Expat Life

The biggest news this week is that Thailand is gradually reopening to tourists. Starting from 1st October, quarantine has been reduced from 14 days to seven days for fully vaccinated international travelers. Not only that, people can now come from any country. Yes, there is still quarantine of sorts, but if you go to one of the sandbox destinations like Phuket or Samui, then you can spend the seven days sitting on the beach or exploring the island. After that, you are free to go anywhere in Thailand. There is no guarantee, but maybe in November or December, fully vaccinated visitors, may be able to enter Thailand without having to do quarantine.

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Welcome back to my weekly newsletter which has now been renamed as “Letters from Thailand”. I really appreciate all the messages of encouragement that I received after the last newsletter went out. It really helps with motivation when it comes to doing things like this. Hopefully you will enjoy the third edition too. Thanks!

Better life ahead for expats?

For a while the other week, a lot of us were getting excited about the news of long-term visas, no 90-day reporting, and being able to buy both house and land. Well, it was all a bit short-lived as we woke up in the morning to the news that the government were trying to attract multi-millionaires and that regular expats, like you and me, wouldn’t be included. I guess no surprise there.

My opinion is that they cannot look after the expats they have here now, how can they attract more? Take a look at the case of the people who had bought into the Thailand Elite visa. The most expensive option cost them over two million baht. When Covid-19 hit last year, they were barred from re-entering the country when people on Non-B visas were allowed in. That made a lot of people angry.

Then, how about the foreign men who are married to Thais? Particularly the ones with children. Why do they have to jump through so many hoops to extend their stay? Why can’t they been given permanent residence or even citizenship after a certain number of years? But then, naturalized citizens aren’t treated that well either. One contacted me to say that he wasn’t allowed to register for vaccine because he was told he is “not a real Thai”. He has a Thai ID card but the numbers on it gave him away as a “farang”.


I am not sure if we will ever be allowed to own land in our own name. Particularly as there was a big outcry among some groups of Thais who called the prime minister a traitor for selling the country to foreigners. If it does every happen, it will probably be for property that is more than 10 million baht and only in certain areas. However, we can buy a condo which is exactly what I did this year. In a future newsletter I will tell you the steps I went through to do that.

Every year on 20th September, it is National Canal Conservation Day (วันอนุรักษ์และรักษาคูคลองแห่งชาติ). On this day in 1994, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn visited people on both sides of Saen Saeb canal between Bangkok and Chachoengsao. Therefore, the Thai government decided to mark 20th September as the National Day for Conservation of Canals.

Did you know, Saen Saeb canal was built by King Rama III in 1837 in order to transport soldiers? It is 72km long and goes all the way to the Bang Pakong River in Chachoengsao. However, it is not navigable all of the way. About five years ago I took a boat along the extension from the end of the Saen Saeb canal boat route to Minburi. Towards the end we had to change boats as our way was blocked by a water gate.

I have a plan to map the canal paths in Bangkok and I will share news about that with you next month.

Thai Island Times

Eating lunch with my friends Chin Chongtong (left) and David Luekens (right)

This week I want to give a shoutout to my good friend David Luekens who is the creator of Thai Island Times (thaiislandtimes.substack.com). He is on a quest to visit every island in the country, and Thai Island Times is his way to share that journey with everyone through regular newsletters. However, he doesn’t just cover islands and coastal areas, he also does a good wrap-up on travel and Covid-19 news. His newsletters are a mixture of free and paid. I can assure you, they are worth your time. Check out the links below for more information.

Thai Island Times

Sharing the beauty, challenges and distinctive identities of Thailand’s islands and coastal areas.
thaiislandtimes.substack.com

I will be joining my friends David and Chin (she owns the company Chili Paste Tour) next weekend to do a bit of exploring along the coastline of Samut Prakan, Bangkok and Samut Songkhram. Yes, you heard right, Bangkok has a coastline. Hopefully I will have lots of pictures to share with you including map links of all of the places that we visited.

Nang Loeng Park in Bangkok

The former Royal Turf Club of Thailand (Nang Loeng Racecourse)

Bangkok will be getting not one but two big parks next year. I already told you about Benjakitti Forest Park in #Issue 2 of my newsletter, today I want to tell you about Nang Loeng Park. This used to be the Royal Turf Club (Nang Loeng Racecourse). It was founded in 1916 and used to be popular for horse racing for many years. But the popularity waned and eventually the Crown Property Bureau evicted them in 2018. For a long time no-one knew what the CPB had in store for the land, but then in 2020 came the news that it would be transformed into a public park in commemoration of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I would love to fly my drone here to get some shots of the progress, Unfortunately it is right next door to Suan Chitlada palace and so very illegal. There are also no tall buildings in this royal district. However, this picture that I found on Wikipedia, was taken with a long lens from Baiyoke Tower. I am not sure if the observation floor is open at the moment, but I will make a note of going there on a clear day to see if I can get some photos to share with you.

Question from a Reader

Henri Dunant (Picture: www.silpa-mag.com)

Why is Henri Dunant Road in Bangkok named after a foreigner?

Thanon Sanam Ma (Racecourse Road) was renamed Thanon Henri Dunant on May 8, 1965, at the request of the Thai Red Cross Society (TRCS) to the Bangkok City Municipality, as the BMA was then known. The road passes TRCS property on both sides. On one side stands the TRCS National Blood Service Centre; on the other are the TRCS College of Nursing and Chulalongkorn Hospital of the TRCS. The road connects Surawong Road to Rama I Road via Chulalongkorn University and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club with its racecourse. The request of the TRCS to change the name was based on a proposal of the International Federation of the Red Cross, at its meeting in 1963 to celebrate the centenary of the Red Cross, that something should be done to commemorate Henri Dunant. Meanwhile, most Thais continue to call the road by its pre-1965 name.


– Tej Bunnag, Assistant secretary-general for administration, the Thai Red Cross Society
You can send your questions by filling in this form and I will do my best to answer them: https://www.thailandqa.com

Yaowarat – The Dragon’s Lair in the Capital City

I love exploring Bangkok on foot and so I was really happy when TAT Bangkok produced a book called Walking Bangkok. It was initially released in the Thai language but they now have an English version. These maps and guides are a good starting point for doing your own exploring.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Each week I will be giving you a link to download different areas of Bangkok. This week it is YAOWARAT, which is more commonly known as Chinatown. Click on the link for the free PDF file.


If you are posting your pictures on social media, use the hashtag #walkingBKK as I would like to see what you discover.

Bangkok Breaking

Bangkok Break on Netflix

If you are looking for a worthwhile drama to watch on Netflix, can I recommend Bangkok Breaking which was released this week? I have only watched the first two episodes so far and it has already gripped me.

Bangkok Breaking is a character-driven drama centred on Wanchai, who moves to Bangkok to save his family from poverty. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Wanchai joins a local ambulance foundation and is quickly pulled into the mysterious high-stakes world of the rescue services. Desperate for justice and answers, Wanchai realises he must unravel a city-wide conspiracy with the help of a determined female journalist.

