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Culture minister: Surprisingly versatile

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Daughter-in-law of Chonburi strongman Kamnan Poh, youngest female minister at 35, jumped from full-time housewife to promising politician overnight. 

Sukumol Khunploem

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PROFILE: Learning the ropes, Culture Minister Sukumol Khunploem may be a novice but she is a quick learner by Anchalee Kongrut


Dubbed Krasuang Tee Loek Luem, or the Ministry the World Forgot, the Ministry of Culture is indeed relatively obscure if not entirely forgotten. Rated Grade C by our honourable and beloved politicians, it is either a test bed for novice politicians or a consolation prize for minority parties in the governing coalition.

Equally not so popular is its new minister whose real name is still a mystery to most news reporters.

"The media still spell my name wrongly. There have been various versions of spelling of my name in news reports. Sukamol, Kusumol. All are incorrect," said Culture Minister Sukumol Khunploem with a laugh.

Wife of well-known politician Sonthaya, Sukumol is better known among reporters as Nong Beer, and is a first-time MP under the banner of newly founded Palang Chon Party. At 35, she is the youngest minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra administration and the country's youngest female minister.

Like Yingluck, Sukumol has been scorned by the media and political pundits as a puppet, a political proxy.

Until the July 3 general elections, Sukumol was a full-time housewife who had never been in the political limelight. She stood for election because her husband, Sonthaya, son of Chon Buri strongman Kamnan Poh, is serving out a five-year ban from politics after the Constitution Court ordered dissolution of the political party of which he was a member.

Armed with a bachelor's degree from Assumption Business Administration College (ABAC), the minister concedes she lacks experience in cultural management.

My educational background is business. So, it is quite fair to say I have no mileage in cultural fields. But I have keen interest in culture, particularly traditional art and handicrafts. So I am working in an area I am fond of and passionate about.

Her media interviews are seemingly scripted. She answers questions fluently, rather too fluently, and many of the answers are predictable.

Staffers at her Palang Chon Party are rather protective of her, screening media interviews and coaching their new-face MP in every manner possible.

That Sukumol survived her first television interview is perhaps more due to her vigour and charm than to her credentials as a member of parliament. Or perhaps it was her marriage into the Khunploem family that saved the day. The family after all is a force to be reckoned with in Chon Buri, a political dynasty at the helm of which is the legendary Kamnan Poh, a fugitive tycoon who still wields considerable power and influence, a man not to be crossed. Being his daughter-in-law insulates her from a lot of things, most importantly the prying eyes of news hounds.

"Did I answer your question? Can I answer it again?" she said politely to the camera crew taping her first television interview. Sukumol is never too shy, too arrogant and she definitely does not take herself too seriously. "I have limited experience with the media. I just keep anticipating what the next question is going to be."

Yet, it seems this member of the Khunploem family has the potential to become a seasoned politician.

"Culture for me is everything around us. Food, attitude, lifestyle are part of culture. Culture makes men and men create culture," she said. 

She readily admitted she didn't know much about modern or contemporary culture. Yet, her policy is one of respect for individual rights. And as a mother of three, her aim is to create a cultural environment friendly to children. Film ratings, she said, should be enforced strictly to protect children from watching movies with inappropriate content. Asked about her policy on film censorship, she said the freedom of film-makers should not be affected.

Cultural issues involve public and mass opinion. So, we have to deal with the problems and issues on a case-by-case basis.

And it is to her credit that she hasn't made a single faux pas so far.

She works hard. One of her first tasks on being appointed minister was to visit Thai Moong fair at Thailand Cultural Centre.

Since then, she has presided over meetings dealing with the preparation for the late HRH Princess Bejaratana's funeral, which she said is her top priority. Her mission is to preserve and promote traditional culture especially khon mask dance and traditional arts, and follow HM the Queen for guidance.

"Indeed, I am quite excited to work at this ministry because it is a chance to work with and work for the Royal court," said Sukumol during the interview when she appeared in yellow silk dress tailored from her own collection of traditional Thai cloth.

For years, Sukumol has had purchased rare and expensive woven cloth visiting OTOP fairs around the country. Her collection includes over 100 items of rare traditional delicately-woven paa yok. She has a separate room at home to keep her collection which is huge.

I have had them drycleaned in the traditional way before storing them away in plastic wrap. Otherwise, they will be ruined." She speaks fondly of her hobby, which she likens to preserving a cultural product

"Another priority of mine is to enlist 30 of our cultural heritages with Unesco. But first they must be endorsed by our parliament," she said of her plan to register as heritage items such as classical Thai dance patterns, the folk tale Mae Nak Phra Khanong, and kapi shrimp paste among others

Despite a smiling face and being polite and likeable, Sukumol is no ordinary housewife when the subject turns to politics.

We have remained close with our constituents. I regularly visit villages in my province. Phi Pair (her husband Sonthaya), too, routinely visits them. The villagers have already forgotten that he was one of the Ban Lek Tee 111 - the term used to describe the 111 politicians slapped with a ban by the Constitution Court. 

