Interview

In July last year, H.E. Mrs. Orna Sagiv arrived in Phuket for 14 day quarantine and immediately resumed the duty as the Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of Israel.  Since then, she has received the permission from the Palace to assume the position as Ambassador, and is currently waiting to present her credentials to King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. Expat Life sat down with Ambassador Orna to learn about her perspective on Thailand and discuss the bilateral relations between the two countries. 

Did you arrive to Thailand direct from home, and or, where were you posted before?

I was the Inspector General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem for the past five years; my latest overseas post was the Consul General of Israel in Mumbai, India from 2008-2013. Prior to that I was sent to study Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan and later posted as the spokesperson of the Embassy of Israel in Beijing, China. I also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission and Acting Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand.

Which city were you born and brought up?

I was born and brought up in Israel, in a city called Kfar Saba, a suburb 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv. I am still living in my same childhood house and that is where my husband and I are raising our three children.

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat? 

I was always fascinated by new, remote places, but finally made up my mind when I was a second year student in Bar-Ilan University studying for my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Criminology. It was a long journey to get accepted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cadet Course, since the demand has always been very high, and only few people were selected. At that point in time, I was very young, and I still didn’t understand that being a career diplomat is actually a ‘family career’, that involves my husband, our children and our parents.  It’s a very unique way of life and though there have been many challenges along the way, I wouldn’t have chosen any other profession.

Do you have any other diplomats in your family?

No, only me, but perhaps I gave one of my children a taste for a diplomatic career, we will have to wait and see. 

How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?

Thailand was one of the five founding members of ASEAN in 1967, and since then it has been playing a significant role in the organization.  I believe that Thailand has a major political and economic role in SE Asia, whether it is in ASEAN, ACMECS or other fora. Thailand is a strong social and economic power, with much influence over the neighbouring countries and meaningful connections with other countries in the Asian region and beyond it.

Thailand hosting the APEC summit by the end of 2022, is yet another opportunity it has to play a major regional and global role and to promote the peace, economic development and stability of the region.

On the Israeli context, MASHAV – the Israeli Agency for International Development Cooperation – often partners with TICA – Thailand’s International Cooperation Agency and other Thai institutions for creating joint programmes that benefit not only Thailand, but also other countries in the region. 

Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?

At first, it might be hard to see similarities, as Israel is a very small country with a population the size of Bangkok – about 9 million people. The landscape is very different too; where Thailand is a tropical country with lots of rain and fertile land, Israel is mostly arid or semi-arid land. However, when it comes to the people, there are many similarities. Both countries are creative, innovative and dynamic, while rooted in rich history and culture. It is no surprise that Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Israeli tourists – the warmth and openness of the Thai people make Israelis feel at home right away. I hope many Thai tourists and business people will visit Israel as well, and discover the warm hospitality of the Israelis towards Thai people and the endless opportunities for cooperation and collaboration between our two countries. 

Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or work?

My husband Isaac and I have two sons and one daughter.  My eldest son, Nadav, is 24 years old and is currently studying Materials Engineering in the Technion, Israel’s highest technology university. My second son, Matan, is 21 years old. He recently finished his military service and will soon start studying engineering as well. Both live in Israel. My youngest daughter, Raz, is 16 years old and she lives with us here in Bangkok.

How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?

The best part of diplomatic life is that no day is the same as the other. The Embassy is responsible for the relations between our nations in every field including political, economic, cultural and more. This leads to activities and meetings with politicians, government officials, businessmen, artists and more. I enjoy visiting projects and companies around the country and I’m happy the Covid situation allows us to keep doing that.

The Embassy is also engaged in activities such as flood relief aid delivery in Korat, donation of medical supplies to Chiang Mai, greenhouse inauguration in Koh Samui, Friendly Design Expo and recently, the International Women’s Day. I believe that as a diplomat, we should be part of the community, so we try to initiate meaningful activities in Bangkok and around Thailand.

Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfill before you leave Thailand?

I would be happy to see the friendly bilateral relations between Israel and Thailand thriving in every aspect. I hope to welcome high level political and business delegations from Israel, as well as invite the Thai leadership to visit my country. I also wish a bilateral FTA would be signed between our two countries for the benefit of business people both from Israel and from Thailand.  

Personally, I hope we can also jointly promote global agendas that are extremely meaningful to our two countries, such as the battle against global warming and climate change, creating inclusive and accessible conditions for people with disabilities and dealing with growing challenges of food, water and energy security.  Israel and Thailand enjoy good and friendly relations, but I hope we can promote them even more in all relevant so to us.

Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?

Like many Israelis after the military service, I visited Thailand for the first time as a backpacker in 1990. Since then, I returned to Thailand several times as a tourist before my current posting, because I really fell in love with the country. The change I see today comparing to 30 years ago, is astonishing; for example, I remember small cottages on the beach of Koh Samet with no electricity, and look at the island now! Since I arrived to Thailand in August last year, I visited Phuket, Khao Yai, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and a short visit to Korat, I also visited Surat Thani including Koh Samui, as well as Kanchanuburi and Koh Chang. I definitely plan to explore your beautiful country, both for work and for holiday.  

When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? A hobbies or pastimes?

I love cooking, but unfortunately, I haven’t had time for cooking recently. When I have a day off, we enjoy exploring Bangkok and the provinces around it landscape or temples, markets or just walking the streets and trying all sorts of food I really enjoy a day off in Bangkok. 

How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?

There are a few thousand Israelis residing in Thailand. Mostly in Bangkok, but also in the other parts of the country such as Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Koh Pangan and Phuket.  Large numbers of Israelis started to travel to Thailand in the 1990s when the Israeli Airlines EL-AL started operating direct flights from Tel Aviv to Bangkok. El-Al was operating eight weekly flight prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and together with other airlines, they were bringing over 200,000 Israeli to Thailand every year. Since Thailand started the Phuket Sandbox scheme, Israel was among top countries in number of tourists to the island and now that most of the restrictions were cancelled more Israeli choose to spend their holidays here in Thailand. My guess is that the combination of Thai’s warm hospitality with the beautiful landscape and the delicious food, makes Thailand irresistible.

Does your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?

Every year, about 100 vocational students from Thailand attend a special 11 month agricultural training programme in Israel. The students combine studies in classrooms and field work. This programme is very unique and it provides the students some “hands on” learning experience that they can later use in their own agriculture ventures in Thailand.

Any fun moment from Thailand that youd like to tell us about?

We participated in a beautiful cruise on the Chao Phraya River on Loy Kratong. The city looked magical, the feeling was mesmerising and it was a very unique evening.

Do you regularly meet up with your community?

Of course. It is very important for me to meet the community and understand their challenges and needs.  I meet the Jewish and Israeli community during the Jewish holidays and special occasions, but I also meet Israeli business people and others frequently, trying to assist if necessary and learning about their experiences and challenges here in Thailand.  I meet Israelis during my visits to the provinces as well.

I believe the Embassy serves as a bridge between Israel and Thailand and we do our best to promote the government, people and business relations, and to constantly develop them.

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In September last year, H.E. Mr. Jose Borges dos Santos Junior, Ambassador of the Embassy of Brazil to the Kingdom of Thailand arrived in Bangkok. Ambassador Jose presented his credentials to the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in November 2021. In addition to Thailand, he is also Ambassador to Cambodia and Laos. At the beautiful residence, Expat Life sat down with Ambassador Jose to learn about his perspective on Thailand and discuss the bilateral relations between the two countries. 

Career diplomat 

Ambassador Jose is a veteran diplomat of 41 years since joining the Foreign Service in the 1980’s. Born in the northern part of Brazil, a remote city called “Boa Vista”. Ambassador Jose recalled, “I was groomed to be a diplomat at a very young age. My mother and grandmother sent me to study French in Alliance Francaise, hoping that I would become a diplomat. I am proud to be the first ambassador from my state.” 

Prior to moving here, Ambassador Jose was Ambassador in Switzerland with jurisdiction also for the Liechtenstein principality from 2016 to 2018. Other overseas postings include London, Canberra, San Francisco, Brussels, Bogota, Los Angeles, New York and Houston.” He further admitted, “This is my first posting in Asia, and I had a strong desire to be posted to Thailand.” 

Bilateral trade relations between Brazil and Thailand 

Thailand is the first posting in Asia for Ambassador Jose. He frankly admitted, “I had asked to be posted Thailand as I believe that there are great potentials in bilateral trade relations to grow between our two countries. Despite the pandemic situation last year, the volume of Brazilian exports to Thailand grew by 36%. The latest figures showed that our trade volumes have reached 5.1 billion USD. Thailand imports huge volumes of soybeans and related products from Brazil, and the volume has increased significantly to 85%. After China and US, Brazil is placed as the 3rd provider of soybeans sub products here. Other Brazilian imports include agricultural machinery, shoes and leather products. We have recently received permission to import Brazilian beef into Thailand. In return, Thailand exports auto parts, IT equipment, natural rubber and electrical devices to Brazil.”

