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Phuket Books: An entrepreneur’s journey in life – Don Battles

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: A book that is self-published is called a vanity project. Don Battles shows a big chunk of vanity. Subtitled An Entrepreneur’s Journey in Life, his autobiography Merchant of the Orient (Xlibris Corp. 2013, 292pp) is printed on glossy A4 sized paper and costs over 60 American dollars.

The text is clear and free of typos, yet weakened by the chronic repetition of words and phrases: “needless to say”, “fortunately”, “difficult”, “a mess”, “a big mess”.

The author does not strain for any descriptive brilliance: “Hollywood was beautiful and wonderful.” “Amsterdam was full of life and very enjoyable.” “Paris in the springtime was simply beautiful.”

But for all his stylistic flaws, is the story of Don Battles worth reading? Hell yes!

This is the classic American dream story of rising from abject poverty to wealth through hard work, pluck, luck and true grit.

Battles was born in 1934, the son of a steel mill worker in Gadsden, Alabama. The family lived in a company house and bought groceries at a company store and never really felt secure against hunger until they rented their own place and began a farm.

Still, there was no electricity or running water and a horse and buggy was their only form of transport. Like many other Southerners, Battles escaped a life of poverty by joining the military.

In the Air Force, he proves to be a crafty operator, dealing in clandestine liquor sales and hopping free flights around the US. In Alaska, he and a friend construct a well-stocked under-the-snow bolt hole to escape winter maneuvers.

He gets his engineering degree from Auburn University. He has a lot of women, and notes this humorous aside: “I met a half-ugly woman in class that I temporarily took up with. My mom said she was full ugly and didn’t like her, so I ended my relationship with her.”

Degree in hand, he joins the nascent American space program, crisscrossing the country from California to Florida and then going to Huntsville, Alabama, working heroic hours to serve the original seven Mercury astronauts until the successful Apollo moon landings.

He married a second generation Lebanese nurse, sired three sons and eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where he stumbled into the steel-making business, eventually selling his two patented steel-making inventions around the world.

He had trouble communicating in a steel mill in Wales: “They couldn’t understand my Southern American English and I couldn’t understand their Welsh.”

So he bought the steel mill staff beers at the Brains Beer Pub and taught them his version of English every night for a month.

At a gala farewell lunch, the plant manager gave a speech in pristine Alabaman. It was a rousing success.

He hated Russia and used his unspent rubles to paste the wall of his hotel room with the words “Russia sucks”. India sucked too, as did South Korea, but he loved Thailand.

He set himself up in Bangkok and hired his first employees out of bars in Pattaya and Patpong. This cheeky HR pattern would hold for nearly four decades.

But he was anything but frivolous in dealing with the best and brightest leaders of the Thai steel industry.

He even made a year-long effort to learn Thai at AUA. But the Crash of 1997 put paid to his steel business days and he retreated with his staff to Phuket.

Here he entered the final stage of his life: the food and restaurant business. He stumbled into it by accident, buying an abandoned mini-mart which morphed into a successful barbecue restaurant.

This prompted the move to the landmark Don’s Mall near Nai Harn Beach, Phuket: supermarket, wine store, delicatessen, butcher shop, bakery, bar and 300-seat food court.

He expanded his business to Bangkok, Koh Samui and Chiang Rai and even entered into an abortive jalapeño pepper scheme in China.

Human and natural disasters – coups, street riots and the tsunami – eventually ended this business too and he settled into rustic retirement with his new Thai wife Nat in
Chiang Rai .

He is pushing 80 now, having lived a long, and for this reader, a very interesting life.

‘Merchant of the Orient: An Entrepreneur’s Journey in Life ‘ by Don Battles is available from Amazon, in paperback, hardcover and digital form.

— James Eckardt

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Protests

K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht

The Thaiger

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K-Pop fans show their support for the young Thai protesters, donate 3 million+ baht | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Fan-funded 'happy birthday' signs around Thailand's BTS and MRT station

Art meets politics again, this time with hundreds of thousands of K-Pop fans raising funds in support of the growing student protest movement in Thailand. So far they’ve raised more than 3 million baht (as of 10am this morning) but the amount is rising quickly as Thai and overseas K-Pop fans respond. The most popular band in Thailand at the moment is BTS, the South Korean septet which is currently the most popular band in the world (as of today BTS commands the Number 1 and Number 2 positions on the US Billboard singles chart).

BTS fans have so far been the largest contributors donating funds to the protest cause.

The BTS Thailand page, not to be confused with the BTS Skytrain, is urging K-pop fans to stop the practice of paying for billboards in support of their favourite idols and to celebrate the birthdays of the 7 members. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook issued a statement on their fanpage asking fans to stop funding the BTS and MRT “inconvenienced protesters and normal citizens from getting home and putting them in danger”.

Bangkok’s two main rail systems were closed down over the weekend as police and protesters played a cat and mouse game. The protesters were withholding the announcement of protest locations to the last minute whilst police second-guessed their moves, ending up in mass inconvenience for the wider public in shutting down the entire network, including the Airport link.

“We’re calling Armys and other fans to stop buying ad projects with the BTS and MRT.” (“Army” is the name of BTS fans.

Fans of K-pop groups as well as other “idol” groups often pool their resources to purchase display ads in the MRT and BTS stations wishing their stars happy birthday or on other significant anniversaries.