From the Archives of the Bangkok Post

July 1963: Introduced in an attempt to end Bangkok’s traffic chaos, Thailand’s first six sets of automatic traffic lights began turning red in Bangkok. Visit the Bangkok Post website for more.

Street Art along Prem Prachakorn Canal

It is always good to see new street art in the city. This one is along Pracha Ruam Chai Song Canal in Chatuchak district of Bangkok. It is just south of Khlong Prem Prison and Don Mueang Airport. I haven’t been there yet, but I think I have managed to find the location on Google Maps.

Green Bangkok 2020

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) have a ten year plan called Green Bangkok 2030. The aim is to increase green areas for Bangkokians from the present ratio of 6.8 square meters per person to 10 sqm before 2030. This means adding another 4,349 acres of green space. Nine parks and green spaces will be opened over the next two years. The latest is Vibhaphirom Park in Chatuchak district. It was originally vacant land and was donated to the BMA to be turned into a green space. Here is the Google Map link. It is not too big so don’t expect too much.

Every Sunday I have been visiting public parks around Bangkok. I am taking photos and mapping them for a blog post which I will share with you in a future newsletter.

Rendering of MRT Silom Station

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It is easy to feel like you are at the Mediterranean or on some back small coastal road in Hawaii while cruising around Uluwatu, the southern surf town on Bali. These days, as we all make decisions where we want to be based if one cannot travel, I have decided to ease my small Ubud village life by integrating some “Uluwatu-vibes”. I am still here on Bali dear expats, missing Thailand here and there but have made a decent life here as I await where in the world can I go if I even want to go. I am pleased that Nick, our editor and publisher, has moved to the coast and that we can still share online our stories and interests. Living in SE Asia is a wonderful life as we all know but we are all being challenged for I am sure, like me, we all enjoy popping to Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Laos sometimes for a bit of a change, even Singapore! Finding one other place within Thailand could be an answer to keep travel in your life and some varied interests. Below I share some ideas and ways I have been managing.

Uluwatu holds interest for me even though I am not a surfer. There are upscale cafés and restaurants, small boutiques for a different style dress than the yoga wear life I lead upcountry in Ubud. Over the last 6 weeks I have found a 5 star hotel to stay at for $23 a night due to no tourists here (yes, we have a vaccine only entry from Jakarta and at present a 14 day quarantine). The hotel boasts two huge lap pools and a gym, a golf course and has easy “small road” access to the various beaches by scooter. (Le Grande, Uluwatu) From this space I can zip to my favourite coffee café, Drifter’s, a surf café with surfboards, barefoot kids and tussled blonde locks all over, coconut milk lattes and avocado on toast. The holistic health food still permeates Uluwatu as it does in Ubud so that is an easy transition as to not strain the diet!  Bingin and Uluwatu beaches are the best for sunning and being able to grab a cold drink. They have stunning rock formations in which one can enjoy some wonderful photography, mollusc admiring, sea urchin gazing and swimming through these tall structures to get to the wide open sea.

For early evening, I go to Ulu Cliffhouse. This is the friendliest high style place to see and be seen, which I like to do sometimes living on a small island and slightly missing the urban way. Most of the restaurants on the coast have a pool and lounge chairs, Mana is another of these with an open, friendly feeling. Ulu Cliffhouse put effort into a bit of a social scene however, with Monday night movie night. They bring out a huge screen for everyone to sit and watch as evening falls. The décor at Cliffhouse is also very modern and clean, reminds me of a Malibu home with all the white, blue and views! Management there is kind with no pretentious feel so even though the atmosphere is “expensive”, the kind of people it draws are very “chilled”, softly spoken, mature and easy on the eye too I must say! Because of the swimwear industry here on Bali, there are young Ukrainian and Russian models swanning around with their elegant style, tanned surfer’s and some posh Europeans in their white and cream linen. With the sun touching people’s complexions and a relaxed feel, one can forget the turmoil of the world we are all going through for the evening. I myself have started a swim/activewear  lifestyle items line (MEJSPIRIT) using my own designs from my paintings and taking in inspiration down here in Uluwatu to inspire me. 

Again, as to the feeling of the Med, while scooting around all the small roads to the beaches and such, bougainvillea pours over the walls, prickly pear cactus sprouts up into the air and hibiscus colours drench the hills. The police aren’t on the streets here checking people’s masks and driver’s licenses. In Ubud and elsewhere, they are on all the main corners to, what I feel, hassle us expats/tourists, to get their monthly quota, which is a real shame. There are very strict laws here repeated over and over that if a tourist is caught without a mask they will be deported. We also must buy a local driver’s license for $200 if we don’t want to be ticketed for not having a license, or make sure you get an international one based on your at home license before you come. This is the unpleasant side to living in paradise here on Bali. You would think they would cherish having us here and bringing in money but instead, I can rightly say, we are hassled a lot. To deal with this issue, a lot of people are actually leaving and not many are coming in. This is why, in order to ease the strain, I am commuting between the beaches and jungle a bit more often now. I won’t move to Uluwatu for I enjoy my Ubudian village life in general and have established quite a community of friends here and with the Covid prices, my rent is almost halved so going to the 5 star makes for a lovely 5 day break a few times a month that I can afford. 

If you’re feeling restless in the area you are living and want to travel some, this option to create a second home within the same country could be a great way to continue to live in joy during these times. A positive thing that has come out of the various lockdowns around the world could be that people are making home more, developing close friendships more and realising how important community is. I hope wherever you are these days you have support and good friendships around you. It is nice to have some change once a month or so to keep creativity and interest alive, get a feeling of some travel and perhaps make some new connections. 

Drifter’s Cafe surf boards with a collage of cute shops in Uluwatu

My creative side has been bursting with my new line of items; swimwear, active tops, flip-flops, water bottles, loads of different bags and a day backpack, notebooks, coffee mugs, throw pillows and yoga mats… all made from my watercolour paintings. The service is called “print-on-demand” (there are many print-on-demand companies to choose from). If there are any other artists/photographers out there that would like to try their hand at developing items on a website through Shopify or similar and connecting all the different print-on-demand companies to it, this is something you may want to experiment with. If someone goes to your website and clicks on and item and buys it, the print-on-demand company you’ve chosen will make the item and send it to the person and you get a direct deposit once a month. It is something to think about for passive income once you’ve created your chosen items with your designs and set up an Instagram and Facebook Business page too. It sounds complicated but all things can be done one small step at a time. Once your website is developed you then just do one Insta post a day and share it with your FB Business page and slowly can begin to get followers and surprisingly, buyers! If you would like to see my sight as an example, I will list it in my bio below. Anything, these days, to turn your creations into an income is welcome I am sure, across the board for everyone!

