Expat Life sat down with H.E. the Ambassador of Spain to Thailand, Mr. Emilio De Miguel Calabia to find out what he thinks of his posting and how he has enjoyed the last two years.
Emilio did you arrive to Thailand from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?
I came directly from Madrid. I had been there for six years in the position of Deputy Director for the Pacific, SE Asia and the Philippines. So, before my arrival, I was already up to date with the issues I would find in Bangkok.
May I ask where are you born and brought up?
I was born and raised in Madrid. I lived there until the moment I left for my first post abroad, Cameroon. (Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has almost 3.3 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union, smaller than only London and Berlin, and its mono centric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris. The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3sqm). Madrid lies on the River Manzanares in the centre of both the country and the Community of Madrid (which comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and villages); this community is bordered by the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the country).
At what age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
At about twenty years old. I was studying law at the university at the time following the advice of my father, but I didn’t like either the career nor the idea of becoming a lawyer. However I had always liked and followed politics, international relations, was interested in other cultures and travelling, so I think that it was only normal that the idea of becoming a diplomat came to me.
Do you have more diplomats in your family?
No not that I am aware. aware
How do you look at Thailand today? Have you had any obstacles since you arrived?
The first time I arrived in Thailand was in 1996. Many things have changed since then. Thai society is more open to the world and increasingly vocal. The old Thai shyness and unwillingness to express one’s own thoughts and feelings is disappearing, which is a positive thing. The new generation is creative, original and full of curiosity. Thailand has become a regional hub for SE Asia and Bangkok, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. It is a pity that a prize has had to be paid in terms of a certain loss of tradition and the destruction of the old Bangkok. That has been replaced by high condominiums undistinguishable from similar towers in any other city of the world. To me Bangkok has sadly lost part of its identity. I cannot think of any major obstacles that I have met. It is the third time I have been posted to Thailand, so I feel at home. Besides I was lucky to find a great team at the Embassy – both the local staff and those coming from Spain – who have helped me immensely.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
Yes. First of all, both Spain and Thailand are very family oriented. Family plays a central role in our lives. Second, both of us like sharing a good meal and talking with close friends. For Thais and Spanish people gastronomy is not only about eating tasty foods. It is much, much more.
Do you have children? What age and where do they go to school?
My eldest son is twenty two and will finish university this year in the US. I have two more children who are at school in Spain.
How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?
I can honestly say the same that the character of Brad Pitt used to say in “Hearts of Steel”: “This is the best work I have ever had”. There are not average days. I am also credited to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, so I travel quite regularly. I have many meetings, receptions, dinners… Really I cannot say what it is like in my average day, because every day is different.
As every Ambassador, I assume you have some goals you really would like to reach/fulfill before you leave Thailand. What are they?
My first goal is personal: to discover the region, to learn, to have a fulfilling life, to get to know interesting people, to have time for myself. I think we must start by setting personal goals for ourselves. If our lives don’t work and if we are not fulfilled, our professional goals cannot be reached. On the professional side, I am working to increase the mutual knowledge between Thailand and Spain. I feel there is a lot of mutual sympathy, but it is sympathy born out of lack of real knowledge about each other. My colleagues and I at the Embassy endeavor to ensure that any cultural or business activity that we are involved in becomes an occasion to promote the image of Spain and to make Spain better known to the Thai people. I am also in the lookout of niches where Spain can have a high added value for Thailand and vice versa. And I may say, I have found some and I am working hard to develop them. Upon my departure I would like to leave behind, two countries that know each other better and have a higher profile and understanding in their relations.
As it is your third posting to Thailand one assumes that you have you been travelling around in Thailand? May I ask if you have any particular favourites?
Yes I have enjoy travelling around the country. I do not have a single favourite destination in Thailand – I have three:
1) Sukhothai. I have already visited three times its historical park, as well as the one of Si Satchanalai; 2) The valley of Pai; 3) Khaolak, for the nature and for the diving.
If and when you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Do you have any special hobbies?
If I am not travelling, very often the only thing I want to do is to recharge my batteries. Then I wake up late, I read, I write, and rest beside the swimming pool, I meditate. I am Buddhist and meditation is an important part of my life. If I am in the mood, I may like to go with friends to a nice restaurant. My main hobbies are reading and writing.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
More than 1,000 Spaniards live permanently in Thailand. I think that Thailand became a major tourist destination for the Spanish in the 21st Century. The Spanish tourist felt attracted for the same reasons that tourists of other nationalities from around the world: the beaches, the shopping, the friendliness of Thais, the food, the culture…
Do your country and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?
Sadly not at the moment but it is something that we would like to investigate.
If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go?
Myanmar. Its recent political history is underlined by its struggle to establish democratic structures amidst conflicting factions. This ongoing political transition from a closely held military rule to a free democratic system is widely believed to be determining the future of Myanmar. The resounding victory of Aung San Suu Kyi‘s National League for Democracy in the 2015 general elections has raised hope for a successful culmination of this transition.
Is there any memory from Thailand that you’d like to tell us, an awkward situation, a fun moment, etc ?
Once, when my daughter was four years old, she came into a temple and she saw, as usual, a big Buddha statue surrounded by some smaller ones. She told me very excitedly: “ Look Daddy. Many baby Bhuddas ”. On another occasion, my parents came to visit me. For dinner I called telepizza and I ordered in Thai two small seafood pizzas. The pizzas came and my housemaid received them. We ate the two pizzas and the maid asked: What should I do with the other ten pizzas? Apparently I had mispronounced and had ordered twelve pizzas.
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
I meet my community less than I would like as they are spread around the country.
What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador for Spain to Thailand?
Public relations and meeting people. It allows me:
1) To strengthen the links between our two countries; 2) To promote a certain image of Spain; 3) To learn and to get ideas. Many of the initiatives I have taken came from ideas I got during a casual conversation. Maybe for an Ambassador, even more important than meeting people is listening carefully to them.
What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts?
There is a stereotype that I would like to dispel: the idea that diplomats are always in formal dinners and receptions and having fun. Receptions and dinners are of course part of our job. They are the places where we can meet people, make contacts and forward issues. However most of us would prefer to be resting at home.