Name: John Everingham
Born: Australia, 1949
How long in Thailand? 40 plus years; with another 10 years prior based in Vientiane, during the Vietnam war.
What brought you here? Arrived in 1967 on a motorcycle from Singapore, planning to take the overland route to Europe….until I got distracted by war and beautiful girls in Southeast Asia.
Where do you live? After 40 years in Bangkok – way too long – we (with second wife Jade and two sons) moved to Hua Hin a year ago. For years many friends thought I was living in Phuket; but no, just doing business there. How often do you visit Bangkok (or elsewhere in Thailand) and your homeland? Australia; twice in past 10 years; Bangkok every few months; Chiang Mai annually.
Your profession? Photographer, writer, publisher Companies? Artasia Press – 1985 until the 2004 tsunami. It peaked with about 45 staff in 2003-4, the boom years before the tsunami. Then True Beachfront website, but that recedes as Google turns the web into a monopoly of the big boys, starving out countless thousands of small businesses in the travel industry.
What projects have you been involved in since coming to Thailand? When still a teenager, I did some trading in the region to make small money. From 20 I became a photographer in the Vietnam and Lao wars, then a writer. In my 30s I was a magazine photographer-writer travelling widely for global magazines. In my 40s and 50s was mainly a publisher of English languages magazines in Thailand, Cambodia and the region. After the 2004 tsunami wiped out the publishing business I’ve retreated to smaller media and online projects with few employees.
Do you have a ‘golden period’ in Thailand? My ‘golden years’ were the 1980s, when I travelled all across Asia-Himalayas- Australia on assignment for magazines around the world. That kind of photo-journalism is now a dead profession.
High / low points in Thailand: The common people are mostly beautiful; the rich and powerful often ugly.
Worst business decision: Trusting people to do things I should have done myself. Best business decision: Finding a business without employees.
Most interesting persons you’ve ever met: Among the most interesting are Asians who have been educated in the West, still value their own culture, and learned to respect and live in both worlds. There’s quite a lot of them in Thailand.
Most overrated people: Unfortunately, Thai culture pushes uneducated, poor people to vote for those with lots of money (i.e. power). It puts many morally corrupt people into positions of national leadership.
Craziest things you’ve done: Risked my life trying to get revealing photographs of bombed-out villages in Laos during the Laos-Vietnam War. I’ve since learned that even shocking revelations do little to change the course of human history.
Best advice you can give to a newcomer to Thailand: Keep your mind open; overcome your ingrained cultural prejudices. Try everything the locals do, eating crickets and grasshoppers included.
Favorite food and restaurants: It’s gotta be Lao and spicy – I was in my teen years in Laos in the 60s watching hippies at the end of the Asian trail become addicted to heroin. I became addicted to larb, som tum, sticky rice and the rest.
Any hobbies or sports? Little interested in watching others play. Surfing yes. For years I flew a motor-paraglider, and still have it hanging by my window in waiting. Someday I hope to polish it off and again go cloud swooping with the eagles.
Favorite place in Thailand? Oh so many; I love beaches and the ocean, I love the mountains, I love the rainforests. From Hua Hin I can find them all – without a traffic jam.
Where else in the world could you happily reside? Haven’t found it yet, and running out of time to look.
Any regrets? Being restricted to one lifetime. Personal motto? A few of them, revolving around the importance of personal integrity. I share those with my sons.
Why the move from Bangkok to Hua Hin? 40 years in one big, crowded city? Too long. And only after getting to Hua Hin did I realise we should have moved much sooner. Bangkok’s traffic had been driving me crazy for years – as it does everyone. But when I had to drive son Zen to school by motorcycle through the morning mayhem on Sathorn Road, the danger to life and limb was literally brushing by, sometimes very fast. One small mistake – by any of hundreds of drivers – could have ruined my son’s life. Or taken it.
