September 6, 2016 5:00 pm JST
My Personal History

Dhanin Chearavanont (6): My childhood dreams of a film career

When I was young, I never imagined I would become a business executive.

My dream when I was in elementary school was to become a film director. I was entranced by Hong Kong cinema and was particularly fond of action movies and literary adaptations. I even wrote my own scripts, drawing on the movies I had seen, and I would often use the school stage to perform plays for my teachers and classmates. I held on to my dream of becoming a director until my adolescence.

I was also enamored of magic. Because this was in the days before television, the first magic show I ever saw was an outdoor performance by a magician. I became so absorbed in this art that I had an expert teach me some magic tricks and practiced them enthusiastically. I got to where I could pull a dove out of a box or make an empty can overflow with rice.

On my own

The first elementary school I attended was opened by ethnic Chinese in Bangkok. Most of its classes were conducted in Thai, but we also studied Chinese for an hour a day. After studying there for a year, I transferred to a Christian boarding school in Ratchaburi Province, west of Bangkok.

Boarding school was a wonderful place for studying. Away from home for the first time ever, I had to take care of myself all on my own. Many of my classmates came from affluent families, and there was even a student from Malaysia. Many of the students were children of Chinese immigrants, but all classes in this school were taught in Thai. For the time being, my study of the Chinese language had come to an end, and later I would struggle to pick up Chinese characters.

The closest thing we had to playtime was honing our bodies. Once a week, we had a muay thai (Thai boxing) class. Any fights that broke out between classmates were settled by muay thai, with the bouts continuing until a clear winner emerged.

At around the age of 9, I began raising racing pigeons and roosters for cockfights. I enjoyed taking care of living things. There was no way I could raise them at the boarding school, however, so I raised them at my teacher's house. I still enjoy cockfights and go see them when the occasion permits.

After the wars

During the Pacific War, my father was trapped in Malaysia, but once it ended, he returned to Thailand. Shortly thereafter, however, he headed off to Swatow, China. In addition to the seed store he had opened in Bangkok's Chinatown, my father also owned a company in Swatow that supplied seeds to customers across Asia. His focus was to improve vegetable cultivars at his farm there.

The Pacific War ended with Japan's surrender in August 1945, but not long after, another major conflict broke out: the Chinese Civil War, between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. Communist forces eventually gained the upper hand and, in October 1949, proclaimed the birth of a new China.

Despite this momentous development, however, there appears to have been little change in Swatow.

That is because during the earliest years of its rule, the Communist Party adopted fairly flexible economic policies. It did not seek to drive out or eliminate business owners like my father, and instead explored ways socialist ideologies and commerce could coexist and bring prosperity.

The Communist Party government called on ethnic Chinese around the world to help build the new country. Many families who had emigrated from Chaozhou sent their children back to their homeland.

When my father asked if I wanted to come to Swatow to study, I was overjoyed and began preparing to leave at once. I was 11 at the time.

Dhanin Chearavanont is chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group.

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