Vol. VI No. 19 - Tuesday
July 3, - July 9, 2007
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by Saichon Paewsoongnern

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Classic cars make a run to Mae Ngat dam

Toyota leads in local drag races

From riches to rags to happiness

Classic cars make a run to Mae Ngat dam

David Hardcastle
A good turn out of classic cars & a lot of ‘classic chatter’ at the Coffee Bus at the RimPing Supermarket complex on the Middle Ring Road preceded our departure to Mae Ngat Dam. There were several new faces, along with our regulars, as well as a new car on its first Classic Cars of Lanna Sunday Run, an immaculate postbox red early 1970’s Mini Moke, hood up for shade, but side-screens off for natural flow through ventilation!

An immaculate postbox red early 1970’s Mini Moke joined the run to the dam.
We departed in convoy up towards Mae-Jo, before cutting across on the outer ring road to the 107, where we turned towards Mae Rim. Then it was straight & easy driving through Mae Malai & Mae Taeng, before turning right onto the 1323, a quiet & scenic country road, towards the Mae Ngat Dam, located in the Sri Lanna National Park.
Upon arrival at Mae Ngat Sombunchin Dam, we proceeded up to the look-out for magnificent scenic views over the dam itself and the massive catchments area. In the heat of the midday sun, we took time out for a group photo opportunity, backed by the more somber Mae Ngat Dam memorial, commemorating those that gave their lives in the construction of the dam.
Dam officials had an unplanned treat in store for us, as they opened up the normally locked gates & allowed us all to drive along the top of the dam wall, to a restaurant on the opposite side of the dam, our lunch stop for the day. Prime seating awaited us, with splendid views over the dam & surrounding area and a very fortunate cooling breeze. A delicious a la carte Thai lunch was enjoyed by all – at very reasonable prices too.
Some of our group ventured down to the water’s edge & took a long tail speed boat ride out onto the reservoir, to where modest floating accommodation is located on rafts, about 8km away. We were told that the even more adventurous, can take a long tail speed boat ride all the way through to Phrao! The cooling spray as the long tail speed boat cut through the water was refreshing & the ride very interesting.
Whilst our run officially ended at Mae Ngat Dam, some of the group decided to continue in convoy together along a circuitous route back to Chiang Mai, traveling mainly on small but well maintained country roads.
We suffered no breakdowns or even overheating – a credit to these old cars & their owners and a great day was had by all.

The Classic Cars of Lanna members gather to pay tribute to those who lost their lives while building the dam.

Toyota leads in local drag races

David Hardcastle
Thousands of horses took part in the north’s second Gymkhana event at Prasert Land on the Irrigation Canal Road on June 17th, but spectators were treated to the squeal of tortured tires rather than the thunder of heavy hooves.

A few drivers knocked down cones, but everyone succeeded in avoiding the tree!
‘Gymkhana’ is the term given here to what the British call ‘Autotests’ and most would call ‘car park racing’, with powerful cars hurtling around complicated courses through plastic cones against the clock.
Fastest time of the day went to the Toyota of Ratvisit Sirichai by just 0.17 seconds to give him a class lead of 2 points after the 2nd of the 10 event championship.
The next closest gap was 0.61 seconds which separated Apichart Hinsot’s Kig-Kog Team Mitsubishi from the opposition in his class, while Nittikorn Wutnanchai’s Honda, Itti Treesat’s Kig-Kog Toyota and Sapaporn Chowchawanin’ Mitsubishi had relative easy class wins.
Foreigners are very welcome to take part (entry fee 500 baht) provided they wear seat belt and crash hat and the car has a fire extinguisher fitted. A good handbrake for the tight turns helps, along with an excellent memory for the tortuous routes. Organization as usual was by Khun Anusorn of Bodyshop Sport. The next northern motor sport is Drag Racing at the 700 Year Sports Complex on July 14-15th.

A Mitsu Evo hurtles towards the finish line to stop the invisible clock.

From riches to rags to happiness

Learning from the lessons of the 1997 crisis

Denis D. Gray, Associated Press Writer
He was a typical, spoiled child of the so-called Asian economic miracle, a dynamic Thai entrepreneur who dined at fancy restaurants, drove flashy cars and sent his children abroad to summer schools.
Sirivat Voravetvuthikun was so deft at picking the right stocks that traders called him “the Phantom.”

