“I think it’s a brilliant idea to have a Thai Danish alumni,” says Peter Sontidech, vice chairman of Thai-Danish Association in Denmark and probably the most respected Thais living in Denmark.
Peter Sontidech visited Bangkok in November and immediately expressed his support when briefed about the initiative of the Danish-Thai Chamber of Commerce to establish an alumni of Thai people who have at one time worked, studied or lived in Denmark (read also “Danish-Thai Alumni to be launched Jan 2004”.
Few Thai’s have received two educations in Denmark like Peter Sontidech. First, he graduated in 1962 as a lieutenant in the Danish navy. Later, when he was back in Thailand, he was offered a Danish government scholarship to study at the Danish Engineering University, DTH, from where he graduated as an engineer in 1969.
As a navy officer, he has served both in the Danish navy and in the Thai navy. And as a businessman based in Denmark for the past thirty year he has likewise consistently built on his links to both Thailand and Denmark. In recent years he has been a business advisor for among others Naval Team Denmark and Volund, helping them in establishing good high-level connections relevant to their businesses in Thailand.
Born on 28 February 1939 on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya river, Pracha “Peter” Sontidech grew up in the shadow of the Japanese occupation of Thailand. As a 16 year old young man he entered the Thai Naval Academy and as he was a bright student he quickly advanced to be number one in his class. This earned him a scholarship at a naval academy abroad.
“Actually I was in line for going to Minneapolis in the States, but then my orders were changed. Prince Galavanadis Diskul, who was at that time Thai military attach้ in Denmark, had selected me to study in Denmark instead,” Peter Sontidech recalls.
“There is a 150 year old historical tradition for close links between Thailand and the Danish Naval Academy, and Prince Galavanadis Diskul was himself a graduate from the Danish Naval Academy,” he adds.
In August 1957 Peter Sontidech arrived Denmark, a country he knew nothing about and which it had taken him two days of travelling from Bangkok to reach. Here, he was to follow up on this proud 150 year old tradition.
“I was met in the airport by Prince Galavanadis and for the next eight months I was accommodated with a Danish family with children as a fast way to learn the Danish culture while at the same time studying the Danish language.”
Then Peter Sontidech was ready to start from the bottom in the Danish Navy and after four years he graduated October 1962 together with his classmates as a Lieutenant. For the next one and a half year, Peter Sontidech sailed in the waters of Greenland and the Faroe Islands – just about as far away and as cold as you can imagine from Thailand.
“But I really loved it. It was great,” Peter Sontidech recalls.
In 1964, Peter Sontidech returned to Thaland to serve in the Royal Thai Navy among others as adjutant and trainer for new navy cadets in active duty. He also married his first wife who moved out to work with the East Asiatic Company.
Two years later, Peter Sontidech was given a Danish government grant to further his studies in Denmark at t the Danish Technical University DTH. So he moved to Denmark where he studied for three years until in 1969, he graduated.
“Since then I have in different set-ups and companies been working with computers,” Peter Sontidech explains.
“At this early stage of the computer industry the only company where you could work with computeres was IBM. So I started working with then in 1969 immediately after I graduated from DTH.”
In 1974, Peter Sontidech met his present wife Marianne and together they have a daughter which was born in 1982.
Peter Sontidech’s active role in the Thai society in Denmark started in the late 70’s when he established the Sawasdi Thai Denmark association together with a handful of other Thais living in Denmark. At the time, the only other alternative for the Thai community was to join the Thai-Danish Association which was primarily set up for former Danish expatriates in Thailand to meet after they had returned home to share their memories and interest in Thailand.
“In Sawasdi Thai-Denmark we took a more active role to be a meeting point for all the increasing number of Thai people living in Denmark. We celebrated the King’s Birthday, we had Loy Kratong night, etc. A big project which has become a major success was establishing one Thai temple in Stenlose and another one in Copenhagen,” Peter Sontidech recalls.
The temples were established during the 80’s where the Thai community was very active. Later, the Sawasdi Thai Denmark became less active, and Peter Sontidech changed to work within the existing Thai-Danish Association to bridge the two communities of former Danes living in Thailand and current Thais living in Denmark.
Among the activities is a collection of funds every year in support of the Sataban Saeng Sawang Foundation for mentally and physically handicapped children in Thailand. This year, the association collected US$3,200, which Peter Sontidech and Marianne in November handed over to the foundation.