"So politically I am not totally inexperienced, after all," she insisted.

(Source: Bangkok Post, PROFILE, Learning the ropes, Culture Minister Sukumol Khunploem may be a novice but she is a quick learner, 26/08/2011, Anchalee Kongrut, link

Politics Vocabulary

versatile - having a wide range of different skills and abilities

learning the ropes - learning the details about how to do some job or activity (while doing the job, on-the-job learning)

novice
- of someone with little experience doing something มือใหม่
quick learner - a person who learns things fast

dubbed
- named

obscure
- to prevent something from being seen or heard ปิดบัง
relatively obscure if not entirely forgotten - few have heard of it (or maybe heard about it and then forgot it)

honourable
- worthy of respect and honour
beloved -
loved so much, by everyone

consolation prize - a small prize given to someone who has failed to win

minority
- a small percentage, less than 50% จำนวนน้อย
minority parties - political parties that have only a small number of MPs elected to parliament

coalition
- a government formed by two or more political parties working together รัฐบาลหลายพรรค, พรรคร่วมรัฐบาล
governing coalition - the coalition that currently has power and runs the country

media - radio, television, newspaper, the Internet, considered as a group สื่อ
administration - one government that a country has for a period of time

female
- of a woman สำหรับผู้หญิง
female minister - a member of the Prime Minister's cabinet who is a woman

scorned by the media -
not liked by the media 

political pundits -
experts about politics (who are always offering their expert opinion)
puppet - a person who does not think for themselves (controlled by other people)

proxy
- a person or company who acts for another person or company ตัวแทน
political proxy - a person who acts in politics for other people

housewife - a woman who works in the home preparing things for her family

in the political limelight -
very important in politics (many people are watching her)

election
- the process of choosing a person or a group of person for a position, especially by voting elect (v) electoral (adj) synonym: the polls การเลือกตั้ง
stood for election - was a candidate in the election

strongman Kamnan Poh
- mafia godfather Kamnan Poh

dissolution
- officially ending a group or organisation การยุบ, ยุบ ยุติ
dissolution of the political party - breaking up and ending of political party

ban - officially not allowed to do something ห้าม ห้ามอย่างเป็นทางการ
ban from politics - officially not allowed to do politics (run for election and become an MP)

serving out a five-year ban from politics - currently waiting and accepting this punishment

X concedes Y - X accepts that some negative fact Y is true (something they would usually deny) 

background
- personal history and experience
educational background - the schools a person went to

mileage
- the number of miles that a car gets per litre of gasoline ระยะทางที่รถวิ่ง
I have no mileage in cultural fields - I have no experience in cultural fields

keen
interest in - very interested, eager or wanting (to do) something very much สนใจ, ใจจดใจจ่อ

traditional
- things (clothes, music, customs, etc.) that have been part of a country or society for a long time
traditional art and handicrafts - art and crafts (making clothes, wood, silver items, etc) from the past, that have existed for a long time

fond
- getting enjoyment and satisfaction from ที่ทรงโปรดปราน
passionate about
- really loves doing this activity

interviews
- asking a person a series of questions to get information (for example: to decide whether to hire them (job interview) or to publish an article about them)
scripted -
speaking and answering questions from a "script" (planned beforehand what she will say)

fluently -
expressing ideas very smoothly
predictable - people knew what was going to happen, before it happened

staffers -
all the helpers who work for a politician
protective - working to protect her from anything negative that could happen

screening
- checking before accepting, checking for problems, safety, or suitability
screening media interviews - checking media interviews beforehand (acceptable publication, questions, writer, style, etc)

coaching -
telling a person what to do next (or what to say next)

manner
- way วิธีการ
coaching their new-face MP in every manner possible

survived - continued to live or exist รอดมาได้
interview - to ask someone questions in a meeting for a newspaper article, television show, etc. The noun form is also interview สัมภาษณ์, การสัมภาษณ์
television interview - answering questions on TV

vigour -
energy and strength in doing activities
charm
- likeability, doing things in a way that people like you

credentials
- previous achievements and background, qualifications, and proof such as diplomas, certificates, letters of reference
credentials as a member of parliament -

saved the day 
a force to be reckoned with 

political dynasty - a family that has many members who are elected as MPs, serve as ministers, etc

at the helm - to officially control an organisation or company มีตำแหน่งผู้ควบคุม
the legendary Kamnan Poh

fugitive
- someone who has done something illegal and is trying to avoid being caught by the police ผู้หลบหนี
tycoon - a person who has succeeded in business or industry and has become very rich and powerful นักธุรกิจที่ร่ำรวยและมีอิทธิพลมาก

fugitive
tycoon - a very rich person who has been sentenced to jail (but has escaped and is living outside of the country)
considerable - large; of noticeable importance จำนวนมาก ค่อนข้างใหญ่

