They are Phuket’s Tourist Police Volunteers, who labour without remuneration in hope of mitigating the clash of civilisations in Phuket. This year’s winner of the coveted Distinguished Tourist Police Volunteer award is 30-year-old Russian Igor Protasov, who came to Phuket eight years ago, got into business, married and is now president of the Lion’s Club of Phuket Pearl as well as CEO of the Thai Business Development Company Group (TBD), a major real estate developer in Phuket that is a member of Phuket Real Estate Association (P-REA) and Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce (FTCC).
He was born in the historic city of Yaroslavl, about 250km northeast of Moscow, at the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl Rivers, a Unesco Heritage Site, but has lived abroad for the last 22 years. He speaks five languages: Czech, Russian, German, English and Thai, a result of the many places he lived while growing up. During his life journey he and his brother went to 13 different schools before settling in Thailand, where they joined their father’s engineering and construction company together with Igor’s Thai wife’s local family.
“My parents came here first,” he explains, “and I received a phone call in Germany where I lived with my brother at that time. They said it was nice here, a good place, and that Alexey and I should come check it out.”
Now, brother Alexey, also a Tourist Police Assistant Volunteer, is an architect for the firm; the three men in family have formed a working unit since Igor was 16, when he and his brother began working with his father’s large construction firm.
“Alexey and I have always been together. We started at the bottom, carrying heavy things around as simple workers, slowly climbing the career ladder.”
They thus learned business from the ground up.
It had always been their father’s policy, wherever they lived, to learn the language, thus in Phuket they took up Thai. The family also believes it is important to become involved in local society, so when Igor was asked to translate for the Phuket Tourist Police he jumped at the chance and later accepted invitation to join the force. That was seven years ago.
Since then he met his beloved: “I met my wife at the Tourist Police office,” he explains. She was a Rajabhat University student who was interning with the police – but not ambitious of becoming an officer.
“Now she manages our hotel,” says Igor, who says he enjoys his work with police.
“It feels good to help other people,” he explains. By way of example tells the story of an accident that left a Russian woman in critical condition at hospital.
She was weak, too weak to talk much, and didn’t speak English. Staff at the hospital noticed she was trying to communicate something important, and kept repeating the same word, but they didn’t understand, so they called the Tourist Police for help.
“She had a very heavy accident,” Igor says, “and she was terribly injured. Her face was partly torn away. The staff said, ‘Just listen, maybe you will understand.’ I heard her say ‘Suprastine... Suprastine’. Then I knew immediately what she was saying because Suprastine is a kind of medication in Russia that helps with allergy; she couldn’t breathe because the allergy had started, but in Thailand you don’t have this kind of medication.”
Igor told the doctors she needed an anti-allergenic and they immediately got a similar drug to treat her.
“When we came to the hospital, they said ‘You probably saved her life.’” She later sent him a thank-you letter from Russia.
Igor also does pro bono work translating for the provincial court and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and has thus has had opportunity to work directly on some of the most celebrated cases including, recently, that of the diver lost to his chartered speedboat who spent 24 hours in the sea, and that of the woman arrested on criminal charges, incredibly, for feeding fish in a protected marine park.
In recognition of his manifold efforts to help both tourists and police, Igor was recently chosen as this year’s Tourist Police Distinguished Volunteer and decorated by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Thanasak Patimaprakorn: “He reached out his hand to mine and I shook it,” says Igor proudly.
In addition to his work as a Tourist Police assistant, Igor, after serving as the Lions Club of Phuket Pearl secretary, has now been elected president. “Secretary,” he says wryly, “is the hardest job in the club.”
On the business side, he has opened a branch of the well-known French steakhouse La Boucherie, the only one in Thailand, and oversees sale of large TBD condominium projects underway at several sites. His family company is steadily moving forward on the giant ‘Phuket Eye’ Ferris wheel: projected to be as tall as 170 meters. “It will be a landmark project and magnet for tourists from the entire World,” Igor says.
To be involved as a Tourist Police volunteer or Lion’s Club member, Igor says, “You should be kind of successful. If there is no harmony in your life or your business [you probably can’t easily become a volunteer] because these things don’t bring any money.” He recommends those interested be public-spirited, have a steady income, permanent visa and good knowledge of Thailand, Thai people and Thai language.
Then you, too, can fill your days, as Igor does, trying to sort out the confusion that naturally accompanies Phuket’s magnetic attraction to so many tourists from all quarters of the globe.
He tells me, by the way, that he sleeps quite soundly every night because he trusts that he and his family is on the right way.