EVERY year hundreds of Thai students return from the UK with a good education, friendships made while overseas and, as often happens in this case, a certain affection for their temporary home, writes Maxmilian Wechsler.
Back here in Thailand, is it possible to extend this sense of camaraderie and shared memories?
For many returning students, the answer is by joining the Old English Students Association, under Royal Patronage, one of this country’s most distinguished institutions whose past membership has included the cream of Thai society.
The association itself dates back to the 1930s, and today its youthful president and his committee are keen to revive its fortunes by recruiting a new generation of members to enjoy the clubhouse’s renovations along with a slew of exciting new activities.
“The clubhouse is now over 50 years old, and I am proud to announce that in March this year we successfully completed the first renovation phase. For this, we are very appreciative of the support given by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). There are still two more big phases needed to complete the renovation.”
Dr Paye, an accomplished musician and event organizer who spent eight years in the UK, continued: “Since we are a non-profit organization, we welcome all the financial support we can get from individuals and corporate groups through charity sports, concert and gala events.
“The first renovation has created a new multi-purpose space available for art exhibitions, company parties, concert performances, talks, cocktail receptions and so on at very special prices. Catering will also be arranged.”
He added that the club’s swimming pool is rented out to a diving school, and the two tennis courts are open for reservation.
“Some rooms are closed for the moment and are in need of a makeover. There used to be a famous dance club here, but we have not renewed the contract. We are currently listening to creative ideas about setting up a restaurant and bar.
“At the same time we are keeping the old traditions alive and kicking. Those interested should follow our Facebook page ‘Old England Student Association’ for upcoming events,” Dr Paye urged.
“Since 1934, we’ve had 21 presidents, and these include prime ministers, MPs, high-ranking officials and distinguished society figures.
“The OESA is doing good things for the community and we want to find ways to reach new members in order to survive. We can’t just stick with the old guard, because we are getting older all the time. Thais of any age who have studied and obtained any sort of degree in the UK can join. We offer honorary membership to non-Thais as well.”
Asked how he became President of the OESA, Dr Paye replied: “I became involved with the association when I moved back to Bangkok from abroad. Khun Burin Nakcharoene of Vivaldi PR company, who served as the OESA President from 2012 to 2014, recruited me. I didn’t even know about the organization.
“I learned that traditionally the OESA has had a very prestigious membership made up of leaders of Thai society. I got along well with Khun Burin and I agreed that the OESA was worth saving. We talked about ways to inject new vitality into the organization. He put me in charge of some new activities because of my musical background. I helped to create a few shows and events to make things more current and not so old-fashioned.
I got a lot of support from senior OESA committee members.
“A year ago I was nominated for president. I am very young for this job and I wouldn’t dare to run without the support of many people in the association who want to see it going forward and presented as a young and fresh organization.
“I don’t look at it as though I am the best person to do the job, but I think that because I am one of the new generation, I can carry it off with the right team. It is very important to have the right committee. They are a mixture of old and young. I enjoy working for the OESA very much but it is a lot of work. I don’t have much time for holidays.”
The first President of the OESA was Prince Naradhip Bhongseprabhan, who held the royal title of Prince Vanna Vaidhayakara. Prince Naradhip was the grandson of King Mongkut and educated at Oxford University. Later in life, he became a diplomat and was elected President of the Eleventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The activities of the OESA were actually initiated prior to Thailand’s change from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 1932, when a group of former students invited current students to join them at a dinner at the Phayathai Hotel, now Phra Mongkut Klao Hospital.
During 1933, the former students continued to meet for dinner and dance at Saranrom Palace, and it was here that the ‘Kojasingh Revue’ was born. The revue became immensely popular in affluent society circles.
Following its official registration, OESA meetings were held at the Royal Turf Club of Thailand. Later, a palace on Wireless Road was rented and activities such as monthly dinners, dances, shows and debates were held with the support of the members, the British Embassy and British nationals residing in Thailand.
At the end of the war, it became active again and, in 1949, under the presidency of Major General Mom Daweewongse Thawalayasakdi, the OESA rented a building at the corner of Saladaeng Road (presently a part of Dusit Thani Bangkok) belonging to the Crown Property Bureau to use as its office and clubhouse. When the bureau required the return of the premises for other purposes, the association moved to yet another location. Several members expressed sadness at having to leave what they considered their “second home.”
However, there was a silver lining. Major General Mom Daweewongse, with the assistance of the CPB, helped the association to build its current headquarters at No. 1938 New Petchburi Road. The new premises and facilities include a library, two tennis courts and a swimming pool.
OESA is located in a large compound on New Petchburi Road, and features the main clubhouse, office and well-appointed meeting room with photos of past presidents hanging on the wall. Other rooms are now empty awaiting the renovation.
The tennis courts are popular and the swimming pool is well used for exercise and diving practice. The compound also boasts plenty of parking space.
The atmosphere is peaceful and relaxing in a busy area of the city that is mostly dedicated to commercial use.
A recent Thai visitor remarked that he wished he had gone to university in the UK and would therefore be eligible for a 5,000 baht life membership and the privilege of relaxing seven days a week just a few hundred meters from all the chaos of central Bangkok.