Manager Dedy at Ulu Cliffhouse.

Another way I am “staying sane” (I prefer this saying over “stay safe”) is by keeping my fitness up. If you have a gym open next to you, please join and go. If you can walk the cities or the beaches, please do. We all must stay healthy and vibrant as the world collective is learning how to cope individually and collectively as time moves into the end of 2021 and who knows what is in store for 2022. 

This “postcard” is meant to be a stimulator, a fresh idea zapper and maybe even a mover and a shaker if you’re an artist wondering what to do next! I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included with this message of love from Bali to you in Thailand. I’m eating dragonfruit like nobody’s business these days too, one of the best fruits for vitamins, minerals and lots of fibre. Enjoy the season as it comes in and let us stay positive and bright as we make decisions daily that can affect our futures. Perhaps you’ll pull out that map and choose another destination within Thailand you would like to begin to create a new community or home. Enjoy the process of discovery, exploration and seeing parts of Thailand you’ve been meaning to see. There are always different ways and styles to live and it can be fun having an urban and a country life or the country mixed with some beach life. You may even find a good hotel that you can leave a large suitcase with the concierge in their storeroom and stay one week a month and experience the “hotel lifestyle” for a while. Once you’ve gone a few times, they get to know you and you can develop a lovely rapport, a second home. Thailand has so much to offer and even though I am not there, I am making the most of my small island life here on Bali. Ciao for now!

******************************************************************************

Margaret is enjoying Bali continuing with her painting and writing however is excited to share her new passion with us at www.mejspirit.com. If interested to know more about “print-on-demand” online income, she is more than happy to share what she knows with you, Expat Life in Thailand reader. She can be reached through her website. Meanwhile, surf vibes and jungle life fill her days as she stays sane!

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The world’s largest monument to love is undoubtedly the Taj Mahal in India. But Bangkok also can claim its own monument to love, if somewhat smaller, but no less in deep affection: the Neilsen-Hays Library.

The origins of the Neilsen-Hays Library can be directly traced to the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, a charitable organisation. In 1869, thirteen American and British women, who were members of the Ladies’ Bazaar Association, established the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association, also called the Ladies Circulating Library. Due to the Bowring Treaty being signed in 1855, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, expats started to pour into Siam in ever increasing numbers as trade agents, missionaries, consulate and legation officials, businessmen and their families. Life in Bangkok at the time could be harsh. With frequent epidemics and little to do outside of home and office, books and other reading materials were scarce and highly sought after. 

The aim was to circulate and share books. Initially the books were housed rent-free in various personal homes and in 1871 moved to the Protestant Union Chapel. Initially staffed by volunteers, the ‘library’ was only open one day a week. A young woman, Jennie Neilsen, joined the association and became one of its most active board members and the future namesake of the Neilsen-Hays Library.

Jennie Neilson Hays was born in Aalborg, Denmark in 1859. First she lived in America then came to Siam as a protestant missionary in the early 1880s. In an anecdotal tale, while on her way to Bangkok on a ship, she and a friend supposedly heard that two suitable young American doctors were also onboard going to Bangkok. Jennie and a friend were said to have selected their respective future husbands prior to them all disembarking. She began her relationship with the association in 1885. She conducted benefits to raise funds and assisted in the library.

Eventually she married Dr. Thomas Heyward Hayes. An American doctor, he was born in South Carolina, USA in 1854. He arrived in 1885, becoming the Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital and later Consulting Physician to the Royal Court. Jennie remained a mainstay of the organisation for twenty years, serving as President of the Library three times. By 1897 the ‘library’ was open every day of the week except Sunday with a paid librarian. In 1900, Jenny arranged for the books to be all moved to Charoen Krung Road home of Mr. T. C. Taylor of the Gold Mines of Siam Company. The Library continued its peripatetic journey, finding a new home in 1903 on Chartered Bank Lane. The Library was moved several times after.

The Library’s name changed to Bangkok Library Association in October 1911. But by 1914 it was clear that a dedicated building was required. To this end, Dr. Hays bought a plot of land on Suriwongse Road.

Sadly, Jennie died suddenly in 1920 of cholera. Dr. Hays chose to honour his late wife by commissioning a new library to be built in her memory using the plot of land he purchased earlier. It was also a gift of love. Designed by the Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who also designed the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the Parutsakawan Palace, the Thai Khu Fah Building (the Government House of Thailand), Hualamphong Railway station and other important buildings. The result was an elegant neo-classical building. Dr. Hayes died in 1924. He and his wife are buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Charoen Krung Road.

The Library flourished in its new and permanent home for several decades. However the Library received a grave a setback in 1941. When Japanese forces invaded Thailand they used the building for billeting military troops. More than 1,000 rare volumes were shipped to Japan along with many precious architectural blueprints. Many books were eventually returned after World War II ended. But some of the Library’s rarest books and blueprints are still missing.

In 1986 the Neilsen-Hayes Library was granted “Historic Landmark” status by the Association of Siamese Architects. Apart from the elegant wooden clad 20,000 book Library, there’s also a children’s corner and a Gallery Rotunda. Meanwhile, the spacious garden contains the Garden Gallery and Café. The Library looks almost exactly the same after a century of use. It houses tens of thousands of foreign books, some of them very rare and valuable. It is a regular venue for a variety of art and photography exhibitions. It remains a Bangkok landmark. 

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Plots, settings, characters, conflicts, imagination and the pouring senses navigate a writer to bring out the voice of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, thriller, and varied genres a phenomenal experience. Who would have known two dynamic expat ladies (Chloe Trindall and Cheryl Leend) in the year of 2000 in Bangkok would start their own writing group! The passing of time, laughter, discussions, teas, coffees, wines, brewing inspiration, and likeminded charismatic ladies brought us to a journey of celebrating 20 years.

On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Bangkok Women’s Writers Group, ‘Rhythm of Missing Anthology’ was published by I-Fah Publishing honouring short stories by BWWG writers and was launched in the soulful, artistic, and welcoming Open House Bookshop by Hardcover, Central Embassy in March 2021. The event was graced by friends, writers, dignitaries, music, well wishers and has crafted a precious memory for everyone. The celebratory occasion was enriched with H.E. Italian Ambassador Lorenzo Galanti with Lady M. Francesca Andreini and Lady M. Tetsuko Wiberg. Poet and soulful Jazz singer, Coco Rouzier read her Poems in a jazzy style and Giulietta Consentino, one of BWWG’s inspiring writers and her team sang the amazing lyrical English and Italian Songs – ‘Sperlinga’. The readings by varied writers from global cultures nurture the theme of ‘time’.

