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Thailand’s Top Spirits Man and His Awakening from Drunken Slumber

Imagine Bangkok’s nightlife scene twenty years ago; lax law enforcement on drinking regulations, no clear pub or bar closing hours, and the easy availability of alcoholic drinks. There are very few places in the world comparable to Bangkok for its stark contrasts. This is a place where beautiful temples sit side by side with the world’s most bustling nightlife districts, like Khao San Road.

Mr. Chaiying Jarusutdhiprapa, former Key Account Manager for Riche Monde, was largely responsible for that. As the man who led the country’s most successful marketing team, responsible for the widely-known and distributed Johnnie Walker blended scotch whisky, he led a life most men in the world could only dream of.

“The brand we were responsible for achieved an 80% market share of whisky sales in the country, amounting to around 500-600 million Baht. You could say I was the worst sinner of Precept Five of the Five Buddhist Precepts,” he jokingly says.

At that time, Thailand was in its heyday. “Almost anything went. Work was hard and stressful as it involved a great deal of negotiation, but it was definitely fun. All the good things in life were free, such as fancy dinners, free access to parties, and free concert tickets. I had a whisky bottle in every pub and bar with more in the car, and was greeted with big smiles everywhere I went. Although it was part of my job to observe consumer behavior, I still had a blast. Life was great in every possible way.”

One evening, Mr. Chaiying went to RCA Bangkok, a short strip of road flanked by cars and clubs, frequented by students. He then noticed a group of young kids with whisky in their hands. The scene was like a flash of lightning striking his head.

“I was stunned when I saw them and thought, “What if they were my kids? What would I do and what would I tell them? They were of junior high school age, dancing and kissing, and drunk. Although I was happy with the number of sales that night, my mind has been heavy with guilt ever since.”

Within a year, the 31-year-old manager left the company to start his own business. “The management tried everything to retain me as I had worked successfully for them for six years, but it was really time,” he recalls, adding that although the government was partly to blame for its lax law enforcement, the alcohol industry’s advertising campaigns were also culprits as they promoted drinking as something ‘cool’.

He opened a small business, got married, and led a quiet life in a small town with his wife and children. With all the time in the world, he went back to reading, his favorite hobby, and came across a book about Vipassana meditation. It was the beginning of his spiritual journey, starting from volunteering for charity, and then, practicing Vipassana meditation.

Over the years, Mr. Chaiying has found that the views about himself and the world have changed completely. “The turnaround in my personality is also amazing, and yet, natural. I used to be someone who would beat people up and destroy things when angered, and I got angry very easily. Now, I’m not even annoyed anymore, and more forgiving,” he says.

But the real test came when a friend visited his home and asked if he would give away his huge spirit collection, among it, rare and collectible bottles of Johnnie Walker scotch whisky worth hundreds of thousands of Baht (tens of thousands of US Dollars). The collection was so huge it was made into a wall.

“My immediate reply was a definite ‘No’,” he recalls. “About a year later, my Vipassana teacher told me that even though I had stopped drinking, the sight of those bottles was a source of admiration and inspiration for others to start a collection.”

Not long after that, he decided to burn the whole collection despite several people begging him and offering to buy it. “The moment it was consumed with fire, I felt a lightness in my mind. Strangely, I thought I would feel sad, but I didn’t,” he says, contributing meditation to his ability to abandon his attachment to the collection.

His life had a major turn again last year. He was approached by the executives of the new The Soul resort to use his decades-long experience of marketing in the food and beverage business. Asked why he decided to return to the highly competitive world of business, Mr. Chaiying says he has found the resort’s philosophy and business ethos “a real novelty that should be realized” as soon as possible.

Located in Kaeng Koi, Saraburi province, The Soul nestles in the mountains, away from the city area. However, it is a luxurious health and wellness resort that also focuses on spiritual well-being. Guests are encouraged to learn meditation, and practice solitude and an ascetic lifestyle for a certain period of time without communication from the outside world. The purpose is for them to experience true inner peace.

Mr. Chaiying says he is well aware of the resort’s niche appeal but remains optimistic and excited about the challenge. “The world’s in need of peace and solitude, especially now that everything’s moving at break-neck speed.”

Asked if he misses his old, glamorous days, the former and most successful marketer says, “Not at all. It’s true that Bangkok’s nightlife is colorful and effervescent, but I wouldn’t trade the peace and sense of freedom from within for anything else.”