The ambassador further commented, “Thailand is the centre of the Mekong region. I believe the country offers as a compelling market and gateway to China and the ASEAN regional partners.”

Views on similarities between Brazil and Thailand 

Expat Life asked Ambassador Jose on his views of Thailand, “I see that our two countries have many similarities. One good example is the temperament of our people. Brazilians are intrinsically friendly just like the Thais. Brazilian households are very family oriented like many Asian families. We like to joke that Brazilian children never grow up and leave home.” 

Ambassador Jose shared another observation, “I recognise the urban chaos in Thailand is just like we have in Brazil. Amid the high rise office buildings, we see street vendors selling stuffs and flea markets popping up around Bangkok.”

Goals and plans for Thailand

On his goals during the term in Thailand, “This year 2022, Brazil celebrates the 200th bicentennial Anniversary of our Independence. The embassy has plans to organise cultural events such as concerts and art exhibitions, providing the Covid situation allows. Aside from soccer, Brazilian music is popular and played globally around the world.”

“Given that Brazil is a big country of over 200 million in population, many Brazilian companies are satisfied with our own domestic market. On the other hand, I strongly believe that no country can afford to miss out to be integrated into the global production chain. One of my objectives is to promote more business delegations between our two countries, to attract more Thai companies into Brazil and vice versa. In certain areas such as bio-fuels, there is plenty of room for research cooperation. Thai companies who have expanded into Brazil include Charoen Pokphand Foods, PTTEP, Minor Group, Cal-Comp and Indorama Ventures. We have recently inaugurated our Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai.”

There are around 400 Brazilians living in Thailand, many are expatriates sent by multi-national companies and few are married to locals. Prior to Covid, there are students exchange programmes organised by Rotary International and the American Field Service. On the day of the interview, Madame Danielle Bayer hosted a gathering for Brazilian ladies currently residing in Bangkok at the residence.

Travel around Thailand

Due to the Covid situation, for the past few months, Ambassador Jose has not followed a strict routine of a typical working day. With his goal to promote further investment in Brazil from Thailand, he has aimed to set aside at least one day per week to meet with Thai businessmen who are interested in Brazil.

As Madame Danielle and the two twin children only arrived in Thailand at the beginning of this year, Ambassador Jose admitted that he has not travelled much around Thailand yet with the young family. “So far, I have visited only Chiang Mai. I am looking forward to have the opportunity to explore Thailand. I was invited to join the Loy Krathong Festival at IconSiam. I am very impressed with the Thai festivities atmosphere, and the Thai hospitality that I have experienced since my arrival.”  

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February 4th marks the Independence Day of Sri Lanka. Expat Life sat down with H.E. Mrs. C.A. Chaminda I. Colonne, the new Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. Ambassador Chaminda arrived to Thailand directly from Sri Lanka last February. Her overseas postings have included Moscow, New Delhi and Berlin. 

Good morning Ambassador thank you for finding time to talk to us today. May I start with your background? Which city were you born and brought up? 

I was born and brought up in Colombo. 

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat? 

Let me to answer your question like this. I am a graduate from the Faculty of Science of the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and I specialised in Zoology and was an academic staff member at the Faculty of Zoology in the same university, before joining the Foreign Service. Since my childhood, I have loved animals and nature, and always wanted to conserve and protect them for future generations. 

Similarly, I always wanted to preserve Sri Lanka’s golden history, heritage, and archeological sites for future generations and to educate the world. We should be proud to be a part of a few countries that enjoy such a rich civilisation with more than 5,000 years of history, based on rich Buddhist cultural values. 

You must be aware that science diplomacy is becoming an important tool and mechanism that allows states to more effectively promote and secure their foreign policy agenda. The U.S, China, France and the UK are among the frontrunners who use modern science diplomacy. 

I joined the Foreign Service because it is one way to play an important role in addressing national and global challenges, in building bridges between communities, societies, and nations. Closer interactions between science and diplomacy could elevate the role of science in foreign policy to address national and global challenges. I feel the skills and knowledge I got through my science education could be very helpful to reach Sri Lanka’s foreign policy objectives.