Exploring subconscious imagery, tapping into experiences, coming out of the comfort zone, therapeutic sensations, and braving to showcase kinds of stories over decades bring about the connoisseur of storytelling where sharing one’s stories amplifies voice, creativity, and connects communities. ‘‘Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it’’ by Salvador Dali recreates many stories and creative pieces of flow since one cannot pause or stop the lyrics the mind and heart are infusing. This brings us to ‘The Melting Clock Bistro’ Bangkok, where BWWG writer meet up takes place and honouring creative scripts amongst the paintings of Dali caressed the 20th year celebration with oomph, joy, readings, dance, and flamenco in April 2021. Carla Soledad Rivera, the heart and creator of Olé Siam Flamenco and The HOMEBKK performed the magical flamenco with her team. The highly expressive, hand clapping, percussive footwork and intricate body moments performed live echoed distinguished tastes of life, creativity, passion, and community. Integrated part of rhythm, transforming spectacular beauty, and embracing storytelling celebrated the eminent anniversary in a festive galore.

coated with honey – tears of trending legacy
keep it down – the fuelling words
cats, typewriters – blank notebooks
stars, wine – 3 cups of coffee
elegance of tick tock – fury of time
for a moment – all you feel – craving
basking in layers of stories – inking out
cheese, candles, knives – mocking the storyline
shortlisted stories, intensive competition – do not manoeuvre time
sunflowers, cakes – mirrors of progressive tastes
cannot shield – darkness between light
for the ink of words – has comforted generations
only to reconcile – rhythm of missing pieces
romancing within – symphonic galaxy of time

I joined BWWG three years ago. This is a simple sentence when written, but it took several years to be carried out. I had known about the group and curious, but I just couldn’t bring myself up for the group. There were always excuses, like I was busy with this and that. But after all, I wanted to stay in a comfort zone: Writing was my consolation and sharing it with someone I had never met was a scary thought.

Writing is a solitary work. You work alone. You ask a question and try to answer, back and forth, in your mind. Your silent dialogue never ends. It’s painful sometimes, but writers find a joy in creating their own world which is a very private part of themselves.

Writing is a form of expression and naturally, you would like to present the art to the audience. But simultaneously, it is scary to share your writing because it is like exposing yourself inside out to the public. What if people don’t like it? What if it’s not as good as you’ve thought? That would be like being denied your entire self. My ego would not be able to take it. I chose hiding over being vulnerable.

One day I met Nick Argles, publisher of Expat Life in Thailand. After we talked on different matters, he mentioned Bhavna and told me I should contact her. I was not sure why I should since it was not clear who she was, what she did and how I could be related to her. But Nick being Nick, was very persuasive. I did contact her and found out Bhavna was one of organisers of BWWG. I almost believed in the destiny. I told myself it was time to open the door to a new world.

Before the first Tuesday of the month, regular date of their monthly meeting, I was still mumbling myself, trying to find some reasons not to go. But I knew I had waited too long. I told myself that English was not my primary language and that was my last indulgence to excuse myself if my writing was not accepted well.

I arrived early at the venue, ‘The Melting Clock Bistro’ to find Bhavna sitting in front of the painting of Salvador Dali. Dali’s big staring eyes were overwhelming, but Bhavna’s eyes were welcoming and so were the group of ladies. No one was critical or dismissed my writing. On the contrary, their comments were nothing but warm and positive. I could sense they were simply trying to support and encourage each other. This was not a group for judgement, but communal nurturing. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of being timid of joining the group. I was the one being preoccupied with comparing to others.

We read each person’s writings, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay etc. I didn’t know anyone in the group: They were total strangers. But reading their stories, I felt I knew them, who they were, without even knowing their names. Each person distributed her short writing and it was like being invited to their private parties. Each host offered her specialty of drinks, pure water with lemon, throat burning whisky, deep tangy red wine, and sweet chocolate. I enjoyed tasting different flavours of their worlds.

By the time the party was ended, I simply felt elated. It really didn’t matter if my writing was better or worse than anyone else. We were connected in a desire to write. I imagined these women trying to express whatever their feelings in letters, biting their nails, staring at the window, waiting for a magical plot pop up, in front of a blank paper or screen. I was with them. Being present in a group of women who share the same passion was inspiring.

Oh, I didn’t and couldn’t use my last indulgence. None of them attending that night was a native speaker of English. Actually, I think everyone was from a different country, very cosmopolitan. It was even more inspiring when you learn these women are expressing themselves cross culturally. You find hidden gems from all over the world in a corner of Bangkok. Isn’t it exciting?

Rhythm of Missing Pieces is available at Kinokuniya Bookstores and Open House Bookshop by Hardcover, Central Embassy in Bangkok. Bangkok Women Writers Group is co-led by Morgan Pryce and Bhavna Khemlani. To join the BWWG you can connect through Meetup and FB: Bangkok Women Writers Group.

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In a sign of the times, Expat Life’s Jenny Littlewood caught up with Swiss Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Helene Budliger Artieda and her invited guest Mr. Pedro Basabe Head of Regional Hub of Humanitarian Aid Asia and Pacific by Zoom meeting.

Ambassador Helene shared her thoughts on the pandemic, vaccinations and Switzerland’s donation of medical supplies to Thailand. Also discussed was Swiss Vice President Ignazio Cassis’ visit to Thailand to commemorate 90 years of bilateral relations between the two nations. As well as looking for positives in a pandemic, dogs and much more.

Ambassador, Expat Life in Thailand had the pleasure of meeting you a year ago, thank you for the opportunity to catch up again in 2021. How has your year been?

It’s been rather a unique year in my professional career for sure. We’ve had a year of continuing pandemic crisis management, when all of us were hoping that we were at the end of the tunnel. 2021 has been surprisingly more challenging than last year. 

I now have the concerns of my team operating in a deep red zone. The challenge has been how to best keep our doors open to provide basic services such as passports and consular assistance. Alongside this are the considerations regarding the wellbeing and safety of our Swiss citizens. 

It’s been a year of multiple worries, but we managed to cope as best as we could. So also, I have a feeling of satisfaction that we’ve been able to prevail, given the difficult circumstances’.

What has been your most challenging aspect as Ambassador this year?

We, like many have had cases of Covid-19 amongst our staff. Thankfully not serious, but it hits home closely, when this happens, with concerns for the welfare of staff and their families. 

This was the moment when I felt the pandemic is now a different ball game for us as an Embassy.

What are the greatest challenges for the Swiss community?

We have about 10,000 Swiss nationals living in Thailand. Access to vaccines is on the top of their worries, mine too. I think it’s extremely important that we are fair to Thailand here too. It’s a worry for Thai people as well. 

I am confident that Thailand is now making progress in this regard. However It will be important to speed up vaccinations for all, according to the priorities established by the Thai authorities. We place high priority on ensuring the embassy can be relied on to get the right information out to our community. We live in an era of a constant social media flurry. It’s become almost a full time job for us too’.

Direct communications 

Helene is true to her word here, a quick Google search finds her appearing on Youtube, and even featuring in a radio podcast called ‘The Ambassador’.  

