Woman of the Month
Rapipan Suansomjitr - successful in both business and charitable work
Lee Roy Webster
Successful businesswomen in Chiang Mai face a difficult challenge, as the
‘glass ceiling’ here is several miles lower than in our home countries.
incredibly rewarding life… Rapipan is pictured on the patio outside Des
Joyaux Chiang Mai’s office on Mahidol Road.
For this reason, it was a delight to speak with the highly successful
Rapipan Suansomjitr, manager with her husband of Des Joyaux Swimming Pools,
Thailand. Seated comfortably on the patio outside her office, this slim,
stylish woman explained that she has two obsessions—her company and her
devotion to helping underprivileged children. At her feet sat the furry Shi
Tzu representative of her third love, dogs, with her two tiny and very cute
puppies and a Chihuahua cooling themselves in the office.
Rapipan’s company, Des Joyaux Thailand was formed 7 years ago, as an
offshoot of the French company, founded in1966, which pioneered a completely
new design and construction method able to be installed in as little as 2
weeks by a competent and careful team. The Chiang Mai branch was the first
to be opened; since then the company has sold 3,000 pools and opened another
11 branches countrywide. One of the company’s strengths is its first-class
customer service, from personal experience, this writer can confirm this,
together with a 10 year guarantee on the pool itself and a 3 year
replacement guarantee on the pump. Importantly, in these difficult times,
the company provides employment for 250 people, and has not, so far, been
forced to sack any workers, although further expansion plans have had to be
shelved for the present. Rapipan believes that the crisis with soon be over,
and that recovering markets will allow her to not only expand, but to fulfil
another dream, the opening of a factory here in Chiang Mai which will
manufacture pool components at present, imported from the main factory in
France. She insisted that quality control will be strictly maintained
through the supervision of a French engineer, and that the new factory would
enable the company both to reduce its already favourable prices and to
create more jobs for local people.
quiet and cuddly moment in a busy schedule…Rapipan, shown taking time out
with three of her beloved dogs.
However, expanding and running her company, although time-consuming in the
extreme, hasn’t stopped Rapipan from following her heart and helping poor
In the past, she, a member and now the President of a local 35-member
women’s branch of the international Lions’ Club foundation, has worked with
Princess Maha Sirindhorn to build swimming pools in underfunded Golden
Triangle schools for the use of underprivileged students. Her local club
recently built an orphanage for 60 children, linked to a school with 300
students, and, last year, provided 200 bicycles for the use of students
whose homes were some distance from the school. Hopefully, more bicycles
will be provided this year. Rapipan believes that cooperation between
foundations is essential—recently a small German charity contacted her in
her capacity as president and requested that they work together-after
ensuring that the charity is reputable, their request is being carefully
considered. In the future, Rapipan may be able to help even more, as she has
been selected as a candidate for next year’s Lions’ Club provincial
An incredibly busy life…but an incredibly rewarding one for this well-known
and good-hearted Chiang Mai personality. The Chiang Mai Mail wishes
her well in all her projects and in her business, and thanks her warmly for
finding the time to talk with us.
Painted elephants head
for European parade
Those of us from the UK may well remember the unexpected appearance
around London of a number of life-sized sculpted and painted cows, which
caused a media sensation and a lot of laughs some years ago, and were
subsequently exported to the continent.
It seems that Chiang Mai’s got into the act now, with its very own
totally Thai version, which will also end up in Europe—painted
elephants! The well-known La Luna Gallery are holding a preview
exhibition of a selection of the colourful pachyderms, designed and
painted by a number of Thai artists, until the 26th of this month, after
which they will ‘pack their trunks’, (ouch), and travel to Amsterdam.
The exhibition is in conjunction with Elephant Parade, (Thailand), who
have already organised big parades of painted and other pachyderms in
Rotterdam in 2007 and Antwerp in 2008, with the aim of both raising
awareness in Europe of the plight of Asian elephants and raising money
to support elephant charities in Asia. The Chiang Mai Jumbos will take
part in the 2009 parade in Amsterdam, to be held this autumn.
The La Luna Gallery‘s exhibition will also include some new artworks,
and rather more diminutive examples of painted elephants. Every home
should have one…
For more details, please call the gallery on 053 306 678 or visit
www.lalunagallery.com and www.elephantparade.com.
A pungent problem with an environmentally friendly solution
For those who didn’t realise…last Friday was World Environment
Day! Although, for most of us expats, consciousness about the
planet’s environmental problems lurks not too far from the front
of our minds, it’s good to concentrate for even one day on our
possible role in helping to reduce the threat and improve our
surroundings as much as we can.