Then I knew I had to raise these two boys in a safer, better environment. Bangkok now seems quite hostile, compared to the way it was when I raised my first two boys there. And among places in Thailand with an international school, Hua Hin was my choice – one I’m now happier with than expected.
little guy yet to turn three.
Weren’t there rumours of another Lao wife? Well, I was married three times, but only had two real wives. In Vientiane in 1975 after the communists seized power some new officials turned up on my door. They said my girlfriend was committing a serious crime by living with a foreigner, and she had been sentenced to re-education at Don Nang. They’d be back to arrest her, they said, in ten days. However if she were my legal wife by then she would not be arrested. These Lao were communists, but they still had compassion. So I made a deal – which included getting married fast – then took the girlfriend to Australia. As soon as she was set up in Brisbane with a job, we separated. Then I returned to Laos to try to find the girl I really wanted to marry.
That was the girl in the movie? Yes, Keo.
You swam the Mekong River to get her out – and Hollywood made a movie about it? Yes. It was called Comeback (Also known as 'Love Is Forever'). Here’s a small fact that few people know: I swam across the river four times before being successful. And the first time I returned - unsuccessful, of course - I was scratching right along the river bottom all the way from Laos to Thailand, fearing soldiers who had seen me would drop grenades.
The movie starred Michael Landon, right? Yes, but few young people today would know Michael Landon. He was very famous in the 1980s - from Little House on the Prairie - and a really nice guy. But the wrong personality for a role in Asia. He was a cowboy. The producer/director, Hal Bartlett, did not like me by the time shooting began in Bangkok in 1982. I panned his screenplay. It was full of tired old clichés about the bad Commies, and the good guys fighting their evil. I had hoped for a very different movie that delved into the reasons the communists were successful despite their foolish ideology – something the Americans of the time seemed not to understand.
Lots of old-time expats got part roles in the production? Most of the shooting was done in Thailand, and so many local residents got involved. Even if it was not a good movie, it was fun for lots of people. Me too. Despite my poor relations with the producer, Keo and I were contracted to be available near the set, so we followed behind, with baby Ananda in a basket. Ananda even went to Florida and the Bahamas in that basket for the
Ananda is better known than you these days, right? Far and away. Ananda’s been acting in movies for over 20 years, since age 14, has won Best Actor many times, and his face is constantly seen all over the country. I live a quiet life while Ananda is on the front line of fame in Thailand, having his photo taken everywhere he goes. He has to leave the country to find real solitude.
What’s it like having a superstar son? It certainly makes life interesting. And it’s changed my identity among Thais, from John Everingham to ‘Ananda’s father’. But these days most of his time seems to be taken up by his own productions. His company Halo Production pumps out content for Thai TV, though he normally does not appear in these.
Do the children of your two wives get along? Absolutely. Despite different mothers, and many years apart, I think they’re all as close as brothers get. Ananda is now 36, Krit not yet three.
And the wives? They’re good friends too. We often stay together as a big happy family, especially in Chiang Mai where we go and all stay in Keo’s house. Keo loves my two young boys from Jade, and often visits with presents on their birthdays. It’s the best way.
You always come across as a very happy and positive person. Is that still the case? I’ve always been aware that I have a positive, can-do outlook on life – by comparison, most people around seem unmotivated, even negative. And I have generally succeeded in the things I wanted to do. Despite leaving school at 16 with no qualifi cations, I ended up running a business with graduates with Bachelors and Masters degrees coming to me for jobs.
Last word: The population bomb went off alright – I saw it. Not a bang, but Poof! Quietly.
As people swarm the planet and gobble its resources the quality of the human experience declines. I believe it peaked in the 1980s and 90s, and the future looks ever more difficult, and bleak, for anyone not wealthy. I feel lucky to have lived through the decades I have, but fear for my young sons. And for others growing up in today’s harsh, transformative world.
I’m sure I will die with a smile on my face, but I know so many others won’t be so lucky.