Weekly Local Biography

  Prasert Tunprasert

By: Elle Faraday

Imagine being able to claim that you have had a hand in the building of Chiang Mai City. That is a rightful claim to fame of master architect Prasert ‘Deang’ Tunprasert.
Deang has been an architect in Chiang Mai for 20 years and has built some of the well known buildings that we all pass every day while we are going about our business. It is safe to say that Chiang Mai would not be the same place it is today without Deang’s input, design and creation.
One of Deang’s greatest achievements, outside of architectural design, is to get a law passed forbidding the construction of high-rise buildings in the city of Chiang Mai. He managed this with the help of other architects in the city and now, buildings over 7 stories high must be set at least 6 metres away from street level. Given the width of Chiang Mai city’s streets, this is virtually impossible. He told me ‘The city is beautiful, high rise buildings will only take away this beauty. I could not sit back and watch it happen.’ The law was passed in 2001, with the hotel, Le Meridien, in the night bazaar area being the last building of that height to be built so close to the street.
Deang was born and grew up in Bangkok and was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to study for his masters in the United States. He set off for Oklahoma State University in 1974 where he was to stay for a little over 14 years.
Before Deang left for America, he had to enrol in and pass the TEFOL examination. He struggled at first, failing twice before finally passing. He realised his English skills needed improving and he set about learning as much as he could. His approach to his language studies was very unconventional and involved four of the most famous people in the world at that time - The Beatles. Since arriving in Oklahoma, Deang had fallen in love with their music. ‘The Beatles helped me to speak English. While I had learned English at school like everyone else, I was not happy with the amount I knew. I loved the songs and was desperate to know what they actually meant. I spent hours over a dictionary trying to decode these songs I had grown to love.’ Today, Deang is fluent in English; the Beatles literally changed his life.
Once Deang had finished his masters, he stayed on at the university, reversing his role. He became a lecturer in Oklahoma for three years before moving to another university. He soon realised that his teaching days were coming to an end. ‘I no longer had the same enthusiasm for teaching as I did when I began. I knew I should leave.’ Shortly after he gave up teaching, Deang set up his own architects practice, putting his acquired skills to practical use for the first time.
‘Things we going really well in America until I got a phone call that changed my life.’ Deang’s father had passed away and as the oldest child, he had to face his responsibilities in Thailand. ‘I needed to be there for my mother so I shut up shop for a while and returned home.’
Deang had been in America for 14 years, a long time to be away. ‘I came back to Thailand once a year during my stay, but this was no longer enough.’ When he told his mother he was leaving to go back to America, she wanted to go with him. This was not practical. ‘My mother could not write, read or even speak English. She would be giving up everything she knew, friends, family and familiarity. I could not let her do this.’ Deang made a very noble decision and was on the first plane back to the US to close down his businesses for good. He was finally coming home.
He moved back to Bangkok but a lot had changed since he last lived there: the traffic was diabolical, pollution unbearable and the frenetic lifestyle no longer suited his needs. He had visited Chiang Mai a few times and its laid back appeal and wonderful character appealed to Deang.
Since moving to Chiang Mai, Deang has never looked back. ‘It has been my home for 20 years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. I met my wife here, how can I not love the city !’ Deang has three daughters and one adopted son, all of whom he dotes on. He has worked hard to ensure his family have a decent shot at life, and take the most of all opportunities handed to them. ‘I am very lucky. I love my job. I want my children to be able to have the option to choose a career that they are happy with.’
When I asked Deang about the future, he told me that he wants his company to expand even further. It already has projects across Thailand and in the UK, but he wants to continuing designing buildings all over the world. He would also like to get back to America. ‘I have not been back since the day I closed down my business, 20 years ago. I have many friends that I would like to see again. I keep in touch through email, but this is not the same as seeing them in the flesh. I am hoping to make it back there really soon.’
Chiang Mai is developing fast and with architects like Deang ensuring that the city is not overridden with high rises as well as making sure the city moves in the right direction, the beauty and culture of this ancient city will never be lost.
For more information on Deang and his company “May’37”, visit www.may 37.com. The website details past and present projects as well as information on how to contact Deang.