It’s thought that many more millions of baht will be raised by the K-Pop fans in the next few days.

The young Thai protesters are tapping into a strong social media network, and have “weaponised” the social media and messaging platforms. The main App they are now using, to communicate their intentions, is “Telegram”, developed by a young Russian couple but now operating out of Germany. The App features encypted messages, impossible to track, and has 400 million monthly active users.

Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging, video telephony and voice over IP service with end-to-end encryption for secret chat only, whereas Cloud chat uses client-server/server-client encryption and its messages are stored encrypted in the Telegram Cloud – Wikipedia

Meanwhile, other K-Pop acts that have mobilised their fans win support include Girls’ Generation, GOT7, NCT, WannaOne, Nu’est, X1, Day 6, Red Velvet, MonstaC, Woodz, Shinee, Super Junior and R1se. We’re sure the fans of Black Pink are also contributing but didn’t have their figures available at the time of publishing. Fans of popular Thai actors and celebrities are also donating to the pool.

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World

Rock star Eddie Van Halen loses cancer battle – VIDEO

Maya Taylor

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Rock star Eddie Van Halen loses cancer battle – VIDEO | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Rock icon Eddie Van Halen has died, after losing a long battle with cancer. His son, Wolfgang Van Halen, took to Twitter to announce the death of his 65 year old musician father.

“I can’t believe I’m having to write this, but my father, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen, has lost his long and arduous battle with cancer this morning. He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on and off stage was a gift. My heart is broken, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss. I love you so much, Pop.”

Born Edward Lodewijk Van Halen in the Netherlands, Eddie Van Halen’s family moved to California when he was 6 years old. Eddie took piano lessons from a young age and went on to become one of the world’s biggest rock stars, forming the band Van Halen with his brother Alex and singer David Lee Roth. The band had numerous hits, including their most successful single, Jump, released in 1983.

Tension between Van Halen and singer Roth saw the latter leave the band in 1985, but he returned for a 2007 reunion tour. A 2012 tour had to be cancelled due to Eddie Van Halen’s health problems, but a 2015 tour of North America was able to go ahead.

Eddie Van Halen had a well-documented history of alcohol and drug abuse and several health problems that impacted negatively on his work. The alcoholism and drug addiction were major contributors to his divorce in 2007 after a 16 year marriage to actress Valerie Bertinelli. In 2015, he spoke out about his addictions and the effect they had had on him personally and professionally.

“I was an alcoholic, and I needed alcohol to function. I didn’t drink to party. Alcohol and cocaine were private things to me. I would use them for work. The blow keeps you awake, and the alcohol lowers your inhibitions. I’m sure there were musical things I would not have attempted were I not in that mental state.”

In 2000, a year after undergoing hip surgery, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer following years of smoking. The diagnosis led to him having part of his tongue removed. In 2002, he was declared cancer-free, but the illness subsequently re-surfaced and he was reported to be receiving treatment again last year.

Tributes from some of the biggest names in the music world poured in Tuesday following news of his death.

From Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi…

“I’m just devastated to hear the news of the passing of my dear friend Eddie Van Halen. He fought a long and hard battle with his cancer right to the very end. Eddie was one of a very special kind of person, a really great friend. Rest In Peace my dear friend till we meet again.”

From Yusuf/Cat Stevens…

“Sad to hear Eddie Van Halen has passed away. A guitar innovator with a fierce spirit of musical and technical exploration. Prayers and thoughts with his family and friends.”

US songwriter Diane Warren said in a tweet that “guitars are gently weeping everywhere. Shred In Power Eddie Van Halen.”

The rocker is survived by his second wife Janie Liszewski and his son, as well as his first wife Bertinelli.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Bangkok

Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween

Caitlin Ashworth

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Khao San Road to reopen for Halloween | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: The Club Khaosan

The party is coming back to Khao San Road this Halloween. The once booming backpacker district went through a renovation during the lockdown period and now the Bangkok governor says they’re ready to reopen the street.

Khao San Road has long been a district frequented by foreign backpackers. It’s known for it’s grungy and lively bar scene as well as its eccentric mix of street food, like scorpion on a stick. During the lockdown, 48.4 million baht was put into the streets for major renovations like leveling out the road and footpaths, adding some gutters and designating space for emergency vehicles.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang says a Khao San Road Halloween party to help stimulate travel. There was talk about removing street vendors from Khao San Road, but the idea got a lot of backlash. Luckily, street food will stay put and 240 food vendors will be set up along the street from 9am to midnight for the Halloween weekend.

Khao San Road will also run a street market and set a stage for performances on the November 28 and 29 as well as News Years weekend, according to Nation Thailand.

Aswin says events are also planned for Loy Krathong and New Years. The area around the street was so packed during last year’s New Years, that streets and alleyways were more like mosh pits. Phones were stolen, fights broke out. It was a mess.

Loy Krathong happens every year on the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. People make offerings for the water goddess and ask for forgiveness. A krathong is usually made of banana stems, leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. It’s then floated down a river.

Khao San Road isn’t known as a place where people ask for forgiveness, but apparently Loy Krathong will be celebrated along with other cultural events, according to Coconuts Bangkok. Loy Krathong happens to fall on Halloween this year.

SOURCES: Coconuts Bangkok | Nation Thailand | Bangkok Post

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