* Watch the 1926 Funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (Rama VI)

I included a link and caption to this rare digitized footage of the 1926 funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (aka Rama VI) to accompany a pair of travel advisory stories I wrote for the South China Morning Post related to King Bhumibol’s funeral rites in October 2017. The actual cremation took place on the evening of October 26, preceded by a half-dozen processions that day and by five rehearsals in the days before that. (The gist of my stories: Don’t even think that you can get close enough on October 25-27 to see anything in the vicinity of the funerary structures.)

The video caption I wrote was edited down a lot, so I don’t think readers could draw much from it. Early on in the video, that’s Vajiravudh’s brother, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), presiding over–by pulling a rope–the raising of the Royal Six-Tiered Umbrella to a spire atop the multi-story wood crematorium. That ceremony occurs a few days before the actual cremation; this year it took place October 18, with Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, residing.

The experts at the Thai Film Archive believe the scraps of film, found in 1981, were probably leftovers from a long-lost newsreel that would have been shown in movie theaters. The later parts of this footage are probably from the cremation day. You can see the large urn with the king’s body being transferred from the grounds of the Royal Palace. Actually, there were two urns, Professor Tongthong Chandransu, an expert on royal funeral ceremonies, told me. An outer gold urn encased a silver urn that contained the king’s body. The silver urn was then removed from the gold one at the time of cremation.

In the film, that urn probably was being transferred from the Grand Palace to the chariot that conveyed it to the crematorium on Sanam Luang. It was on this same great field, north of the Grand Palace and fronting Thammasat University, where Bhumibol’s ceremonies took place as well. An urn was used 67 years ago for the funeral of Bhumibol’s brother, Ananda (Rama VIII), but a western style wooden coffin was used for Bhumibol (Rama IX).

I was so surprised to the see women in sleeveless dresses in the film, ascending and descending the stairs as they paid final respects. Surely they must have been foreign women—wives of diplomats and such? As a general rule, Thai women rarely wear sleeveless garments even today. The dress code for this year’s ceremonies was quite explicit: black and grey colours, and covered arms, shoulders and legs for men and women alike.

Brothers Vajiravudh and Prajadhipok were half-brothers of  Bhumibol’s father, Mahidol, a physician who was never a king. That bit of information was deleted in the editing process, so the caption in the Post says the two kings featured in this film were Bhumibol’s “half-uncles.” Hmm, I guess technically that’s right, but sounds strange. They were also full cousins, since their mothers were sisters but I suppose that would be Too Much Information.

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* Binod Chaudhary Helps Rebuild Nepal

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Forbes Asia.

After a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake rocked central Nepal on April 25, Binod K. Chaudhary and two of his sons rushed from Chitwan National Park to Kathmandu to organize relief efforts. The company’s head office was heavily damaged, but no matter. He immediately ordered that eight schools operated by one of his businesses be turned into shelters, distributing the company’s famed Wai Wai instant noodles and other food, as well as juice, water and medical supplies. He also arranged for health care workers to reach victims in the 12 districts most severely hit by the country’s worst natural disaster in 81 years.

The quake killed more than 8,600 in Nepal, displaced 450,000, triggered fatal avalanches on Mount Everest, and severely damaged centuries-old historic buildings including the palace squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

Since then Nepal’s first billionaire has pledged $2.5 million through his Chaudhary Foundation to restore schools and homes destroyed or damaged by the quake. The foundation will bear all the costs of building 1,000 transitional bamboo-and-plaster homes and is working with other donors to construct another 9,000. MORE

* Funeral of Late Thai King May Not Be for Tourists; Here’s How to Pay Respects

The funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej involves five days of ceremonies. Venues will be closed, traffic will be disrupted and massive crowds are expected around the royal palace. Here’s how to view this historic event.

By Susan Cunningham
South China Morning Post

The five days of funeral ceremonies this month for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will truly be fit for a revered monarch who ruled for 70 years. Ceremonies will draw on Buddhist and Hindu rites dating back hundreds of years and will take place in and around a cluster of temporary wooden structures north of the Grand Palace that architects and artisans have been labouring on for most of this year.

However, visitors to Bangkok from October 25 to 29 should give up any thought of attending the site of ceremonies in person. Especially on October 26, the day of cremation, they instead should be prepared for traffic disruption, closures of public and private venues, and massive crowds in the vicinity of the old royal city. MORE

 

* Thai Elections Postponed As Violence Hits Tourist Territory

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 15, 2014

Tourist alert! Three people are dead and 22 people are injured in Bangkok after a gunfire and grenade attack on a new protesters’ site early Thursday morning. The anti-government PDRC camp is close to the Democracy Monument–in the city’s prime tourist area.

