* Out of Swatow (Shantou)

I wrote the following article on the founding family of the Bangkok Bank empire as a sidebar to the Forbes Asia feature published in July 2021 issue. It was shelved for lack of space in the magazine, but why let a good sidebar go to waste?

I did add a recent event: the 2022 death of Chin’s oldest son, Hong Kong-based Robin Chan. He was a pro-Beijing “patriot,” but his son, Bernard Chan, is much more active in that regard, as you can see from links to his name below. Bernard is so patriotic that he even gave up his US and Thai citizenships in favor of a Chinese one. It’s interesting then that Bernard’s first cousin, Ken Sim, has just been elected mayor of Vancouver, Canada.

The Thailand branch of the family has stayed out of politics, at least publicly. The sole exception has been physicist Kalaya Sophonpanich, a former Democrat MP. The reputation of the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political party, has been stained by the Democrat-led government that ordered the 2010 army crackdown on unarmed democracy demonstrators. But when Kalaya was first elected in the early 2000s, the Democrat Party was widely regarded as the cleanest political party and the most committed to rule of law and democratic, parliamentary governance.

Better known as Swatow for most of the 20th century, the Shantou area was the homeland of many Chinese emigrants who sought their fortunes in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand. Something else that I omitted: Like both his parents, the current bank president, Chartsiri Sophonpanich, is Catholic. I don’t know if Chartsiri’s Swatow-born grandmother was Catholic, but it wouldn’t be surprising since the city has Christian churches dating from the treaty port era. SC

Although born across the river from Bangkok in 1908, Chin Sophonpanich—also known as Tan Biak-ching and Chen Bichen—was sent at age five to live on the modest farm of his grandparents in the Teochiu-speaking area that surrounds what was then the thriving treaty port of Shantou (“Swatow” in local dialect) in eastern Guangdong province. When his father lost his job as a sawmill clerk, Chin was recalled to Thailand at age 17 to help support his four sisters. Beginning as a laborer while studying the Thai language, he worked his way up from construction company clerk to trader in lumber, hardware, rice and gold, according to Sons of the Yellow Emperor by Lynne Pan.

During World War II, when Thailand, then known as Siam, was occupied by the Japanese, Chin was a member of Seri Thai, the anti-Japanese underground. He was even awarded a medal for his activities at the end of the war. He stumbled into the banking industry in December 1944 under inauspicious circumstances. Three years into the Japanese occupation, the European banks that had dominated Siam since the late 19th century had long been shut down. Thailand’s economy was in shambles and inflation was soaring. Despite his hostility towards his country’s Chinese residents, Thailand’s ruler, General Phibun Songkhram, encouraged local Chinese traders to set up commercial banks.

Continue reading

* Safety questions and shady sales tactics are chilling the China-Tesla love affair

By Jill Shen and Susan Cunningham
TechNode
13 April 2021

When Mi Jiayi was shopping for a car in Hangzhou in early 2020, there was no question in his mind it would be a Tesla. For the 30-year-old legal advisor with a local investment conglomerate, it would be the first car he ever owned. 

His respect for Tesla CEO Elon Musk was one factor in the appeal of the brand. On test drives, he was attracted by the design and some of Tesla’s fancy technological features. “The vehicles look so gorgeous compared with some other cars in similar price ranges,” he recalled. “Also, its Autopilot system is good at detecting vehicles and pedestrians on the road,” Mi said (our translation).

Specifically, he was hoping to buy a Long Range Model 3, which was expected to become available sometime in 2020. The car boasted a driving range 50% longer than the Standard Range Plus model. In other words, it could be driven 223 more kilometers (139 miles) without a recharge.

At first, he had no interest in the standard-range version, which had been available for order in China since October 2019. But when he repeatedly asked about the long-range Model 3’s launch date at a local showroom, the sales staff told him it wouldn’t hit the market at least until the end of the year, Mi told TechNode. The sales staff finally convinced Mi and he placed his order in early March 2020, signing up for delivery in May. He was surprised when the vehicle was delivered on March 31, nearly two months earlier than expected. MORE

* How the TechNode community sees China tech in 2021

By Susan Cunningham
TechNode.com
January 2, 2021

The most important theme of 2020 wasn’t the emergence of a technological innovation. Rather, it was how the pandemic supercharged certain existing trends in China while revealing cracks in the firmament we should have seen long before. At least, that’s what some thoughtful members of the TechNode community said in a remarkable display of consensus.

We asked them to reflect on the tech year in the time of coronavirus, and point to what we can anticipate in the year ahead.

They say that fast growth is likely over (and that’s a good thing). They say that many, many ordinary Chinese people lost their blind faith in giant tech (welcome as well). And governmental authorities began making firm strides toward regulation.

Whether pertaining to monopolies, fintech, or protection of personal data, long overdue regulations are now coming, our experts say, but what form they take will surely be a major source of worry, relief, and dispute in 2021. Will authorities, for example, regulate community group buying to protect vulnerable small enterprises?

Perhaps most significant of all, it turns out that tech trade wars were just beginning back in 2019. MORE

* Grab Usage in Freefall in Singapore Since Uber Exit

By Susan Cunningham
The Star (Malaysia)


27 March 2019

When ride-sharing company Grab agreed to buy Uber’s South-East Asian assets a year ago, it seemed that its hardest and longest fought competition was finally over – at least in its seven markets that weren’t Indonesia.

In its home base of Singapore, Grab especially had a wide open field, having raised US$4.64bil (RM18.9bil) in funding from the likes of SoftBank and DiDi Chuxing.

Its chief competitors were those taxi drivers who didn’t use the Grab app. The hailing apps from well-funded foreigners – German-Brazilian Easy Taxi and Britain’s Hailo and Karhoo – had been driven out by 2016.

Yet instead of surging with an influx of Uber’s former passengers, the number of “Daily Active Users” of the main Grab app in Singapore plunged after Uber withdrew from the city-state in May.

The number of such users fell from almost 171,000 on June 1, 2018 to 135,576 by Dec 1, 2018, according to analytics firm SimilarWeb’s data on Android phone users. That’s a loss of almost 40,000 Daily Active Users over the six-month period.  MORE


Postscript: I should have mentioned in the story that the Android operating system had about 75% of the Singapore smartphone/tablet market during most of 2018. In Indonesia, Android had about 92% of the market.

* Forbes Asia’s 2018 Heroes of Philanthropy

Forbes Asia Heroes of Philanthropy 2018 -Thailand

Hotelier Malee Tangsin and 35 of her scholarship boys.

In November 2018 Forbes Asia‘s 12th annual philanthropy issue honored a total of 40 generous people or families from Australia, Hong Kong and 13 Asian countries. I wrote about Malee Tangsin, 90, Chairwoman of Bangkok’s Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Hotel. She and her family foundation have supported 450 boys while they attended high school in Bangkok. The photo shows the current three “classes,” most of whom are from Hmong or Akha hill tribe villages. More here.