A new book, ‘2 Degrees—Cooling down the Planet with Both
Hands’, launched on that one day by the United Nations
Development Partnership in Thailand, (UNDP), may help us in
this, and has an interesting reference to a Chiang Mai family,
the owners of a pig farm in a Mae Rim village. As expected,
given the smelly downside of being downwind of a pig farm, the
owners’ neighbours became very unfriendly by the time the
project was fully functioning! The happy ending came a while
later, when the benefits of free gas for all from a never ending
source of pig manure were realised.
Suthat and Kiangkham Khammakai were originally rice millers, but
decided to augment their income by keeping pigs, feeding them on
rice husk, bran and broken rice, the by-products of their rice
mill. The idea, and the pigs, grew and grew until the Khammakais
found themselves the proud but friendless owners of 300 pigs,
each generating approximately 1.8 tons of manure each year!
The smell was so strong that neighbours complained of dizziness,
breathlessness and skin irritations—the flies thought Christmas
had come, and social sanctions were imposed. When wastewater
from the farm polluted the local water supply, things got nasty,
with over 100 neighbours signing a petition of complaint to the
local governor. After trying every remedy in and out of the
book, and almost at the end of his tether, Kiangkham struck
lucky! During a seminar at the veterinary science faculty of
Chiang Mai University, he heard about producing useable gas from
pig manure. It was all downhill from there, helped by a grant
for the building of a biogas pond from the Department of Energy
Development and Efficiency, and a large loan from a local bank.
The gas produced was enough for all 43 households in the
village; since then, several more ponds have been built,
supplying free gas for nearby villages. All’s well that ends
well, and the Khammakais are now the most popular couple in the
Opinion: Women’s Rights and the Right to Privacy
Recently, the Thai government has
come under criticism from international human rights groups for
its appointment of a human rights panel who, it has been
suggested, may well have little experience in the field. At the
same time, considerable coverage has been given to the emergence
of a strong movement, led by female academics amongst others, in
the fields of women’s rights, domestic violence and other
Meanwhile, here in our city, a leading female politician is
being attacked by a ‘person or persons unknown’, in a gross
violation of her human rights and her right to privacy.
For those who have not yet been aware, her ‘crime’, in the 21st
century, here in Chiang Mai, is to have slept with her
boyfriend. Not a big deal, you may well think…it’s her private
life, after all, and she will be one of many thousands of women
in the vicinity who are doing the same thing.
The violation, however, concerns the fact that a photograph of
her in bed with her partner was somehow obtained and was
published, both online and in print, by a well-known Thai daily
newspaper; the CD from which the photograph was taken has now
been copied and is being widely distributed around town. Sounds
disturbingly familiar, doesn’t it? How many times, in our home
countries, did we see similar attacks in the media, almost
always, (with the possible exception of Bill Clinton), on
successful and ambitious women?
However, the West is generally considered to have lower moral
and ethical standards than are purported to be in place in
Thailand, especially in the case of certain types of media
publications, most of which ended up getting frequently sued.
Here, Buddhism, with its specific ethical requirements, has a
much more significant place in society than does Christianity in
the majority of Western countries. The Thai concept of respect,
is also considered to involve ethical standards. Respect for
women, at least in certain quarters, would seem, however, to
still be at the bottom of the agenda, particularly where
politics are concerned.
Prominent members of women’s groups and other sectors have
already made protest concerning the action of the newspaper.
Chiang Mai University’s Mass Communications Faculty’s famous
dean, Assoc Prof Sodsri Phao-inchan, stated last Monday that,
‘By publishing the photos and reporting the story, the media
show they lack ethics’. Sodsri added that the Thai Journalists
Association and other professional media professional should
work to stop the propagation of such news reports, calling it a
‘serious violation against media ethics’. Former senator Tuenjai
Deetes, who has long fought for women’s rights, said the
published photos and story about the female politician had hurt
both her human dignity and rights, adding, ‘This is a form of
violence against women. She’s hurt emotionally’. Tuenjan
strongly suggested that political organisations and women’s
rights groups should urgently discuss ways to protect female
politicians, stating that ‘When women climb to the top, some
people will want to hurt these women’.
So, there we have it. A professional woman attacked where it
hurts, in her private life; her relationship dragged into the
public gaze, her human rights and her rights as a woman smashed
to pieces, her rights to boundaries between her personal and
public life destroyed. It is to be fervently hoped that only the
salacious and the sick will take note of this violation, and
that caring citizens will condemn the violators, whoever they
are, for their inexcusable actions.