The Swiss embassy team presents information to their multilingual community in a clear, down to earth and natural way. In doing so the ambassadorial text book on communications is being rewritten. 

Long gone is formal dialogue with the Swiss community, hello #AskTheEmbassy Facebook Live.  

Ambassador Helene is a natural bridge builder. Joining the panel for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) forum on Thailand’s Vaccine Strategy may have made her slightly nervous, given the title ‘What went wrong?’ But it was a gamble of diplomacy that paid off and won the admiration of many.

To say Helene and her staff have embraced the demands of mass social media in a pandemic, is an understatement. 

Ambassador Helene continues: We do see light at the end of the tunnel with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs having earmarked vaccines now for expats. It might sound like empty slogans ‘We’re not all safe, until everyone is safe.’ But I am paid to worry about the Swiss community, but I worry that everyone in Thailand has access to vaccines. Switzerland wanted to stand by its long standing friend Thailand, with a supply of medical goods that we have were able to ship in at the end of July. I have included Pedro today because often everyone thinks embassies equal ambassadors. But we have a whole embassy team with much more expertise than I.

Switzerland’s donation of medical supplies

Pedro, I understand you’ve been the lead on bringing medical supplies from Switzerland to Thailand. How did this come about? How has your year been?

I have been based in Thailand for 4 years after 15 years with the UN, and 20 years with the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Corp. Our role is to prepare for disaster in the region, in case humanitarian assistance is needed. Since March 2020 this includes Covid-19 and vaccine support crisis management.

Switzerland has a policy to support other countries in fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic. The Swiss government has donated 102 respirators and 1.1 million Antigen test kits for distribution within Thailand to help with Covid-19 responses.

Prevention is key

I want to stress the importance of our work in terms of prevention. As everyone knows what to do and how to act when they see a red traffic light, so everyone should know how to act in time of disasters and pandemic crisis. Our role involves policy dialogue, and training across the ASEAN states as well as projects implementation

Ambassador Helene adds, Pedro has been very humble here. The reality is the Humanitarian Aid team has changed their operations from being one of the most globally mobile teams at the embassy, to the most digital team. 

Pedro’s team has arranged Switzerland’s medical goods donation programme across the region. This has involved endless coordination meetings particularly to see how Switzerland can assist in Myanmar. This global team approach means Zoom meetings often at impossible hours.

This must have taken a toll for you Pedro? There is a beautiful dynamic here. Pedro absolutely and politely refuses to be drawn into the limelight…

I don’t really like to talk about me, I’ve had more than 35 years of dealing with disaster risk reduction and emergencies. We are used to dealing in crisis management mode. It’s how it works in our job, we are very pleased to support’

Pedro replies in a calm and self-humble depreciating manner, an ideal go to friend in any crisis. He has such a soothing and everything is under control manner, that I’m sorry this is not a podcast for you to hear!

Ambassador, could you tell us why you joined the FCCT vaccine forum? 

 

People were upset at the slow roll out of Thailand’s vaccination programme. I understand this, however when embassies became an outlet for people’s anger, I felt this was unfair. It’s not true that ambassadors don’t care. This is the number one priority of every ambassador I speak to. 

In June, I saw that the Thai government system was taking some time because of lack of access to vaccines, not only for expats but for everybody. I decided to play an intermediary role between vaccine opportunities available out of the Thai medical system and the allocation of them to our Swiss community. We are all trying to find solutions and to be proactive, but we have differing frameworks which makes it really complicated’.

Differing embassy frameworks

I really salute the French Ambassador who was able to get vaccines from his capital. None of the ambassadors I talked to had this privilege, myself included. 

It is not because the ambassador is not doing his/her job, it’s just different frameworks. As much as I would have loved for my capital to send me vaccines, it’s not happening at this time.’

The Swiss embassy framework

My Swiss HQ supported me to find a solution, which is tricky when it involves health and medical data. Switzerland has very strong data protection laws. However we were able to navigate these because we are one of the few embassies who have mandatory registration for citizens. 

Certain ambassadors operate in countries where liability carries huge risk, I have a certain leeway where if a Swiss person signs a liability clause, then I’m good to go.

Mine was a strategic decision, other ambassadors couldn’t take that route and we are all still on good terms. All of us are trying to serve our respective communities as best as we can’.

Helene’s explanation of events and bridge building across many communities has won much admiration. As Jonathan Head, MC at the FCCT forum said in closing the event: If you are an elderly Swiss national in Thailand you have definitely drawn the lucky card.

We note, you’ve recently had the high profile visit of Vice President Ignazio Cassis to Thailand. Could you tell us more about this visit?

Vice President Ignazio Cassis toured SE Asia visiting Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. 

As a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Thailand, the visit commemorated the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Swiss-Thai Treaty of Friendship and Commerce.  

This was a working visit during difficult times, isn’t that what friends are for? To stand by your friends in difficult times.

We have the biggest Swiss community here in Asia. It was equally important for my Minister to have an interaction with the Swiss community living in Thailand, who had been vocal regarding the vaccine situation.

It gave an opportunity for both countries to discuss measures to upgrade their bilateral relations, especially on public health, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, education, trade, and investment.

Moreover, the Swiss delegation handed over a donation of medical supplies as previously mentioned.

What is special about the Swiss-Thai Relationship?

The origins of ninety years of bilateral relations starts with His Majesty King Chulalongkorn’s famous visits to several European countries, returning with a mission to modernise the Kingdom of Siam.

Switzerland is an export driven market. When deciding how to proceed with potential bilateral relations between the two countries, the Swiss government at that time, sought advice from Swiss companies already operating in Thailand. 

Ambassador Helene laughs, this is a very Swiss approach she explains. We are not at all a top down country. We are a confederation. We are highly decentralised, with a symbiotic relationship between government, civil society and the private sector. Switzerland is a country with a very different government and approach to how the country is run, compared with other countries.

The late King Bhumibol and his siblings were educated and grew up in Switzerland which has given us a very special touch of the relationship. Our countries like and respect each other, despite our very different approaches.

We now have over 200 Swiss-related companies in Thailand, some for over 100 years. We are top 10, or top 12 depending on the ranking index checked, of direct foreign investors in Thailand. We have the biggest Swiss community in Asia and there are approximately 30,000 Thais living in Switzerland.

Both countries had, before Covid, huge tourist growth potential. Thailand is the preferred tourist destination in SE Asia for Swiss people.

It is truly amazing to see how well Thai people know Switzerland and vicesa versa. It’s well beyond the glossy tourist things that must be seen. They know every corner of Switzerland and are well informed.

Likewise for Swiss people in Thailand. A relationship with Thailand might start on a beach in Phuket or Pattaya. They love it, they discover it, they come back, they travel up North… Swiss people are to be found everywhere in Thailand.

What have you found to appreciate here in Thailand since we last spoke?

