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
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.