influence
- affect what people do or think อิทธิพล มีอิทธิพลต่อ, ชักจูง อำนาจบังคับ
wields considerable power and influence
not to be crossed - doing something against them (not doing what you promised him)

daughter-in-law -
the woman married to your daughter
 insulates her from a lot of things

pry -
to look at or ask questions about private things
prying eyes of news hounds
- news reporters search out facts like bloodhounds
camera crew  - all the people who help in filming a video
arrogant - a person who acts like they are better than other people (rude and overconfident)
does not take herself too seriously - roughly same as "arrogant"

anticipating - think that something will happen before it happens

potential - possible or likely for event or situation to happen ความเป็นไปได้ s ที่มีศักยภาพ ที่เป็นไปได้
seasoned
- having a lot of experience of doing something and therefore knowing how to do it well มีประสบการณ์
seasoned politician - an experienced and knowledgable politician
potential to become a seasoned politician - it really seems that she has what is needed to become an experienced politician

attitude
- the way you think and feel about something, as shown in behaviour
lifestyle - the living conditions and things people do everyday (fashion, home decoration, pets, cooking, music, tv, movies, garden, etc) รูปแบบการดำเนินชีวิต

policy - a set of plans or action agreed on by a government, political party, business, or other group นโยบาย (See Wikipedia)
respect - to accept the importance of other people, their rights or customs

rights
- something you are legally or morally allowed to do or have สิทธิ์ (See Wikipedia)
individual - relating to or involving a single, separate person แต่ละบุคคล
respect for individual rights

aim
- purpose; goal; the thing you hope to achieve by doing something  เป้าหมาย จุดมุ่งหมาย
cultural environment friendly to children

film
ratings
strictly - completely อย่างเข้มงวด
enforced
strictly -

inappropriate
- not appropriate, not acceptable
content
- the subject, ideas, or story that a piece of writing or a radio or television programme deals with เนื้อหา,สาระ
inappropriate content - things on TV or in publications that is not suitable for some people (such as children)

censorship
- when the government officially examines and cut out things from writing before it is released to the public การตรวจสอบสื่อต่างๆ เพื่อตัดส่วนที่ไม่เหมาะสมออก,
film censorship - examining and cutting out parts of films (or banning entirely)

issues
- an important subject that people are discussing and debating about, subjects that need to be considered ประเด็น
cultural issues - important subjects in the cultural area (which people are talking about)
mass - large numbers จำนวนมหาศาล
mass opinion - what large numbers of people think

it is to her credit that ... - it is something good that she should be praised for ...
faux pas - making a mistake, doing something incorrectly

she hasn't X'ed so far
- up to this time, she has not done X
presided over meetings - to be in charge of a formal meeting or ceremony เป็นประธาน

the late ...
- person who has died ที่ล่วงลับไปแล้ว
funeral - a ceremony that takes place after someone dies, usually including a religious ceremony งานศพ ในที่นี้หมายถึง งารพระราชพิธีพระราชทานเพลิงพระศพ

priority
- something important that must be done first or needs more attention than anything else การให้ลำดับความสำคัญ
top priority - the most important thing they have to do สี่งที่สำคัญเป็นลำดับแรก

mission
- an important job to do งาน

preserve
- to keep something as it is, especially in order to prevent it from being damaged or destroyed ทำให้คงอยู่, สงวน อนุรักษ์
preserve and promote traditional culture

guidance
- help and advice about how to do something or about how to deal with problems การแนะแนว, การแนะนำ
khon mask dance - Thai classical dance

ministry - a government department dealing with an area of activity กระทรวง
chance - what happens when you don't control events (example: gambling = games of chance)

Royal court
- connected with the place where the king, queen and the royal family live

tailored -

rare - uncommon, unusual ซึ่งหายาก
woven - a cloth made by weaving เสื้อผ้าที่ลวดลายถักทอ weaving
delicately-woven - cloth woven very lightly, not strongly

ruined
- destroyed; spoiled
fondly - in a way that shows love or great liking อย่างรักใคร่,ด้วยความชอบ,อย่างงมงาย

enlist - to ask for and get help or support from someone ขอความช่วยเหลือ
endorsed - officially approved รับรอง
register - have name put on an official list ลงทะเบียน ขึ้นทะเบียน (ขอใบอนุญาต)

heritage
- features belonging to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages or buildings, which still exist from the past and which have a historical importance มรดก the art, buildings, traditions, and beliefs that a society considers important to its history and culture มรดก ประเพณีที่ตกทอด

classical
- of recognized authority or excellence because it came from the most highly developed stage of an earlier civilisation and its culture, examples: classical literature, classical architecture, in the West refers to the Greek and Roman eras

constituents - people who vote in the election a politician is participating in; people living in an area represented by a member of parliament คนในเขตเลือกตั้ง
routinely - done as a normal part of the job or process
inexperienced - not having much experience doing something ไม่มีประสบการณ์ (มือใหม่)

not totally inexperienced -
has some experience (but maybe it seems like she doesn't) 
insisted - say firmly that something is true

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