How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context? 

ASEAN is progressing in the regional cooperation owing to the reasons like; using informal diplomacy to mitigate their bilateral disputes. The word “association‟ was used to separate it from an “organisation” and it carries a flexible style and informal approaches; ASEAN is observed as an ideal organisation for regional peace, stability, and prosperity; ASEAN member states formulate policies for ensuring its regional cooperation rather than state centric benefits.

In order to face the challenges of global pandemic, uncertainty of world’s economy, technology disruption, the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy model introduced by the Government of Thailand, planned to be implemented from 2021-2026, is very impressive. It will enhance Thailand’s capacity in science, technology and innovation to boost competitiveness of players across farm, food, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, bioenergy, biomaterials, tourism and the creative economy sectors.

Similarly, the Sri Lanka Government also plans to achieve definite growth in all three sectors, agriculture, industry and services and to become one of the fastest growing countries in the region in the next few years. As a country having very limited natural resources and without producing oil, gas or coal, we have chosen foreign investment to boost the export industry, create new jobs and support local businesses. 


Our two countries cooperate with each other in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) as regional cooperation is much more important in overcoming the contemporary socio-economic challenges and achieving common Sustainable Development Goals. As current chair, Sri Lanka will hand over the Chairmanship to Thailand in the forthcoming 5th BIMSTEC Summit scheduled to be held next month in Sri Lanka. I firmly believe that Thailand will carry forward the progress so far made by BIMSTEC to achieve regional development goals.

Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?

Thai-Sri Lankan relationship based on Theravada Buddhist Tradition dates back to centuries. Sri Lanka introduced Theravada Buddhist Tradition to Thailand and established a chapter called ‘Lankawamsa’; which is known as ‘Lankawong’ in Thailand. Similarly, when Buddhism was eroded in Sri Lanka during the colonial era, it was Most Venerable Pra Upali Thero who visited Sri Lanka and established the ‘Siam’ Chapter. Since then, there have been many cultural and religious exchanges between two countries. There are many similarities between two cultures, social values and traditions. 

We both celebrate or mark the similar events in Buddhist calendar. For example commemorating the birth, enlightenment and parinirbbana of Lord Buddha. Sri Lanka celebrates ‘Vesak’ and Thailand celebrates the same as ‘Visaka Puja’.

Sri Lanka also celebrates Sinhala and Tamil New Year on 13-14th April every year and similarly Thai people celebrate ‘Songkran Festival’ during the same period. This is the happiest time in the year, especially for kids in both countries. I see many similarities in our food, languages, greetings, clothing, dress, lifestyles and food habits, etc.  
 
How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?
 
Due to concurrent accreditation, in addition to the bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Thailand, I look after our bilateral interests with Cambodia, Laos and multilateral interests at UNESCAP, as Sri Lanka’s representative. Therefore, my day-to-day workload is high.
 
After presentation of Letters of Credence on 4th November 2021 to His Majesty the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua, King of the Kingdom of Thailand, I have now started paying my courtesy calls on Honourable Ministers and senior officials of the government and other agencies. During these courtesy calls we discuss on ways and means on enhancing our bilateral relations. 

Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfill before you leave Thailand?

Under the national policy framework ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, and the twenty Foreign Policy Guidelines of the government led by His Excellency the President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, priorities have been set. Sri Lanka is to become an investment friendly country with a high level of doing business to attract sustainable foreign direct investment.

I wish to recall with great honour the acceptance of my invitation extended to the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, for Thai investors to invest in the Colombo City Project and other investment opportunities in Sri Lanka, during my very first courtesy call on 6th September 2021.

As of today, we have vaccinated about 92% of our targeted population and we are now giving the booster dose. Due to our successful vaccination drive, Sri Lanka is now considered as a ‘safe destination to travel’. Our tourist numbers are increasing and our aim is to receive 200,000 tourists per month, which is currently at 50,000.
 
Sri Lanka is also a popular bio diversity hot spot and destination for Theravada Buddhism and adventure tourism. It has 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Travel Lemming and Bloomberg have ranked Sri Lanka as ‘one of the world’s best tourist destinations’. The Global Wellness Institute ranked Sri Lanka at ‘the top of the world’s Wellness Tourism Destination for 2021’ and Sri Lanka is ‘one of the top 25 islands’ voted by readers of Travel & Leisure magazine for 2021. Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy is one of the lifetime travel destination for Thai citizens. Our aim is to promote spiritual tourism between our two countries. 

