Thai Internet wunderkind captivates audiences from behind bars
Panrit Daoruang, popularly known as ‘Gor,’ once blogged about his life as a teen drug addict. Now he crusades about prison overcrowding and helps fellow inmates.
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An avid comic-book collector who was best in his class for gifted students, Panrit began to hang out with a bad crowd in seventh grade. He started experimenting with drugs and stealing money from his working-class parents – and blogged honestly about it.Skip to next paragraph
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He was just 16 when The Bangkok Post invited him to write a weekly column in the newspaper’s student supplement. In “Gor’s World,” Panrit chronicled the ups and downs of his life, including his parents’ financial troubles and his teenage girlfriend’s unplanned pregnancy.
The young columnist never lacked for material: He soon became a doting father, got married, divorced, and dropped out of high school. To atone for his mistakes, he became ordained as a Buddhist monk before landing in prison.
“It’s been a real-life soap opera and people have constantly kept asking for updates,” says Barrow, a former BBC editor who teaches computer science in Sriwittayapaknam School. “Gor has a talent for telling a story, and he has a story to tell.”
In 1997, Barrow helped Panrit, then a sixth-grader, launch his career as the country’s youngest blogger when he assigned students a project to create their own websites. The 12-year-old called his “Gor’s Secret Diary.”
He soon progressed from entries like, “My favorite color is blue,” to intensely personal accounts of the life of Thai teenagers. School, puppy love, motorcycle drag races, and traditions like walking under an elephant’s belly for good fortune were all documented. “I just wrote about my life,” Panrit says. “I didn’t think so many people would be interested.”
They were – sometimes in unlikely things.
“One of the most popular pages on the site,” Barrow recalls, “was Gor’s photographed list of ‘things in my pocket’ when he was 14.” It included a bus ticket, a snapshot of his girlfriend, a school ID, a Valentine’s card in Thai, and a discount coupon for KFC.
Panrit also began to write about Thai culture on a new blog and offered his foreigner readers free Thai language lessons on another. Both sites still get a lot of hits even though he hasn’t updated them since he went to prison. The Thai press has called him the country’s “youngest ambassador” and its first “global citizen.”
After visiting Panrit in prison, Barrow returns to the school to wait for Nong Grace, Panrit’s young daughter, to finish her kindergarten classes. He lets the girl play in his office and teaches her English until her grandmother arrives to take her home.
A bubbly 5-year-old, Grace can’t yet write, but, thanks to Barrow, is already blogging. Using a digital camera he gave her, she takes pictures of trips to the mall and zoo. Her online albums show her feeding a tiger cub and riding an elephant. “This way,” Barrow says, “Gor will have a record of Grace’s life while he is in prison.”
Although he claims no credit, Barrow has been instrumental in his former student’s online fame. A publicity-shy man, Barrow is a prolific blogger himself, whose home-based Internet company runs a mini empire of blogs and websites (115 in all). They include Thailand’s most popular school website, as well as blogs on culture, food, and politics. He drives a clanking Toyota, lent to him by the school, which he uses to take older students on educational and sightseeing trips.
“Without Richard, I’d have ended up a lot worse,” Panrit says of his mentor. “He’s been like a father to me.”
A local company plans to publish Panrit’s prison diary after his release next September. The working title is “Addicted to Chaos.” In his new life, though, Panrit professes to want no more chaos. “That episode is behind me,” he says. “I have a little daughter to look after.”
And he’ll be blogging again: He has plenty of tales yet to tell.