Taking note of a Bangkok institution

Taking note of a Bangkok institution

The main branch of the store for all school supplies is near the old National Stadium and Siam Square on Rama I Road. (Photo via Google Maps)
The main branch of the store for all school supplies is near the old National Stadium and Siam Square on Rama I Road. (Photo via Google Maps)

Most people in Bangkok have been well acquainted with Suksapanpanit stationery shop since childhood, especially when the new school term is about to start. Here parents can find pretty much every necessity before sending their kids to school -- textbooks, pencils, rubbers, school bags, notepads, school uniforms, you name it.

Students in the capital too enjoy hanging around at Suksapanpanit where they can find every school item they need. Children upcountry are also familiar with local stationery shops which are dealers of Suksapanpanit. In my school years, those shops were my favourite place as I could get everything necessary and it was a venue where I could hang around after class.

Suksapanpanit was founded by the Business Organisation of the Office of the Welfare Promotion Commission for Teachers and Educational Personnel (OPTEP), with the primary objective to earn benefits for OPTEP and facilitate the education of Thai children. There are currently around 10 Suksapanpanit shops in Bangkok, while the shops in provinces are managed by local dealers.

Despite its long history, sadly the vibrant picture of Suksapanpanit has started to fade.

Nowadays, besides Suksapanpanit, students have more choices where they can shop for stationery, learning tools and items for doing their homework. Many bookstores run by private businesses offer more variety of products for customers. Those shops also have more attractive displays and a modern look.

Suksapanpanit has unique characteristics that visitors will never find elsewhere. A simple display of school items at affordable prices, student books on the shelf classified by grade of study, science experimental kits and much more are offered almost exactly with the same display look.

In 2015, a Suksapanpanit shop in the Lat Phrao area was burnt down and the next day, another branch in Ekamai was also lit up. We were told that it was done by a woman -- a thief who hid in the shop waiting until it was closed then stealing stuff there. Later, she could not find the exit so she set the place on fire to get attention from people outside. The shop was then closed down for over a year and it has just been reopened recently.

Passers-by in the Ekamai area did not even notice when the shop was reopened, although many of them drive pass the shop every day. A small plate hanging in front of the shop urges customers to enter through the side door. The main entrance is now no longer accessible for customers as the space there has been turned into coffee and noodle street stalls.

If you never hop on public vans or buses to Thailand's eastern provinces at Ekamai Station or if you are unfamiliar with the neighbourhood, you will never notice the Suksapanpanit shop, located next to the half-a-century-old Bangkok Planetarium.

I never opposed the idea of having roadside noodle shops or cafes given they are still mine and many other people's preference. But having these shops gives Suksapanpanit in Ekamai a messy look at the front.

Suksapanpanit on Ratchadamnoen is another pretty large and old one -- the workplace of hundreds of officials. In the past, school teachers from upcountry had to travel there to buy textbooks for students. But these days, there are local distributors of Suksapanpanit providing school books and stationery in every province, so teachers feel no need to travel to Bangkok to get the items there. Shop staff therefore are not overloaded with duties. And OPTEP should already well understand this situation.

And through such struggles facing Suksapanpanit, their revenues continue to drop every year.

Suksapanpanit and OPTEP should actually play an important role in education promotion in the country. It is the main publisher of compulsory student books and it used to be the largest public organisation of this business in Asia.

In the past, it was always visited by the private book publishing companies who wanted to use it as a model business and further improve themselves. But unfortunately, now the development of Suksapanpanish is in reverse, people in power should take time looking into this scenario because it is somehow part of the whole picture of Thai education.

Sasiwimon Boonruang is a feature writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Sasiwimon Boonruang

Writer for the Life section

Sasiwimon Boonruang is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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