Sirivat went from being a multi-millionaire to selling sandwiches. Today he is happier than ever. (Photo provided by Mr. Sirivat)
Then, in 1997, the miracle curdled into the Asian financial crisis. Instead of an expensive silk tie, Sirivat strung a yellow foam box around his neck and trudged into the streets of Bangkok to hawk ham, cheese and tuna sandwiches.
“My wife and I woke up 3 a.m. in the morning to make fresh sandwiches,” Sirivat says, recalling his first morning as a high-flyer turned street vendor. “I felt depressed and disheartened. I kept asking myself, ‘Why did this have to happen to me?”’
Thousands of blindsided Asians like Thailand’s “Sandwich Man” asked themselves the same question 10 years ago as an era of frenetic speculation, property bubbles and hot money inflows ended with plummeting stocks, enfeebled currencies and bankruptcies of both individual risk-takers and once mighty corporations.
The collapse started with a plunge in the Thai baht on July 2, 1997, and spread rapidly across much of the continent. The three hardest-hit nations, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea ended up requiring multibillion dollar bailouts from the International Monetary Fund.
Ten years later, the region has recovered but to varying degrees.
In South Korea, which bounced back quickly, the outlook is optimistic. The crisis brought pain, but also healthy changes that cleared the decks for more prosperous growth and innovation.

The Sandwich Man continues to expand his empire and will open a branch in Chiang Mai next month. (Photo provided by Mr. Sirivat)
In Thailand and Indonesia, which were slower to recover and enact reforms, expectations have been vastly scaled back and a lingering fear hangs over the business climate. Some feel that their economies are losing out to growing competition from China and Vietnam.
“People don’t want to innovate or take business risks. Not even 10 years after,” said Prachai Leopairatana, founder of what was once Southeast Asia’s largest petrochemical enterprise until it became Thailand’s largest debt defaulter almost overnight.
“A lot of people just want to be employees because of what happened to people like me in 1997. So Thailand is losing its competitiveness.”
The following profiles of two Thai businessmen offer a window into how Thailand has fared in the ensuing decade since the crisis. They are stories of hope and depression, grit and determination, and ultimately of survival through tumultuous economic times.
Prachai, the founder of Thai Petrochemical Industry, defaulted to the tune of US$2.7 billion.
Before the crisis, TPI borrowed heavily from local and foreign creditors to increase its capacity and develop a fully integrated petrochemical and refinery complex. Prachai was the first in Thailand to introduce this technology and invest the vast sums needed to build these modern integrated facilities.
When the crisis hit, his complex was unfinished and its foreign currency-denominated debt ballooned overnight. Prachai had banked on long-term repayment of his gargantuan investment.
“It was the worst time of my life. I had always had the support of people around me so I never knew what it felt like to have everyone turn their backs on me. The creditors treated you like a dog,” said Prachai.
Lenders, however, had their own grounds for complaints. When TPI went into rehabilitation under a newly set up bankruptcy court, Prachai was named administrator of the debt restructuring plan. But creditors came to believe that he could not be trusted to meet his obligations to them.
For nine years, Prachai waged a battle against creditors to maintain managerial control over TPI, mixing litigation with delays on debt repayments, labor strikes and nationalistic advertising to try to tip the balance in his favor.
Soon after the crisis, the Thai government updated archaic bankruptcy laws, but it can still take years for creditors to pursue their claims. The government has yet to push through further bankruptcy law reforms, partly due to the sensitivities to powerful families who lost so much during the crisis.
To many debtors, who blamed government incompetence and corruption for the crisis, Prachai became a heroic figure symbolizing victims caught in circumstances beyond their control. His saga came to an end when the bankruptcy court refused to delay any longer the government’s plan to rehabilitate the debt-laden conglomerate by handing it to a group of investors.
Prachai’s fall turned into a drawn-out saga that set him back irreparably. For his country as a whole, he says, it was a lost decade in terms of creativity, competitive edge and education of the work force in which Thailand began to fall behind regional competitors like Vietnam and China.
Today, Prachai, 62, has lost some wealth and influence, but he is not poor. He keeps busy as a director of cement maker TPI Polene, a former unit of TPI. Still, he feels the pain acutely.
“The 10 years that I lost were the most valuable time of my life,” he said. “It was a lost opportunity that I could have used to innovate more.”
Sirivat, the sandwich-seller, has left his days of stock and real estate speculation behind.
“I’m now investing in the real sector, which is more sustainable,” the 57-year-old businessman said, noting that no matter what happens people have to eat.
He even uses locally produced materials to avoid reliance on the vagaries of foreign markets.
The once wildly successful, U.S.-educated stockbroker had moved into property just as a glut of space was coming onto the market. His first luxury condominium project flopped, leaving him with a US$30.4 million debt at time of crash.
While others like him were jumping off buildings, Sirivat swallowed his pride and started selling sandwiches, becoming a national celebrity for his refusal to succumb to fate.
“A person who had a debt of 15 million baht said to me that he decided not to commit suicide because he saw my example,” he said.
As creditors sued, he continued to sell his homemade eats almost every day for five years, building up a business that now employs 14 and includes locally produced soft drinks, two coffee shops and a coffee and sandwich catering service.
“Sirivatsandwich” has become a well-known brand, with its logo of a floating balloon with a dollar sign and “IMF” inscribed; a reminder of the US$17 billion loan Thailand got from the international lending agency during the crisis.
The “Sandwich Man” and his family live much more modestly than in the days when the economy sizzled, but Sirivat is happier this way: “I became a free man again,” he says.

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