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Nature and nurture

How a doting dad got elevated to the status of 'web hero'

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  • Newspaper section: Life
  • Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
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Back in 1993 when email first became available in Thailand, many people over the age of 30 were having trouble getting the hang of computers, complaining that were too old to learn such new tricks. But Yuen Poovarawan, an instructor at Kasetsart University's Department of Electrical Engineering, embraced the technology from the very start, realising, long before many of his peers, how much the internet was going to revolutionise the way we communicate with each other. 

The Poovarawans, a poster family for the IT era.

Later he took full advantage of the possibilities that email offered to reach out to his daughter, Nawan, when she was studying abroad, often drawing analogies from observations he made of the natural world to teach her lessons about life. He recently had the more inspirational of these e-letters published in a little pocketbook entitled From Nature, via Dad's Heart to Daughter.

Google Thailand has now selected this pioneering local email-user as one of its "web heroes" for a campaign called "The Web Is What You Make It". Launched to promote its Chrome browser, the campaign celebrates everyday people around the world who have paired their passion and creativity with the power of the web to do amazing things.

Yuen first began teaching his children how to use email back in 1994. Nutch, his youngest, started using a computer even before he was enrolled in kindergarten and by the time he entered Prathom 3 was sending and receiving emails daily. His elder sister, Nawan, was already in secondary school. Despite growing up in an IT-friendly family, she described herself at that stage as being decidedly non-tech savvy.

Some of the emails Yuen sent to Nawan were reprinted in the pocketbook ‘‘From Nature, via Dad’s Heart to Daughter.’’

Nawan went on to spend time in more than 30 countries on various youth-exchange programmes. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to pursue an MBA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and, like many teenagers, began using the internet for research and to keep in touch with friends and relatives back in Thailand. But it was her father, she says, who really opened her eyes to the full potential of the web.

For her birthday and other special occasions, Yuen would send her especially long and thought-provoking emails. In these he would often pass on valuable lessons to his daughter in the guise of an account about plants in the family garden in Nakhon Pathom. In one missive he talked about a sugar-palm tree that they had planted together some years before.

"The sugar palm always finds the best environment for itself. It sends its roots deep down into the soil _ which is why it is one of the most stable trees around. It is not easy to topple, so it enjoys a long life, often surviving for a hundred years, unlike the coconut tree which cannot endure strong winds or typhoons. The only way a sugar-palm tree can be killed is if it is struck by lightning."

Nutch, aged 18 months, comes to grips with an 8088 IBM personal computer.

Nor was Mother Nature Yuen's sole inspiration.

"Everything that surrounds us can be used to teach things to our children," he enthuses. "You can teach them about economics, about science, even about politics. But if I say 'don't do this' or 'don't do that', they won't listen to me. That's one way not to teach the young generation!"

Although Nawan doesn't share her father's great interest in plants, she does seem to have inherited his reflective, philosophical approach to life. Her main passion is writing poetry and she plans to start a blog on the subject. Being a relative latecomer to the world of IT doesn't seem to have spoiled her chances in that field either. A few months ago she landed her first job in the industry _ with Google as it so happens. She is now the firm's online sales and marketing operations manager, with special responsibility for advertising in emerging Southeast Asian markets.

Nutch, her younger brother, now runs a company of his own which uses computer technology to devise educational activities for children's camps.

So it would seem that practically everybody in the Poovarawan family has successfully applied IT to furthering their particular passions.

"My kids grew up in an era in which they were exposed to technology almost every single day of their lives," Yuen observed.

"Personally, I think that technology should be in the middle when it comes to family relationships. I learn from my kids and at the same time they learn from me."

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