I continue to appreciate working amongst the calmness and the gentleness of the Thai people. The way the Thai people are reacting around me has calmed me down, as by nature I’m rather outgoing. I am sure I am calmer here in Thailand than I would be elsewhere!

I have also appreciated the space and time a reduced work event schedule has given in both my professional and personal life. 

At the embassy we all benefitted for example with the recent visit of Vice President Ignazio Cassis who was able to spend added time with my staff at the Embassy. When has that ever happened? Never! Not because officials aren’t interested to do so, but just because the schedule is so full.

At home, I have more time with my husband and our dogs. I am not a good housewife but we cook together at weekends, we still do jigsaw puzzles and the dogs love it!

Don’t get me wrong, I will be happily going back to a little bit more interactive professional life, and wouldn’t want this for the rest of my life, but let’s enjoy this part of our current lifestyle giving meaningful time with those around us’

Thank you to H.E. Ambassador Helene Budliger Artieda and Mr. Pedro Basabe for their generous time to compile this interview Here’s to future interviews in person meetings at Swiss Embassy with chocolate!

Jenny Littlewood

Interview 17 August

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Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions about your work and life here in Thailand. Can you begin by briefly introducing yourself?

Of course. I’m delighted to be back in this region. I’ve spent much of my working career here. My first job after university was as a French and German teacher at an international school in Sri Lanka. That was fun and rewarding, and really gave me a taste for life in this part of the world. Since I joined the Foreign Office about 20 years ago, I’ve done jobs in China, Cambodia, and back in Sri Lanka. So, I hope my regional experience will be useful in Thailand. Outside the office, I enjoy running, swimming and music (though running in the tropical heat is hard work). Outside pandemic times, I also love travelling to new and remote places. All recommendations for travel within Thailand are welcome!

Officially you are the Ambassador designate until you present your credentials to the king. Do you have any idea when that will happen?

I’m hoping to receive my letter of accreditation from the Royal Palace soon, which will enable me to arrange official meetings. I don’t yet have a date yet.

I hear that you have visited Thailand before as a tourist. What were your impressions of the country as a tourist and what were your favourite activities and destinations during your visits?

I’ve visited Thailand many times and have always had a warm welcome. Thailand has stunning scenery, a rich history and culture, and of course amazing food. It’s difficult to choose my favourite memories, but they include cycling around the ancient city of Sukhothai as a backpacker, visiting an elephant sanctuary, and trekking in national parks. I also love Bangkok for its bustling energy and dynamism (and I am looking forward to seeing that again soon!).

Obviously with travel restrictions in place since you came here which means you cannot travel much, what are your travel plans once restrictions are lifted? 

You’re right I’ve had to postpone my travel plans since I arrived. Once restrictions lift, I plan to visit the major centres for the British community across the country. My first stops will include Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Khon Kaen, Hua Hin, and other well-known locations. 

I know you have a Master’s Degree in Modern Languages, but how difficult was it for you to learn Thai?

Thai is not easy for an English native speaker. The tones and writing in particular are challenging, even after learning Chinese. One advantage of having learnt different languages is that I know what study techniques work for me. For instance, my attention span for listening exercises is much longer if I do them while walking round Lumpini park rather than sitting at a desk.

I can imagine most of the Thai you have been learning is the formal version for making speeches with a vocabulary list needed for the diplomatic world. But can you also speak street Thai? Can you, for example order food and chat about the weather?

You’re right that much of my training was designed for work at the Embassy, so there was a lot of political, economic and professional content. We also covered conversational Thai, so I feel like I can get by. Of course, as a Brit, my default conversation starter is about weather, so I feel well practised in that. 

Can you speak and understand royal language? This is not easy even for Thais.

This is one area where I really need to study more. My Thai course did include Royal vocabulary, but mostly for passive use (e.g. reading, listening). So I would definitely need some revision before trying to put my Racha Sap into practice.

One of your predecessors, Mark Kent, was a prolific tweeter and often engaged with the expat community in Thailand. He was much loved and admired for doing this, but he is a hard act to follow. I noticed you have been on Twitter since 2008 but you have only tweeted 80 times! Do you have plans on tweeting more while you are here?

Yes, indeed. Previously I’ve used Twitter mostly to monitor what’s going on.  Now I’m going to use it more. That’s why almost all my 80 tweets since 2008 have been posted since I started in July. 

Since you have been here, you’ve done a couple of videos that were posted on social media. Are you planning on doing this on a regular basis? In particular about covid updates for British citizens.

Yes, definitely. I am planning to do Thai language videos for our Thai audience and English language videos for our English speaking audience. I think it’s important that we keep people updated, and am committed to doing this. 

Out of all the social media options, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and also youTube and TikTok, which are your favourites?

I mostly use Twitter and Facebook myself, but I think different platforms have different audiences, so sometimes we need to use them for different purposes. 

There was a lot of criticism when the British government sold the old embassy grounds in Ploenchit. Now the embassy is in an office building. Do you see this as a downgrade compared to what we had before?

The Embassy move was completed before I arrived in Thailand so all I’ve known is the new Embassy. But of course, I’m aware that the Embassy move caused some controversy and some people were sad to see us move out of our former premises. I like our new building. It is a modern, light office space in a good location, so for me it is a great base from which to operate. 

You also lost your official residence and gardens which were well-known among the expat community who visited during official functions. Are you able to entertain now where you live, or will you have to hire a ballroom at a local hotel?

Although we’ve moved, I still have an official Residence (though you’re right about the garden)! Both my apartment and the Embassy have space to host official functions, so once restrictions lift, I shall host events there. 

Are you working from home at the moment, or are you going into work at the embassy?

I’ve been mostly working from home, so have spent quite a large proportion of my waking hours on video calls. That’s worked well, but I confess I’m looking forward to being out and about a bit more and away from the computer screen.  

What tips do you have for people who are working from home? How do you keep both physically healthy and sane?

For me, doing physical exercise is essential. That has been difficult when gyms, pools and parks are closed, so I’ve been doing early morning runs on the streets of Bangkok. That’s certainly a colourful way to see the city, though I have to watch out for buses, street vendors and the occasional hole in the pavement. During the day, I tend to have back to back video calls, which are useful and help me stay connected. But from time to time I need to take a break and go outside to clear my head.

This can’t be the easiest of times to take up a new post, what with the ongoing local and global pandemic. What challenges do you face ahead of you? 

That’s right, arriving during a lengthy lockdown is tough, and I am aware what a strain this has been not only for my team that has been here even longer but also the wider community. It has meant that we have to adapt plans as well as focus on resilience. I think that Covid will remain a major challenge, with much to do globally on disease control, vaccinations, and opening up travel, as well as working together on the longer term challenges of post-Covid recovery.

What new initiatives do you plan to implement over the next few years during your tenure as the British ambassador? 