The deadly violence achieved one of the immediate goals of the anti-election PDRC protesters: parliamentary polls set for July 20 have now definitely been postponed by the Election Commission. The commission’s secretary-general indicated Thursday that the elections are being postponed rather than cancelled: “The situation has to be right and accommodating for an election to take place … We don’t think this is the right time.”

Army Reacts to Fresh Bangkok Violence

Were members of the  UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship), the so-called Red Shirts who support the present Pheu Thai Party caretaker government, responsible for the shots and grenades last night?

As in most previous incidents–28 people have died since last November in violence related to the protests–we may never know.  The grenades and guns were wielded by occupants of a pickup truck that plowed through the protest camp. But the responses of the military and Electoral Commission certainly aren’t what the pro-elections UDD is seeking. The Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, warned Thursday that if unrest continues, “it will be necessary for the military to launch a full-scale effort to end the violence.” MORE

 

* Rocket’s Lazada And Zalora Lost $235.3 Million In 2014 But Are Moving Toward Profitability

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 12, 2015

Lazada, Southeast Asia’s largest shopping platform, and its sister apparel site, Zalora, racked up huge gains in sales and transactions in 2014 but together lost $235.3 million. The good news for those invested in the German parent company, Rocket Internet Group, is that losses as a proportion of revenues are shrinking.

Rocket, which has stakes in 141 internet companies throughout the world, released its 2014 results last week. It listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on October 2, 2014.

Lazada Losses and Revenues Double

Lazada’s six general merchandise sites operate in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Lazada’s net revenue was US $154.3 million last year, more than double 2013 results of $75.5 million. Yet the company’s net operating losses (EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) were $152.5 million, also more than double the 2013 figure of $67 million.

(Most figures in Rocket’s annual report were in euros; Lazada’s results were reported in US dollars.).

For online retailers, however, a key metric is growth in Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV)–the sales value of products sold. In the case of an unprofitable company like Lazada, another metric is the share of losses relative to GMV and whether that share, the negative margin, is narrowing year on year. By that measure, Lazada is moving in the right direction. MORE

* Rocket Internet – First Mover In Asia?

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | Oct 5, 2014

At the end of Rocket Internet’s disappointing first day of trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange last week, co-founder and CEO Oliver Samwer looked weary but, as usual, kept on-message, telling CNBC that “most [Rocket sites] are market leaders in their sectors.”

When he announced the IPO last month, Samwer told a press conference, “I do not have growth, competition or margin as my key problems. Why? Because I’m the first mover in most of my markets.”

Rocket may well be a dull duplicator of others’ innovative ideas, so the subtext goes, but it is boldly pioneering in markets where the grateful natives are just discovering this internet thing. One could easily get the impression from coverage in the western media that there is no e-commerce or online retailing in developing countries from Asia to Latin America to Africa.

World’s Largest Internet Platform?

Where exactly is Rocket the first mover? And how does the investor and digital startup factory intend to become the “biggest consumer internet group outside of the US and China,” “the Alibaba of non-US and non-China countries” or, most recently, “the world’s largest internet platform outside the United States and China”? MORE

* Malaysia’s Patrick Grove Aims To Go Global With Iflix Video-On-Demand

By Susan Cunningham0228_asia-cover-mar_175x226.jpg smallest
Forbes Asia

(This story appears in the March 2017 issue of Forbes Asia).

Patrick Y-Kin Grove is leaning against the pool table in Catcha Group’s headquarters in the Mid Valley mall-lands of Kuala Lumpur. The Internet pioneer has started company after company, but today he’s doing something different–he’s plugging a local tailor shop. “I’ve worn a suit twice in the past five years,” he jokes in his raspy voice as staffers look on. “To get married … and divorced.”

He was getting an award at a gala dinner that night, but he had left his only suit at his second home in Singapore. A call to the tailor produced an offer: Tape a promotional video for the shop and a bespoke suit would be his for free. So here he was, being asked by a cameraman to describe himself. “I’m proudly from Southeast Asia,” Grove says. “I split my life into two halves: before 24 years old and everything after–when I became an entrepreneur.” And his life goal? “I want to create a great company that goes global and disrupts an entire industry.”


The company is two-year-old Iflix. The industry is subscription video-on-demand. Grove is targeting developing countries, and Iflix, part of his Catcha Group, is now operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. Iflix offers unlimited viewing of 20,000 hours’ worth of movies and television shows, available any time of day, for a monthly fee roughly equal to the price of a pirated DVD. That’s usually between $2 and $3, depending on the country. The content comes from more than 100 studios and distributors, including Disney, Paramount, the BBC and Media Prima, and MORE