I’m a few days late, but Monday was the 10th anniversary of the Asian economic crash, which began right here in Thailand and spread out in seismic waves across the region and beyond. I remember that day very well. So, too, I suspect, does a fellow American who was living here at the time. He had planned to move back to the US late that month. Suddenly, the baht rate spiralled. It had been 25 baht to the US dollar for years and years; overnight it went to 50-something. Since he had not changed his money yet by that time, that meant his entire savings was cut in half. He was quite put out.
It was an amazing time to live through over here. So many people were ruined. I don’t think there were any leaps from tall buildings a la 1929 Wall Street, but there were quite a few suicides. Overnight, the ranks of Bangkok’s prostitutes swelled with secretaries and other office workers from companies that had gone belly-up. Huge fortunes were destroyed overnight.
Then there was the Sandwich Man, as he’s still known today. Sirivat Voravetvuthikun had been a dollar millionaire, a real-estate and investment tycoon, used to the high life. His personal empire came crashing down around him. But he exhibited an enormous amount of pluck and grit. Instead of killing himself or descending into poverty without a fight like many others, he began making sandwiches in the kitchen of his home. He couldn’t think of anything else to do. Then he took them out onto the street to sell them. This was new for many Thais. Even today, most do not eat bread, and it was certainly rarer 10 years ago. But he tried it anyway. On his first day, it took him six hours to sell 20 sandwiches. But eventually, they caught on with what office-workers there were left. He began hiring many of his old employees to go sell his sandwiches on the street.
Today, his sandwich business has made him successful once again, although he’ll probably never be a millionaire again. I admire this man greatly, and so do many others. At one of the exits to Siam Skytrain Station in particular, I always see one of his employees standing with his tray of sandwiches for sale. You can read a bit more about his story here.