* Four Generations: Bangkok’s Riverboat Queens Gear Up For The Property Business

This story appeared in the August 2018 issue of Forbes Asia as “Riverboat Queens.”

 

By Susan Cunningham

Supapan Pichaironarongsongkram is explaining the art of managing the tough men who operate her 90-strong fleet of ferries, commuter boats and charters that ply Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. “When you work with men, you don’t work as a woman and a man. A man will always look down on a woman. They probably don’t think I know much. I go to them as a friend or mother. I protect them. If they know that, they will trust me. They know they will never lose a job. We work through generations of trust.”

Supapan, 73, represents the third generation of women at the helm of Supatra & Chao Phraya Express Boat Group. Her grandmother started the ferry service roughly a century ago–the exact year is unknown–and when she died in 1931, Supapan’s mother took over at age 20 (see Thailand’s Supatra Dynasty – 4 Generations Of Women Running The Chao Phraya River). Today the group comprises ten companies and 600 employees, and the fourth generation is getting ready to take over. Supapan’s 32-year-old daughter, Natapree, better known as Pim, has been building the group’s advertising sales, hotel and real estate businesses for the past six years.


Supapan is petite, soft-spoken and impeccably groomed. If she hadn’t felt a sense of responsibility to carry on the family business, she would have followed a more genteel line of work, perhaps using her French degree or pursuing a career as a pianist. But, says Pim, her only child, her mother’s benign appearance is deceptive: “She works six days a week. She doesn’t have an engineering degree, but she knows all the specifications of the boats, the materials, the buoyancy required for the boats to float, the width of the river, the depth of the river. She will act like she doesn’t know much, but she knows everything. You cannot mess with her.” MORE

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* Malaysia’s Richest 2018: Anthony Tan’s Grab Hits $6B Valuation As Ride-Hailing Race Quickens

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes Asia

This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Forbes Asia as “Up for Grabs”

When Grab closed a $2.5 billion fundraising round in January, the valuation of the ride-hailing company not only rose north of $6 billion, according to Pitchbook. It also lifted cofounder Anthony Tan onto the list of Malaysia’s 50 richest. He debuts with an estimated net worth of $300 million. Led by SoftBank and Didi Chuxing, the investment was Southeast Asia’s biggest single venture-capital fundraising round ever. Other investors include Hyundai Motor and Toyota Tsusho.

Tan, 36, the startup’s chief executive, could have enjoyed a cushy ride with his family’s auto-sales business, run by his father, Tan Heng Chew, and two uncles. (Heng Chew and his brothers made the list the last five years before falling off this year.) But six years ago he teamed up with a Harvard Business School classmate, Tan Hooi Ling (no relation), to launch a taxi-hailing application in their home city of Kuala Lumpur. They first called it MyTeksi.

Myanmar and Cambodia

With eight investment rounds under its belt, Grab has branched out into services for private cars, motorcycle taxis, carpooling and goods delivery while making an ever increasing investment in mobile-software research and development. It offers transportation services in 168 cities in eight Southeast Asian countries, having added Cambodia and Myanmar in 2017. 
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* Despite Political Thaw, Myanmar Refugees in Thailand Reluctant to Return Home

By Susan Cunningham
Mizzima Weekly, November 2, 2017

Despite the political reforms since 2012 and the 2015 ceasefire, 98,000 Myanmar refugees living in nine Thailand border camps display little readiness to return home, even as services are tapering off.

“What we thought would be the triggers to return home have come and gone,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium. She spoke October 19 in Bangkok on a Foreign Correspondents of Thailand panel concerning the status of Myanmar refugees. The Consortium is responsible for providing basic humanitarian services such as food, shelter and camp management to nine camps along the northwestern Thai border.

Refugees’ reluctance to return home stems from several causes, Thompson said: “They see ongoing services skirmishes. They see the KNU [Karen National Union] demanding withdrawal of troops [from the state]. There hasn’t been any. In fact, there has been an increase. They want to see practical changes on the ground. A ceasefire agreement is not peace. They ask, ‘Who can guarantee my safety?'” Predominantly Karen (Kayah), camp residents also belong to Kayin, Kachin, Mon, Burman, Pa-O and Chin ethnic groups …   Thailand refugees reluctant – Mizzima

* 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 specially made 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.  Continue reading

* 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