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Meet the woman who runs a Thai tank-making empire
Nopparat Kulhiran, 65, has earned the nickname “Madame Tank” as the vice president of Chaiseri Metal and Rubber Limited. Her company manufactures state-of-the-art military vehicles capable of withstanding blasts that would tear through a traditional armored vehicle. Born into a conservative family that expected her to get married and raise a family, Nopparat now runs her company with an iron grip, doing deals with top-level military personnel around the world. Here, she shares the story to her success. 

By Choltanutkun Tun-atiruj | Aug 11, 2017

  • Meet the woman who runs a Thai tank-making empire
    Nopparat Kulhiran
  • Meet the woman who runs a Thai tank-making empire
I started out fixing military vehicles with my husband. We knew we could improve them so just started designing our own. It took us 10 years and five designs to finally get our first military armor approved by the Royal Thai Army. 
 
Next year marks 50 years since we signed the first contract paper with the Royal Thai Army to fix their military vehicles.
 
I design all the vehicles myself together with two of my sons.
 
The country is only stable when we can build our own military weaponry because when anything bad happens, we have to be able to protect ourselves. No other countries are going to help us.
 
Whenever we have a coup, countries like the US or Germany or Sweden stop exporting spare parts for military vehicle armor to us.
 
I was once investigated by the FBI for visiting too many army bases around the US in two days. I was just checking out what spare parts they had for sale.
 
I wanted to be a teacher, and after my bachelor’s degree I began working at Assumption Convent School. 
 
I had guns pointed at me while helping out at a volunteer camp near the border in Petchabun as a student teacher in the 1970s. I had borrowed a border patrol police car and was stopped by a bunch of armed Hmong people, but came to no harm because they saw I was just a girl with pigtails.
 
After the Thammasat Massacre [Oct 1976], everyone was leaving the city to lay low in the forest. I had connections with the border people, and my father was afraid that I would run away to hide with the Hmong people in Petchabun, so he arranged a marriage for me.
 
My fun life ended after I got married. My mother-in-law said my husband and I would need to make a lot of money. I asked my dad for some advice on that and he said, “It doesn’t matter how much you make, what matters is how much you save.” 
 
He told me to think big, think outside the box. Don’t just fish in a small pond, fish in the ocean.
 
Whatever you do, never get a loan. It makes you worry about money and you can’t work at 100-percent steam. Save money and work with what you have. 
 
Being a wife and mother is an equal responsibility. I like to take care of my husband and my sons. I work less than before now, and spend more time tidying up the house and preparing food.
 
Because I am a woman, whenever I visit army camps around the world, they don’t really show any signs of being threatened by me, so I can walk around quite freely.
 
My advice for modern women is to stand by themselves. Have a solid foundation for yourself first; don’t just rely on men.
 
In my free time, I paint and make flowers from pandan leaves. It relaxes me.
 
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Pravit Rojanaphruk, 49, is a senior staff writer at Khaosod English who for over 20 years worked as The Nation’s star reporter. On Aug 1, he received a phone call from the Tech Crime Suppression Police, telling him that they were pressing charges against him for Facebook posts made in 2015. He now faces 14 years in jail for sedition. Known for his brave journalism and critique of the current military regime, Pravit has twice been put in “attitude adjustment” camp, once in 2014 and again in 2015. Here, he discusses those experiences and the state of freedom of expression in Thailand.