Every day we can open the paper or turn on the television and catch up with the daily death count from the pandemic. In the highly controversial Vietnam War era, the same situation was true though the numbers were less than one-fifth of the Americans lost to Covid-19 with no end in sight at this moment. Therefore, maybe we have become immune to the consequences of undefined deaths that do not seem to matter to some people. However, rest assured they matter to those connected to the fallen party. Recently, a very close friend passed far ahead of his time though not to the pandemic virus. Simply stated, it is hard to reconcile oneself to a younger person leaving prematurely whether it is war related or not. For much of this year, his passing was not unanticipated. However, Joey and I are approaching the 35th anniversary of when we met our departed friend so it is a poignant moment for someone who was pivotal to our lives.
Accordingly, I will walk through some of the highlights of our thirty-five years with Dr. Suphapong Boonyapratuang. As that can be a bit of a mouthful, we preferred to call him Chaokhun. The nickname was given him by his father, Than Asa Boonyapratuang, as he told me that Chaokhun looked like a "little prince" in his crib so that became his Thai nick name. Another Thai connected me to Chaokhun in 1985 when I asked my Thai assistant in Houston, Khun Pat Charnveja, to see if she could find me a Thai tutor to help refine my Thai for higher levels of Government. This effort was a labor of love and part of my push to secure an oil and gas concession offshore Thailand. She knew Chaokhun at the Buddhist temple so off we went on a long adventure together. Chaokhun was a political science doctoral candidate at The University of Houston. As Joey had recently joined the Story clan, she was an integral part of our Thai team. Chaokhun, Khun Pat and I formed a "sweat equity" company called Thaitex to pursue our dream. You can see the roots of Chaokhun's "little prince"nickname as we sit in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
When Chaokhun joined us for our first Thaitex trip to Bangkok, his father and mother, shown below, were overwhelmed with emotion as they had not seen him for some eight years. His father, Than Asa, had a successful career in the Thai foreign service having served as the last Thai ambassador to Cambodia for a number of years when his family was airlifted out as the Khmer Rouge were about to capture Phnom Penh. He was most helpful in introducing me to senior members of the Thai government. When those relationships were combined with my contacts from ten years prior, we were successful in acquiring a position in Thailand which provided our launching pad to form what ultimately became SOCO International in 1992.
Ultimately, to the delight of Chaokhun's parents, we opened a meager office in Bangkok and Chaokhun returned home. Shortly afterwards, Chaokhun was joined by Ms. Cai Aiping who had been studying in Houston as well after immigrating there from China. The four of us became quite active in Southeast Asia travel including one trip to a place on the Burma border called Mon Krating. It was not tourist friendly due to both accommodation and security reasons. After a rough evening, you can see the ladies were not pleased with the facilities of the previous evening though we were fortunate that Chaokhun brought one of his father's pistols with him. Guns were an integral part of Thailand for much of my time spent there.
The many travels with Chaokhun and Cai Ping, affectionately known as Khun Pong and Khun Ping, included another trip that occurred before the accommodations caught up with our travel interest and that was Angkor Wat. There were few tourists as the Khmer Rouge had recently fled the ancient ruins. It is good to be in the leading wave but only if you bring plenty of instant noodles and bottled water.
Khun Ping and Khun Pong also enjoyed visits to the Ramshorn Ranch in the Texas Hill Country which offerred better accomodations and cuisine than some of our other adventures.
Khun Ping and Khun Pong married and sweet Michelle joined our entourage. Thankfully, Michelle can now add support to her mother in Houston.
Somehow, I always find avenues to expand relationships among friends in whom you have confidence. Chaokhun and I joined with a Mongolian friend to form a clinic in Ulaanbaatar to refer patients to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. It would probably not surprise you that Aiping was our Commercial Manager in Mongolia as our equipment, services and crude oil sales were all connected to Chinese companies. Shown below is an image of me receiving the Polar Star from President Elbegdorj of Mongolia, second from my right. The gentleman on his right is Dr. Tongchat who founded the Thai state exploration and production company, PTTEP, in 1985. You would also be shocked to learn that PTTEP has been our partner in Vietnam for twenty years.
As you would expect, Chaokhun became deeply involved in elephant polo. One elephant ride was all he wanted, but he had massive compassion for the elephants and the people of the village where The Elephant Story supports over three hundred elephants, English language teachers and a veterinarian. On the other hand, he could readily hold his own with the villagers relative to the cost of our elephant polo tournaments. Khun Jason, on my right, introduced us to the entire elephant experience many years ago. Bobby Dent, standing behind Joey makes everything at The Elephant Story function properly.
My favorite image of Khun Pong is the Thaitex cowboy shown below at a King's Cup elephant polo tournament in Bangkok. It has even more significance as our daughter, Sara, designed the wall coverings shown. Khun Ping used this image at Khun Pong's Buddhist memorial service in Houston. There are no words to describe the loss of my Buddhist mentor, closest business associate and deepest friend. Chaokhun always advised me that the Buddhist precepts should be viewed from the context of "refrain from" rather than "prohibited from" and that, in any event, one does not remember those transgressions in the next life. Cowboy, I only hope our trails cross in the next roundup.