The national policy framework; ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ also highlights friendly and non-aligned foreign policy and importance of developing strong trade relationship with Asian countries. Considering the longstanding traditional ties with Asia, South East Asia, East Asia, the government has given due prominence in it’s foreign policy to this region and has established a separate Ministry called the ‘State Ministry of Regional Cooperation’ under the Foreign Ministry for vigorous cooperation.

The One Tambon One Product (OTOP) programme in Thailand, has been introduced to Sri Lanka as One Village One Product (OVOP) based on sufficiency, economy, philosophy. Under the Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement between Sri Lanka and Thailand, ten areas namely; investment, infrastructure, gems and jewellery, agro industries, fisheries, tourism, SMEs, financial cooperation, packaging and IT have been focused on to develop. 

In 2013, Kandy in Sri Lanka and Ayutthaya in Thailand have been declared as ‘sister cities’. Beyond its religious and cultural relations, we are planning to implement a comprehensive trade and economic development programme between the two cities in future. To enhance people-to-people relations, we have proposed to establish Thai language centre in Sri Lanka and Sinhala language centre in Thailand. 

Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet? 


During my visit to National Office of Buddhism, Phutthamonthon, Nakhon Pathom, I paid homage to Phra Si Sakkaya Thotsaphala Yan Prathan Phutthamonthon Suthat, the Principal Buddha Statue of Buddhamonthon and Luang Pho Wat Rai Khing statue, Phra Thepsasanaphiban, the Ecclesiastical Regional Governor of Region 14 and the Abbot of Rai Khing at the Royal Temple in Nakhon Pathom Province. I also have been Wat Wajirathammarama where Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling was enshrined in Ayutthaya province.

 

I have also later jointly attended with the Governor of Nakhon Pathom Province Hon. Surasak Charoensirichot, at the enshrinement ceremony of the Buddha’s relics from Malwatta Maha Viharaya of Sri Lanka, Phra Sri Sakaya Tossapalayana statue, Sukhothai Buddha image in pacifying the ocean posture onto the directional arches of Phra Upali Maha Mongkon Stupa and the ceremony of casting the statue of Luang Pho Wat Rai Khing on the occasion of 99th Anniversary of Most Venerable Phra Upali Kunupamachan, (Panya Inthapanyamahathera), former Abbot of Wat Rai Khing, the Royal Temple.  

I also participated at the Katina Ceremony last year, 2021 led by Most Venerable Abbot Athikaran Prasart Khemapunyo at Wat Dhammarama, Ayutthaya, historical temple that Late Most Venerable Pra Upali Maha Thera stayed and started journey to Sri Lanka, on King Boromakot’s order and King Kirti Sri Raja Singha’ s request to ordain people and promote Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 1753. 

When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? A hobbies or pastimes?

Prefer to enjoy wild life; birdwatching, visiting sanctuaries, historical religious sites and listening music are my favourites.

How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?

Approximately 100. Similar socio-cultural-religious values in Thailand attract the Sri Lankans. Thailand is a preferred education, shopping, leisure and recreation destination among Sri Lankans.

Does your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?

Sri Lanka Ambassador has been represented on the Board of Trustees of Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) since 1977 and enjoys longstanding partnerships and collaborations between AIT and Higher Education Institutes in Sri Lanka.  As the newly elected Co-chairperson of the AIT Board Student Relations Committee of the AIT, I wish to enhance Student relations with the AIT management in the coming years. 

Initiatives have been made to precede a MoU between AIT, Thailand and State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovations of Sri Lanka on possible partnerships in skill development sector in Sri Lanka and a MoU on Capacity Building PhD Partnership Programme between the AIT, Thailand and UGC, Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy (SIBA) is affiliated with Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University and we look forward to enhancing more collaboration in future to promote Dhamma education. 

There are Sri Lankan students pursuing their higher studies at the Universities of Chulalongkorn, Chulabhorn, Mahidol, Kasetsart, Mea Fah Luang and Sirindorn International Institute of Technology, Rajamangala University of Technology etc.

Any fun moment from Thailand that you
d like to tell us about?

 

Frankly not. Due to COVID-19 pandemic our movements and engagements are limited.

Do you regularly meet up with your community?

You must be aware that COVID-19 pandemic restricts our routine regular interactions. However, meetings are held on virtually and in person time to time.

