By Wu Xiaohan
Vichit Lolurlert is Chairman of the Chinese Teachers (Thailand) Association. Though in his eighties, the gray-haired Thai-born Chinese man is still actively engaged in Chinese language education in Thailand. Led by Lolurlert, the Association organizes and sponsors a wide range of events related to language education. From March to November 2017 alone, they sponsored a total of 85 activities such as receptions, visits and symposiums. With an average of 10 events held per month, strong financial support is essential to ongoing success of the organization.
When asked how much money he has contributed to the cause since he began serving as the chairman of the Association, Lolurlert smiled and remarked: “I’ve never calculated the exact number, but I am happy to continue paying as long as it’s worthwhile.”
Ten years ago, the chairman at the time was more than 80 years old and looking for a successor. At age 70, Lolurlert jumped at the chance. And so the promotion of Chinese language and culture continued in Thailand.
Learning to Succeed
“I was born into a poor family, so I was all too aware of how it felt to be unable to afford to go to school,” said Lolurlert in an interview. “That’s why I became committed to education and do everything I can to help those in need.”
Born in Bangkok in the 1930s, Lolurlert is the third generation of a Chinese family that immigrated to Thailand. His father and grandfather earned livings working for small businesses and as office clerks. Amid the chaos of the Second World War, Lolurlert was unable to attend school, so was home schooled by his father, who taught him Three Character Classic, a Chinese classic often used as children’s primer. At the age of 14, he began to work as an apprentice, doing chores until late every day. Every month when Lolurlert received his salary of 50 baht, he would give 45 baht to his mother to help support his family and kept the rest to save up for a steamer ticket to China. In 1955, Lolurlert finally saved enough to return to his country of origin and found an opportunity to attend school in Beijing.
In China, Lolurlert finished junior high school at Beijing No. 3 Middle School and was admitted to the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China. He served as vice president of the Student Union there for three years. In 1959, he attended a meeting of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese in Shanghai as a representative of outstanding middle school students from Beijing and got the chance to meet then Chinese Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Marshal Chen Yi. After graduating from high school with honors, Lolurlert was admitted to the Beijing Steel and Iron Institute (now University of Science and Technology Beijing) and majored in non-ferrous metals at the department of mineral dressing. In 1970, Lolurlert returned to Thailand and started his own business from scratch.
Lolurlert is now known as the “antimony tycoon” of Thailand. With annual sales of 8 billion baht (US$250 million) and a domestic market share as much as 98 percent, his company is now the largest antimony ingot exporter in Thailand and operates in more than 10 countries on three continents.
Over the past 10 years, Lolurlert has been devoted to running the Association and promoting the Chinese language education in Thailand.
When he first assumed the position, 70-year-old Lolurlert embarked on a year-long tour of Chinese language schools across Thailand. He investigated every school and learned about their conditions and needs from leaders. Within a year, he provided generous financial support for schools that needed renovation or reconstruction. For example, he donated 500,000 baht (US$16,000) to a school in Lampang and 1 million baht (US$32,000) to a school in Phuket. Considering that the Association was unfunded at the time, the financial support all came from Lolurlert’s private donations.
When Lolurlert visited a Chinese language school in northeast Thailand, he found there was only an aged teacher. She told Lolurlert that her husband was also a Chinese teacher here but he passed away two years ago. Lolurlert was so worried that he immediately contacted the Bangkok working group of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, also known as Hanban, and asked for additional volunteers for Chinese teaching. He insisted that Chinese language education must be carried on.
In addition to financial support, Lolurlert also contributed new ideas to the development Chinese language education in Thailand. He once attended a meeting between officials of the Thai Foreign Ministry and delegates from Chinese government as vice chairman of the Thai-Chinese Culture and Economy Association. During the meeting he found a problem in communication due to inadequate interpretation. Whatever the Thai diplomats said had to be translated from Thai into English first and then from English into Chinese, which was inconvenient for both sides and caused many misunderstandings. To solve this problem, Lolurlert suggested that Thai government officials and military officers learn Chinese. With the help of the Chinese Teachers (Thailand) Association, the Thai-Chinese Culture and Economy Association organized a group of 17 officers to be dispatched to learn Chinese at China’s Huaqiao University, upon Lolurlert’s suggestion. The program continued for the next 13 years. So far, a total of 13 groups of trainees have studied Chinese at the Xiamen campus of Huaqiao University, each group comprised of up to 100 members.
When Lolurlert served as the chairman of the Thai Alumni Association of China’s Universities, Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented the organization an inscription she penned that read “Bridge between Thailand and China” in Chinese as a gift. Lolurlert kept his mission in mind and persistently worked to bridge the two countries. Thanks to his efforts, a Southeast Asia Studies Forum sponsored by Thai national institutes and Huaqiao University is now held annually.
When Lolurlert was summoned by Princess Sirindhorn years ago, she recommended that Thai students in China not only learn Chinese, but also study Chinese science and technology to better serve the development of Thailand. Lolurlert has kept this in mind and worked hard towards this goal ever since. Now, the Chinese Teachers (Thailand) Association awards 200 scholarships funded by the Chinese government every year covering both language studies and programs in science and technology.
“Education is fundamental,” asserted Lolurlert. “I’m willing to devote everything I have to the development of Chinese language education and cultivation for future generations. I consider it a worthwhile cause deserving of so much time and money.”