I’d decided to investigate the cost and quality of health care in Thailand for this week’s article and was attempting to gather medical price lists when I met Sr Colonel Pranom Pradapkaen, age 68, retired. I immediately realised I’d stumbled upon someone who was intensely more interesting than what I’d come looking for and after some initial chatting, I was thrilled when he agreed to this interview. “I haven’t had the chance to talk to a foreigner like this since I served in Vietnam and Korea!” he declared while apologising for his self-taught but impeccable English skills.
Sr Colonel Pranom Pradapkaen, the name itself may sound intimidating and cold, but nothing could have been further from the truth. I found him to be an animated, intelligent, and enthusiastic man who spoke from the heart. He was kind enough to spend two hours talking with me, not at me, in his small and immaculate office. He has been working as general manager at a small private hospital for the last nine years since retiring from the military.
He served his country for a total of 40 years, first earning 24 baht (US$.50) a month as a private after volunteering to join the army at the age of 21. “In all those years I was only absent for five days to attend the funeral of my father!” he declared.
In Vietnam and Korea he served in the medical corps and was First Sergeant in a medical platoon. When questioned about his thoughts on war, he stated, “War is not good. Not good for me, not good for anyone. If everyone would follow the teachings of the Lord Buddha and not lie, steal, drink, engage in inappropriate sexual activity or kill we would not have the problem of war.”
Despite his successful military career, life was not always easy for him. “The early part of my life was dark,” he stated. His mother died when he was eight months old and he was passed from family member to family member until he attended university to become a teacher. “I was born in Bangkok but because of my childhood and career, my life took place all over the country,” he explained.
He married at the age of 35 and has one son. When asked how one can be a successful father, he said, “You must educate your children. You must have time for them. You must teach them to consider if their actions are right or wrong and teach them to choose the right way. The way must be moral and legal or you will have negative results with you for the rest of your life. I teach my son about my own life and hope he can learn from it.”
When asked the secret of his successful military career, he explained, “My private opinion is that the commander at each level must be responsible for his people. Complete the mission. If you are a subordinate, listen to your superiors. Have discipline.”
“I never smoked and I never drank. I pray every night, once at 7 pm and I wake up at 11 pm to pray again. I meditate for an hour each time and I sleep no more than five hours a night. I walk for one kilometre after work each day and do stretching exercises. I only eat one meal a day at lunch and I prepare the food myself. In the evening I drink a glass of orange juice,” helps to explain why he looks fit as a fiddle and is sharp as a tack.
He has worked in his current position for nine years Monday-Friday from 6:30 am-5pm and has only missed two days to attend his sister’s funeral. He writes for three national magazines on the topic of emergency medicine and in his spare time enjoys writing poetry about and inspired by flowers, and watching nature and history programmes on TV. “I would like to travel but I am too old for that now and I have a heart problem,” he stated.
When asked to explain the secrets for a successful life, Sr Colonel Pranom Pradapkaen pondered and then stated, “‘Time is money’ is an incorrect proverb. Time is for making your life more valuable. Everyone has ambitions but you can’t just sit there and do nothing. Where there is a will, there is a way. Even when you don’t like the right thing, do the right thing and don’t make trouble. Don’t think about your past. You will only waste your time. Do your best at the present and that will determine your future.”
To find out what Sr Colonel Pranom Pradapkaen has to say about giving money to beggars, rooster fighting, the younger generation of Thailand, and technology, tune in next week.