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Expat Life in Thailand were honoured to sit down and talk to the new European Union Ambassador David Daly. Personally, I was very pleased to see an Irishman take over the role from H.E. Mr. Pirkka Tapiola. We asked him about his past, his first impressions of Thailand and what his goals are for the future.

How long have you been the EU Ambassador to Thailand?

I arrived in Thailand at the end of August, and I presented my Letter of Credence to His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn on 5 November. From that moment on I have been the EU Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand.

Did you arrive to Thailand direct from home, and or where were you posted before?

I came to Thailand from Brussels where the European Union’s headquarters are based, including the European External Action Service (EEAS) for which I work. The EEAS is the diplomatic service of the European Union; it brings together colleagues from the EU member countries’ diplomatic services with colleagues from the EU institutions, to create a new EU diplomatic service. It supports the common EU foreign and security policy and ensures the overall political coordination of the many external actions of the EU.

May I ask which city were you born and brought up in?

I come from County Sligo in the Northwest of Ireland – a very beautiful place with the sea, mountains, and lakes. 

At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?

I have always had a wide range of interests including in history, geography, politics, and travel; this has led me to have a certain curiosity about what happens around the world and why. From an early age I was fascinated by my father’s stories of having taught English in Iraq after the Second World War. This was a good basis for being interested but I never said to myself “Now I want to become a diplomat”; it just became an opportunity after university, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Irish Diplomatic Service. From day one I have found it to be a fascinating career – and I still do today.

Are there any other diplomats in your family?

No, although many family members have worked abroad at various stages in their lives, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia – something which is not unusual in Irish families. 

How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?

The European Union views Thailand as an important partner both bilaterally and regionally. The EU is Thailand’s 3rd ranked investment partner and 4th ranked trading partner. We do around €30 billion in trade each year, that’s around €600 million a week – this in turn creates jobs both in Thailand and in the EU. The same goes for investments – Thai companies investing in Europe and EU companies investing here in Thailand.  Beyond trade and investment there are also many other shared priorities such as climate change and the environment, sustainable development, maritime security and fisheries issues, people-to-people contacts whether for tourism or for research and academic exchanges.

Politically also the EU recognises that Thailand is an important country in an important region. The EU leaders endorsed a new Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region a few weeks ago. This new strategy recognises the importance of the Indo-Pacific and invites cooperation with the EU on key priority areas such as sustainable and inclusive prosperity, green transition, ocean governance, digital governance and partnerships, connectivity, security and defence, and human security. 

At the SE Asian level, Thailand has been supportive of a stronger cooperation between ASEAN and the EU over recent years. In late 2020, we launched the EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership and a lot of the groundwork on this was done during the period when Thailand was the ASEAN coordinator for relations with the EU (2016-2019). Many priority issues in EU-ASEAN relations, including on sustainable development, are issues on which Thailand plays a leading role within ASEAN. 

Do you see any similarities between the EU and Thailand?

Europe has a rich cultural heritage and many beautiful and interesting places to visit, as indeed has Thailand. Within the EU there are 27 different countries, each has its own wonderful specialties. Naturally, I look forward to discovering Thailand’s cultural heritage during my tenure here. 

May I ask if you have children, if so, what age are they and where do they study or work?

My wife Aideen and I have three children, two boys Seán (29 years) and Aiden (26 years), and our daughter Ceola (21 years). Both the boys are working, Seán in London, Aiden in Dublin. Ceola is in her final year of university doing a degree in English and Drama at Dublin University, Trinity College.

How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?

The work is interesting, intensive, and important. The average day is generally not routine because even if one has planned various meetings and/or events, there are always urgent issues which come up unexpectedly. I have found it the same in the other diplomatic missions in which I have served – India, Hungary, Australia, and Sri Lanka – I am sure that it is the same for diplomats everywhere. There is a constant dynamism in international relations. 

Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?

Recognising the important progress made by my predecessor Ambassador Tapiola in this respect, I nonetheless want to build an even stronger relationship between the EU and Thailand. In diplomacy we often work for the benefit of our successors; we invest our energy in creating a framework for better cooperation which yields its rewards after we are gone. I very much hope that during my term we will have signed our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, that we will have resumed our negotiations on an ambitious Free Trade Agreement and be well advanced in them, and that we have further strengthened our cooperation across the board, including on human rights issues, as well as on regional and global issues such as climate change, oceans’ governance, maritime and cyber security, and digitalisation, to name just a few.

Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?

