Worthless to Priceless

If I want to have a billion baht, I can just sell them. But my happiness is not worth a billion baht.

By | Thu 1 Oct 2015

Time can be magical; it can erode the valuable into rubbish while also turning something worthless into something priceless. I was going through Facebook one day when I came across a post on someone’s wall that had me transported back to the eighties with pictures of rare old products and brands from my youth – detergents, shampoos, powder, etc. The sweet scent of times past had me travelling back to my childhood memories and I clicked on the link to find out more.

So, a few days later, I stood in front of “Hearn Kha Jao,” a famous restaurant serving up local Lanna food where an antiques museum is also located. Hearn Kha Jao’s small private museum contains a large number of antiques which have been collected for decades by its owner, Prapan Suksapthaworn, 60.

I was so impressed with the museum I began to talk to Prapan about his passion and soon learnt that his home in Lamphun had an even bigger collection of icons past. So it was that a few weeks after my visit to Hearn Kha Jao, Prapan warmly welcomed me and Citylife’s photographers with a beaming smile and some traditional afternoon snacks, to his house in Lamphun where he has built a row of townhouses to house his collectables.

One Man’s Passion

“I have collected since I was 12.” Prapan told us as we were sitting in one of the rooms in his townhouses, surrounded by memorabilia of the past. Everything from tables, chairs, bottles, glasses, wall decorations and utensils, were old.

“I don’t know why I collect antiques,” he told me when I asked where the source of his fervor came from. “All I know is that I was born with the passion for this stuff. At first I never thought that anything had value, I collected things I loved. Other people look forward, but I have always looked back — I brought the past for the future.”

“I’m lucky that I started loving antiques before other people did, when no one wanted old stuff, casting them aside like garbage. I had no educational background, I just collected what I wanted. Every piece you see here, I arranged them with my own hands.”

“I love all of my antiques. There is no special one for me. Every piece has sentimental value for me. If I want to have a billion baht, I can just sell them. But my happiness is not worth a billion baht.”

Prapan lives a modest life, his phone isn’t smart, his clothes and cars are run of the mill and he lives like a regular common man, he can’t even read and write very well since he never went to school.

But when it comes to his collection, there is nothing modest about him.
“This is worth over a billion,” he declares, “but I don’t need billions, that is why I won’t sell anything. I just want to live with what I love.”

Humble Beginnings

In his late teens, Prapan travelled from his hometown of Nakhon Sawan where he was one of 11 siblings, to Chiang Mai in order to escape poverty. His aim was to make enough money that he could save 10,000 baht – a big goal at the time.

Prapan first started his life in Chiang Mai as a samlor driver, transporting merchants/vendors from market to market. After a few years he graduated into a merchant himself, selling everything he could – from eggs to shrimp paste. It wasn’t long before he had hit his 10,000 baht target and with that he began to invest in 1 rai of land in San Sai area, where he eventually built his own house.

However, in 1997, his land was expropriated by the government in order to build the outer ring road. Incredibly, he received a 28 million baht compensation for it.

With his windfall, Prapan bought a piece of land on Kaew Nawarat Road where he built his new house and immediately filled it with his collectables.

When Prapan’s sister, who ran a small restaurant he had invested in called Hearn Kha Jao, decided to close shop to go and further her studies, he decided to take over and bring the restaurant to his house.
This was nearly two decades ago, and the restaurant is still very well known as a destination for Lanna cuisine.

“The restaurant does very well,” he explained. “But when you get all money you want, you will find that it’s not all you really want.” He went on to say that in 2007 he was offered 850 million baht for his restaurant and all that it contained, but he didn’t know what to do with the money so he refused.

“I asked myself if I had 850 million baht, but I had to lose my antiques, how could I live on.”

The Collector

Prapan is proud of the fact that he has steadfastly refused to sell his antiques.

“Who have I done this for?” he asks. “My siblings? My daughter? No, I did this for myself and my happiness. I only sold one piece ever, a poster, to a persistent collector from Malaysia for 1,800 baht.”

“People used to see this stuff as junk, so I managed to collect so many great items. Products that didn’t make a good sales back then are the most expensive antiques today. It’s because bad sales meant lower production numbers, which makes them rarer.”

That is why Prapan was recently examined by National Anti-Corruption Commission, who wondered how he had accumulated so much in assets, over a billion baht. “They estimated my assets with the price of this era, what they didn’t realise is that they should have estimated them according to their price from the past. Land and antiques were cheap back then.”

The Future of the Collected Antiques

“My daughter will surely sell all my antiques one day. She told me on her wedding day that she didn’t want them, that I could give them away to anyone.”

“I also thought of donating them to museums. But from what I’ve heard, the real ones will be in authorities’ houses, while the fake ones will be in the museum.”

“I am enjoying my possessions in my lifetime; I can’t live without them. What happens to them afterwards…well, it is not my business,” he shrugs.

Hearn Kha Jao 6/6 Nawarat Road, Soi 3/3, Wat Gate www.hearnkhajao.com Tel. 053 262 905, 053 306 359, 081 530 3828, 084 611 2556