I see huge opportunities for a stronger and broader relationship between the UK and Thailand. We already have many successful British businesses in Thailand, a large British community, thousands of visitors in both directions, many Thai students studying in the UK and of course many personal and family links. The big opportunity now is to work together to address the challenges of the future. So, my priorities will include a stronger trade relationship, joint action on climate change, more collaboration in science, health, education, as well as more co-operation to deal with pressing security challenges. 

Your official role is to represent the UK government. But do you also represent the interests of British citizens here? If so, how?

Of course. This is one of the most important things the Embassy does. Each year we handle well over 1,500 assistance cases, although of course most of the assistance we provide is not in the public domain. These are cases where we provide assistance to vulnerable individuals or families, many of whom who are facing a personal emergency (e.g. British nationals in hospital, detained, needing welfare support, or children who need safeguarding).

What kind of things do you really want to help people with, but protocol does not allow you to do so?

You’re right that sometimes we get requests that we can’t meet or there are restrictions governing what we can do – and they are often stricter than protocol! For example, my team can’t pay medical bills or give people money, and they can’t give people legal advice. Sometimes there are also legal restrictions. For example, we can’t share personal data with anyone without permission.

Do you have a registry of all British citizens in Thailand? For example, do you have any idea about the numbers? Can you contact everyone in an emergency?

We don’t have a registry, no. Some people will remember a system we used to have called Locate. That was stopped some years ago as so few people actually registered with us or kept their details up to date. Now we encourage everyone to sign up for Travel Advice alerts (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/thailand) and follow us on Twitter and Facebook (@UKinThailand) – they are the best places to get advice from the Embassy, including in an emergency. 

On numbers, Thai immigration authorities tell us there are about 45,000 British residents and 2000 tourists in Thailand at the moment. 

It is often said that as the years go by, the embassy does less for its citizens. One recent example is that you no longer notarize documents such as degree certificates which are needed to get a work permit. These now have to be sent to the UK. Why is that?

We have one of the busiest consular teams of any British Embassy in the world, dealing with over 1,500 assistance cases each year, so it’s simply not true that we are doing less. But it’s correct that our focus has evolved in recent years. For example, nowadays, we focus our assistance on those most in need, and the most vulnerable. Our notarial services are also busy, handling well over 5,000 notarial and documentary services every year. This has also evolved, with some services moving online (e.g. registration of birth, marriages and deaths) and others phasing out when they become obsolete (e.g. when the Thai Government no longer requires certain documents or these services are provided locally).  When it comes to educational certificates, Thailand only recognises certificates issued by the Legalisation Office of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in the UK, so our customers need to apply for their notarized documents directly from them. 

Quite a few Brits have complained that the embassy hasn’t helped them to get vaccinated. They pointed out that the French and Chinese embassies brought in vaccines for their own citizens. Why didn’t the British embassy do that?

This has obviously been a huge issue since I arrived in July. The UK’s global approach is that we don’t provide healthcare overseas and we advise British nationals to get vaccinated in their country of residence. But when I arrived, I saw that many British people were facing real difficulties accessing vaccines locally. That’s why I made it my top priority to secure access to vaccines for the British community within the Thai national programme. I have engaged intensively with the Thai authorities at the most senior levels and we are now seeing rapid progress. Foreigners are now eligible for vaccines and there is a national registration scheme. The vaccine rollout for foreigners has started, with vulnerable groups being prioritised first, and with centres outside Bangkok now starting to receive vaccinations. Over 9,000 British nationals have already been vaccinated. There is still much to do, but I feel we now have better systems in place to ensure that British people have the access they need to vaccines.

When the UK government donated some vaccine recently, why didn’t you stipulate that some of it should be for British citizens like the Chinese did with their donation?

The UK’s priority is to save as many lives as possible. As we have said, no-one is safe until we are all safe. For that reason the UK donation went into Thailand’s national vaccination programme, where it will help ensure the most vulnerable people of all nationalities in Thailand get vaccinated. The programme is already making progress, with hundreds of thousands of people receiving vaccines each week. 

One of the main vaccines in Thailand is AstraZeneca. Although this has links to a British company, it is believed that the locally produced version is not recognized by the UK government. Is this true and will that situation change in the future?

The UK is taking a phased approach to opening up travel. For now, only those vaccinated in the UK, US and EU have their vaccines recognized for the purposes of being exempt from self isolation when arriving from an amber list country. We appreciate that this is frustrating and recognise that this needs to be expanded to include travellers from other locations. Work is under way in the UK to do this (including on the key issue of vaccine certification, on which there is no global standard), and I hope that things will move forward soon. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Do you have any closing remarks?

Thank you too, Richard. My final thought is that I feel very lucky to be in Thailand, and I’m greatly looking forward to getting to know the country and to meeting the British community here. 

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Two furnished three storey 5 bedroom large family homes for rent – 45,000/40,000B a month in quiet secluded private Mooban at the end of Sukhumvit 79 – Sukhumvit Garden City.

7 minutes walk from On Nut BTS, plenty of parking, large Georgian style townhouses owned by the Duang Prateep Foundation. Back gardens leading to communal garden alley. Security on the gate, located on a cul de sac so no through traffic.

On three floors one just completely redecorated inside and out – 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, CCTV – more details on request. [email protected]

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As Bangkok is not the safest, or most pleasant place to reside in lockdown I made the decision 3 months ago to move to my weekend retreat in Hua Hin, two and three quarter hours south, south west and 190kms out of Bangkok.

I had lived and worked in one of the Duang Prateep Foundation’s lovely homes in a private Mooban near On Nut BTS for three years and the house was furnished but it is amazing how much ‘stuff’ you accrue along the way. So I called in the professionals in the form of Asian Tigers/Transpo International to effect the move for me.

They were ultra effective and made an appointment for me to video what I had – ‘oh it’s not that much’ I said confidently and I am moving to a small condo in Hua Hin. Little did I know.

Their surveyor determined what I would need and the date was set. The team would be with me by 9am on the 25th and deliver to Hua Hin on the 26th August. At 8.40am people started to arrive by motorbike. An older man – the supervisor, the packer and then eight young men all in their bright yellow uniform were all on site before 9am – I was impressed!

I walked the supervisor through the three storey house where I had spent the previous day packing clothes, towels, bed linen and whatever else I could into black sacks. Then the boys got to work, suddenly the place was a hive of activity. They worked at a frenetic pace… everything, and I mean everything, (even Tupperware boxes) was individually wrapped and then packed carefully into the hundred plus boxes they had assembled.

By lunchtime the top two floors were nearly empty. What came apart had been disassembled and boxes were being heaved downstairs by young chaps young enough to be my grandchildren… gosh I realised how old I was! The supervisor was detailing each package by which room it came from and what the contents were. The key packer was skilled at his task and everything was wrapped in white paper and then packed with care. These guys knew what they were doing – I did my best to keep up but in the end just tried to keep out of the way! By 5.30pm everything was gone and the house was suddenly empty bar the landlords furniture.