Aideen and I recently visited the beautiful island of Phuket for a long weekend. The EU has some projects on sustainable development and maritime littering which benefit Phuket. We greatly enjoyed our stay and would like to return. However, we are very conscious that there are many such wonderful places in Thailand to visit, whenever time and the restriction on travel allows.  

When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Any hobbies or pastimes?

On a day off Aideen and I like to explore Bangkok. We have seen some beautiful Wats and interesting markets. We know that there is still plenty for us to discover. When not exploring we like to read, listen to music, play badminton and other sports. We were delighted to discover that there is a Gaelic Football Club in Bangkok – this is a very special type of football native to Ireland, not soccer, not rugby – perhaps lessor known, but much better! 

Have you any idea how many Europeans from the 27 countries are living in Thailand? Why did Thailand become such a desirable destination?

Many tens of thousands of Europeans live in Thailand on a long term basis and many more come as tourists each year, pre-Covid. With its famous cuisine, beautiful beaches, temples and diverse and scenic countryside, as well as its year round tropical temperatures, it is easy to see how Thailand is an attractive tourist destination. We all hope for a continued improvement in the Covid situation enabling movement restrictions to be further eased.

Do the EU countries that you represent, and Thailand have exchange programmes for students?

The EU offers one of the world’s largest scholarship programme called the Erasmus+ which enables student and academic exchanges between EU and partner countries’ institutions. We encourage future generations to think beyond national borders with an international outlook. The International Credit Mobility Programme under the Erasmus+ has welcomed over 1,500 Thai participants since 2015, while close to 400 Thai students have been awarded the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) scholarships so far. At the same time, Erasmus+’s Capacity Building in Higher Education projects (CBHE) support collaboration between institutions, particularly the smaller higher education Institutions and universities. 

Apart from our scholarship, we also have the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, which give funding to researchers regardless of their nationality and foster cooperation with European research institutes. These EU exchange programmes are in addition to those of the EU member states.

Any experience in Thailand so far that you would like to tell us about? 

One very special moment was a sunset cruise on our recent trip to Phuket – just magical!

Do you regularly meet up with your community?

All the Ambassadors of the EU member states have constant contact with their nationals based in Thailand. As the EU Ambassador I am always ready to support them whenever they would wish for the broader EU perspective to be brought to their nationals’ attention.

We wished David well and hope that he has a useful, happy, and creative posting in Thailand and wait for further developments and announcements soon…

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Black Caviar is one of the world’s most exquisite and exotic foods. Fish roe that is from a sturgeon is considered black caviar because the eggs are commonly darker in color. True caviar comes from wild sturgeon, which belong to the Acipenseridae family. While the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea produced much of the world’s caviar for a long time, farm-produced caviar has now become popular, as wild sturgeon populations have been depleted from overfishing.

 

Expat Life was invited by Dr. Alexey Tyutin, Managing Director from Thai Sturgeon Farm Company Limited to visit their Hua Hin operation to learn more about this exotic delicacy. In Thailand, consumption of black caviar is popular among the upper middle class. The company supplies black caviar to luxury restaurants and hotels around the country. Reviews from the customers are very positive and highly rated.

 

Caviar as a delicacy 

 

Caviar comes from the Persian word “khaviar”, which means, “egg carrier.” Traditional caviar is the roe from wild sturgeon raised in the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea and has historically been called “black gold”; it is harvested from beluga, osetra, and sevruga sturgeon. In 1240, black caviar has been mentioned the first time in the historical records by the office of Mongolian Khan Batyi with the word “khaviar”; that later turned into “caviar” that we are using nowadays. In 1552 Russian Tsar Ivan IV The Terrible sieged Kazan and Astrahkan that used to be a part of Kazan Khanate and that started a true Russian caviar era. In 1629 Alexey Mikhailovich Romanov became Russian Tsar, over a decade over 300 tons of caviar produced in Russia were exported to Europe. The latest report on the caviar market from the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) shows that in 2018, global production of caviar was 380 MT.

 

In caviar, it is possible to affirm that its high cost is due to the scarcity of sturgeon fish, where the unique delicacy is extracted. This type of fish does not reproduce like other maritime species that multiply exponentially throughout all the world’s seas. Given this situation, prices are usually high.

