Exclusive interview with Pornsak: TV host and entrepreneur extraordinaire

(image courtesy of Pornsak)

Pornsak Prajakwit, better known as Pornsak, is a Thai media personality and television host in Singapore contracted under Left Profile.

Pornsak’s spontaneous and humorous personality has made him one of the most sought-after hosts and brand ambassadors in Asia. His hit show, Food Source, one of the highest rated TV programmes in Singapore, was shown worldwide including Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea and parts of Europe.

Having travelled around the world in search of the freshest ingredients and the most delicious recipes, it is no surprise that this young entrepreneur decided to open a Thai restaurant chain PORN’S sexy.thai.food. In 2018, he founded Itsumi Skincare, a halal-certified skincare series.

This amiable host speaks fluent Mandarin, Malay, English and Thai. His ability to switch effortlessly between Mandarin and English makes him a popular choice for hosting bilingual and multi-cultural events. In 2017, he was invited by CCTV, China’s national broadcaster, to make a special appearance in their international debate competition programme. Pornsak has won multiple awards at the Star Awards, Singapore’s most prestigious entertainment award ceremony, including Best Variety Show Host in 2015 and Top 10 Most Popular Male Artiste Award six times. From 2015 to 2017, he was voted Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Entertainer in Asia, as part of the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand Survey.

1) Share with us the activities you took part in while studying Business Management at SMU.

I majored in marketing back then and was part of the accelerated programme that shortened my term to three and a half years in SMU.

I was also part of SMU BE: Broadcast and entertainment—which was the club that people would go to if there were any functions or events that needed hosts or emcees. I started hosting from there. I was simply enjoying and indulging in the first few months of university life.

I joined the Communications Study Centre (CSC) at SMU and that was also coincidentally the first year of its launch. I was the programme designer at the centre and helped with the design of its bridging programme which was offered to students from Myanmar and Cambodia before they started their semester proper.

It was a very exciting time at the centre because we started with nothing and even up till today I am still in touch with my fellow CSC members. It was time well spent and I remember mentoring two students from Cambodia in English and that lasted for about two years. I was glad to be the pioneer generation of CSC. I have always been interested in the languages, so it was a good fit for me and we were actually using the works of Mdm Li Lienfung, who is the mother of our chairman at CSC, Mr Ho Kwon Ping.

I remember that she was very effectively bilingual and had a column in The Straits Times many years ago. A book was also published by collating all the brilliant articles that she had written. It was called Bamboo Green. There were only five of us, the pioneer generation of SCS and that was where I met my mentor and friend Dr Margaret Chan. Good old days!

2) Why did you choose to pursue a master’s in early childhood education and subsequently a degree in TCM?

I was very much influenced by the National Day Rally (NDR). When PM Lee spoke of the importance of early childhood education and how much Singapore is going to invest in early childhood education I thought, hey why not? It’s going to be a big market with plenty of opportunities. Coupled with the fact that healthcare is going to be of great emphasis in recent years. I genuinely reckoned that TCM is going to be in demand, and the demand will only soar in the future because of the greying population in Singapore. Thus, I took up TCM and it was a seven-year bachelor’s degree.

I did it part-time, where the first five years were full-time. Following that, I gave myself a two-year break in between to focus on my master’s in early childhood education. It was a full-time degree at Monash University. I then went back to complete my TCM degree in 2015 and spent half a year in Guangzhou for practical classes. The reason for going back to Guangzhou to practice was because there are no TCM hospitals in Singapore, only clinics. But there are many TCM hospitals in Guangzhou. It was a joint degree with the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine and the Singapore College of TCM.

I chose to pick up a master’s in early childhood education as I really saw a market for it and watching the rally confirmed my sentiments. If I were to go back to Thailand one day, this expertise and knowledge are going to be very useful and in demand. And with TCM, I can do it anywhere, because I do not need any soundman or cameraman to be around.  I do not need a crew, I do not need a TV station, I just need me and a few needles, that’s it.

I am happy to share that I will be getting my license to practice TCM this October.

3) What is your greatest takeaway from your education years?

My greatest takeaway from SMU would be my friendship with Dr Margaret Chan.

The greatest takeaway from my education would be is the ability to support myself. The greatest gift my father has ever given me is a great education in Singapore.

