionate about the study of religion and philosophy. “Religion,” he states, “is a beautiful thing.” But he has concerns about organized religion and its negative potential. He worries that the great religious books of the world are frequently misinterpreted and may be used to do harm rather than good. He rejects the people in organized religion who use their positions to gain power. He is comfortable in a world of compassion and tolerance. He continues to meditate.