The lorry that they had booked could not get into our Mooban as the electric and telephone wires were assessed to be too low so they bought a smaller vehicle in to shuttle the boxes outside to the main Soi. I left Bangkok frazzled with a SUV full of packages and drove to Hua Hin.

They were supposed to deliver between 9 and 11am but again were there at 8.30am. The lorry was huge and packed to the gunnels. Luckily I had booked a storeroom on the ground floor as by 10.30am they were gone again! I was had a storeroom full of brown boxes with the tiger logo.

I have spent the last week unpacking boxes and so far, so good, no breakages but they even had that covered and advised me to take out insurance to cover any breakages. I did as was advised.

I can’t recommend these guys highly enough. They were ultra efficient, polite, had sufficient numbers plus to make the move easier and certainly took the stress out of moving for me.

Send an email to [email protected]thailand.com and tell him Nick sent you!

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This month, Expat Life sat down with the recently appointed President of the European Association for Business and Commerce (EABC), international business consultant Luca Bernardinetti. In my eyes, this was a very smart appointment. Luca is a sharp, good looking and charismatic businessman, as may be expected of a lawyer-turned-businessman, a third generation Italian lawyer who came to SE Asia twelve years ago, realising that this is where the future was for international business.

He presents himself very well and is a man of measured words as you would expect from a lawyer skilled in international relations. With a background in banking and finance law, Luca has split his time between Singapore and Thailand in the past twelve years. In his most recent venture, he restructured the consulting and law firm Mahanakorn Partners Group (MPG) in 2016, where he currently serves as Chairman and Managing Partner.

(The firm was originally founded in 1999 by Luca’s partner inlife and business, Khun Vilasinee Thephasadin Na Ayuthaya. Last year, she was conferred the CEO Leader award 2019 by H.E. Khun Ittipol Khunpluem, Minister of Culture).

In addition to heading the Banking and Finance practice at MPG, Luca is the only non-Thai member of the ICC Thailand’s Banking Commission, the leading global rule making body for the banking industry. He contributes to various universally accepted rules and guidelines for international banking practice.

Having grown up in a respectable family of Italian lawyers, entering the legal profession was never a question for Luca, even if his departure for SE Asia marked an unexpected turn. The Bernardinetti family’s law firm was formed in 1945 by his grandfather, Senator Marzio Bernardinetti, before the Constitution of Italy was ratified. His grandfather, father and mother were all lawyers, and hoped that Luca would continue the family firm. Naturally, they were opposed to him leaving Italy at first, although his father now agrees, perhaps reluctantly, that it was a good decision. Now as EABC president, Luca is ably assisted by three VPs – Jan Eriksson (past president), Georg M. Wolff and Robert Fox and a board of international business community heavyweights: John G. Sim, Paranee Adulyapichet,

Nicholas Bellamy, Farid Bidgoli, Jerome Kelly, Stefan Molnar, Alberto Strada, Thitiwat Thanapornnithinan and Luca Vianelli. Word on the street is that they had a shaky start, but I think that Luca is a man on a mission, and likely to get the organisation on the right track.

I met Luca in MPG’s offices on Wireless Road. We sat in one of the meeting rooms, all polished dark wood and black furniture, and Luca is the focus and bright light in the room. The atmosphere grows warm as Luca begins to discuss his plans for the EABC. I begin by asking him to define the mission of the EABC, as well as his objectives for the Association during his two year term as President.

The EABC, according to Luca, is predominantly an advocacy association comprised by working groups that promote specific agenda for growth in a set of core activities – for instance, pharmaceuticals, trade, logistics and automotive. However, he clarifies, for all intents and purposes, the EABC serves as the European Chamber of Commerce in Thailand. Indeed, the EABC covers over 30 different countries in Thailand, encompassing not only the EU, but all members of the European Economic Area.

Having said that, Luca plans to extend the EABC’s focus beyond advocacy, developing the organisation’s ability to attract, facilitate, and sustain foreign direct investment between Europe and Thailand. He envisions “a platform for businesspeople in Thailand to promote their companies’ interests, and to inform them of the challenges they may face – not just in Thailand, but as Thailand is taking a central role in SE Asia in the wider geographic Mekong region”. He’s also excited by a growing trend of outbound Thai investment in Europe – for instance, Central Group’s recent high end retail investments in Italy with the Rinascente Group and the Swiss luxury department store chain Globus, along with eight associated real estate properties at top inner city locations from the Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund (MGB) Group and anticipates strengthened European-Thai economic cooperation in the future, such as through the proposed Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Thailand.

Speaking of cooperation, I remark that H. E. Mr. Pirkka Tapiola, the (Finnish) European Ambassador to Thailand, has done an excellent job of championing the combined strengths of the EU’s member countries. Luca explains that sadly Pirkka is likely to move back to Brussels next year, but remains committed to furthering the interests of European business in Thailand by working closely with the EABC.

Luca shares a few of the plans they have discussed, including a reception at the EU Residence for European Ambassadors, Thai and European business leaders, and representatives from the Thai government.

This brings us to the subject of event planning, which Luca says will be integral to the EABC’s new focus on information sharing and networking.

EABC sets itself apart from bilateral Chambers of Commerce in that it does not organise evening networking events set around a bar theme. The events are typically conferences, luncheons and workshops, which Luca has already been working on planning – for instance, a lunch between the Thai Minister of Commerce, the Ambassador of the EU H.E. Mr. Pirkka Tapiola and other business leaders to discuss the aforementioned Free Trade Agreement.

In the past I have attended a number of the “networking opportunities” that the individual Chambers held but always felt that the joint (Tri or Multi Chamber) events were by far the more successful ones. I was pleased to hear that the EABC is not planning any of these evening drinking opportunities and would focus more on the business aspects of union. Working groups, representing the international community and engaging and connecting with our Thai hosts, the government and business communities. Breakfast presentations, working lunches – gone are the old days when business was done over several bottles of expensive wine at the company’s expense.

Luca agrees that partnership with other business associations and Chambers is key. He speaks with respect about the JFCCT and said he hopes to liaise and run joint events with them, the Thai government and the greater business community. This type of cooperation is obviously the future for the Thai Chambers of Commerce. Either this, a union with the JFCCT and or both. I tell him that I feel the 30 odd individual country Chambers are all a bit “jobs for the boys” and too cliquish for my tastes. You are either in favour or not, and me being me, I am far too outspoken to be in the “in group”. Luca emphasises that inclusiveness will be key to the new EABC. He acknowledges that there has been rivalry between the bilateral Chambers of Commerce and the EABC; however, many wish to work together and the EABC will seek further cooperation with other Chambers and business associations.

“We want to appeal to all European
businesspeople in Thailand,” he says,
“whether they are retired or still
working, and we want to appeal to
the Thai business community, as
well as all those that may have an
interest in investment in Thailand.”

I can see the role of the EABC being far clearer and more effective than it has been in the past.

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