He strongly believed in the bilingual system of Singapore and was more than happy to be financially capable of sending his kid overseas.

4) What are your hobbies?

Developing skin care products. I also like to learn languages like Malay!

5) Growing up, did you have a role model you looked up to? What is one quote you live by?

My dad. He is not very well educated at all, but he still managed to have business dealings with the Germans, Dutch, Koreans, keeping in mind that he could barely speak English. He taught himself the alphabets in order to travel from point A to point B, especially when he is getting around at the airport, the check-in counter and aeroplane’s seat. He could do it without getting any help. I am extremely proud of him. He deals with machinery spare parts as a businessman but has since retired many years ago. He is 96 now.

Quote: Mediocrity is so destroying, it will kill your soul. You only live once, make the best out of it. Be the best of what you can be.

6) Why did you choose to enter showbiz upon graduation? What was the motivation behind joining the SPH and later Mediacorp? What did you learn from the media industry?

Back then, I was already going for my second or third interview with my dream company in Thailand, and it was a huge business empire that dealt with almost everything from food to real estate.

I wanted to be part of the conglomerate so much and there was actually an opening in China, and they needed someone who could speak both Thai and Chinese.

I was quite confident that I would get it and thought that my chance was quite high. Then, at this critical juncture, I received a call from my friend who told me about this DJ Hunt competition and wanted me to accompany her to join the competition. Lo and behold, I eventually made it to the finals. To my pleasant surprise, I went on to win the finals! I was then awarded a contract with Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and that was how I started out in the media industry. At that time, I was not sure what being a DJ meant and what the job entailed. All I wanted to find out was how it was like to be behind the microphone where this mysterious voice is coming out from the radio. It was all very intriguing to me. That period with SPH was filled with superb fun and I have loads of fond memories of my time there.

I chose the contract with SPH over the conglomerate because I was young and naïve. I was so young then. I thought, “Well let’s try it for a few months or a year and if it does not work out, I would simply move back to Thailand since time was on my side then.”

Having had experience as a host, I guessed it was more of me being relaxed during the competition instead of confident because at that point in time, winning or not did not really matter to me because I wanted a job in Thailand. I wasn’t stressed out by it at all so perhaps that was why I did not do too bad.

In the media industry, what I really like about it is that every day is a different day, and every day you are always doing something new, you won’t be meeting the same person you met yesterday or having the same food you had yesterday. There was zero boredom. That’s what keeps me alive and going.

The only thing that I do not like about it is the long waiting time. Sometimes when you’re on set, the wait can be as long as a couple of hours as you have to wait for the crew to get the lighting and sound ready for you to get on set. But it’s also due to the waiting time that I managed to complete my two degrees.

7) What future productions can we expect from you?

Same old, same old. Just kidding!

Food Struck with Vivian Lai by August Pictures. Food Foragers with August pictures as well.

I will also be involved in the first ever Chinese web show on food created by the extremely talented Michelle Chong. It is Singapore’s first Chinese web series, a comedy series revolving around Michelle in a comedic and interesting manner. Digital content is the way to go. Food sells, and comedy sells. There will be small nuggets of Michelle’s life, like a spoof of what takes place behind the scenes. It’s a larger than life version, and it’s going to be very fun!

I enjoy being associated with food. When people think of me, they instantly think of food! A positive brand association is key!

8) Where do you see yourself five to ten years down the road?

Let’s hope my skin care line does very well. It’s been launched for two months now. You can find Itsumi skin care shop on Qoo10, and we are also currently in talks with distributors from the Philippines and Myanmar. We will have more products from the Itsumi brand and expand the brand to ten to fifteen countries. The more the merrier.

9) What was the inspiration behind the name Itsumi and how did you conceptualise its logo?

ITSUMI means “To be one with Beauty”. And it sounds like “It’s me”. We want to covey that each and every one of us is beautiful in our own ways.

And the three young spring leaves represent the three co-founders.

10) What is one thing you will tell your past self and your future self?

Past self: I completely trust you. Future self: I will look at my future self in the eye and say, oh my god, you’re looking even younger than me. It must be Itsumi!

11) What advice do you have for young undergraduates who are still looking for their meaning, purpose and calling in life?

You should go for the best paying job you can get. We all have obligations. Fulfill them. Only when you have the financial capability and freedom, are you free to pursue your dreams and your passion.

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