 

Alexey explained, “Around the world, demand for the black caviar is high as before and even more, after all the sturgeon population has decreased and it is getting harder to get it. Caviar has been a Russian black gold long before the oil trade. Potential solution of the problem is aqua cultural fish breeding. Now the highest quality and the most expensive caviar comes from Iran, including the highest prized golden caviar Almas can fetch a price of over 20,000 Euros (USD 25,000) for a kilogram.”

 

New healthy way of production

 

Dr. Alexey described, “Five years ago, we built a sturgeon-breeding farm in Hua Hin, with a capacity of 1,5 tons of black caviar a year. Our aim is to sell black caviar in Thailand as well as other Asian markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. The new technology not only took pressure off the natural ecosystems but even helped increase the endangered sturgeon population. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to breed sturgeon in simulated conditions as, for instance, salmon. The fact is that sturgeon species are extremely sensitive to the water pollution level, and above all they do not spawn in captivity. They need a special pool and female fertilization is managed with an operation.”

 

He further elaborated, “There is a risk of females dying while extracting caviar, but the loss of fish is only 1-2 % per year with our production method. Sturgeon breeding in aqua-farms presents an opportunity to get black caviar without killing the fish. Russia invented the method of extracting the caviar from the fish’s body with a cesarean-like surgical procedure. Fish females are not getting killed anymore in order to extract the caviar but can be used for another fertilization. A great advantage of this procedure is that the extracted caviar does not become overripe and deteriorate, and its quality remains extra high. Now the cycle from fertilization to caviar extraction can be repeated several times in a row.”

 

 

Tips of consuming black caviar

 

Dr. Alexey shared, “China now is the biggest caviar producer in the world covering more than 35% of the total market production. Europe is probably the biggest caviar consumer however a recent research has shown that 17 of 22 top restaurants in Paris are using Chinese caviar through the French brands. A few times, I met the Chinese farm representatives of Kaviari, Petrossian and CaviarHouse & Prunier that came to purchase caviar and control its quality before shipments. However, Europe and Arabic countries still allow usage of E285 (sodium tetraborate) firstly to prolong expiration date to 8-9 months and also to give caviar that popping effect. Europe allows using 0.4% of Borax though only 0.1% is recommended and their salt percentage is very high – 4.5%. Recent studies warned that E285 could be dangerous to a human body but still widely used by the European brands. E285 is forbidden in South East Asia and the United States; Russia uses sorbic acid instead, which is much less dangerous. Literally saying if you see any French or Italian caviar being sold in the supermarkets, it means that possibly they do not have FDA approval or avoid showing E285 on the tin.”

Readily pack for consumption

 

According to Dr. Alexey, “We produce only true Fresh Malossol caviar in Russian style with no preservatives added, no pasteurization and our products have from 2.8% to 3.2% of salt maximum. That limits us with expiration time but we prefer to deliver the best taste of caviar to our customers. We reduce salt percentage dramatically because most Thai people do not like caviar being too salty and come with a fishy smell.  We are working in Thailand for the past years launching promotions, events, and educating customers. We aim to create a bigger demand in caviar, as our farm annual production is 1.5 tons a year. Thai market for caviar is growing and we are taking a serious part in directing this process; I believe that in 3 -4 years caviar consumption will double and for that we lowered the prices on all items including fine Beluga caviar to stimulate more sales. In 2018 we opened a restaurant next to the farm serving mostly dishes of sturgeon and caviar in the menu.”

 

 

Benefits of black caviar

 

Aside from being as a luxurious seafood delicacy for culinary enjoyment, black caviar has been backed by science to have beneficial health properties due to its unique balanced composition.  Besides the perfect proteins, it contains vitamins A, B, C, D and E as well as micronutrients such as iodine, zinc, potassium, sodium and magnesium. Black caviar helps to improve the cardiovascular system and gastrointestinal tract.

 

Dr. Alexey enlightened, “Scientists have proved that people who regularly eat black caviar live for about 4-9 years longer than the others. The tiny eggs prevent the formation of cancer. Black caviar is recommended to those whose hemoglobin level is low because it compensates the deficiency of iron in the body. In addition, black caviar contains phosphorus, which is also needed for bone formation. Regular consumption of phosphorus helps to cope with insomnia and mental fatigue. It is also rich in lecithin and omega fatty acids that has beneficial effects on the brain and improves memory. Another benefit of black caviar is its richness in iodine, which serves as a good prevention for diseases of the thyroid gland.”

Informed further, “The miraculous beneficial characteristics of the black caviar began to be used for cosmetic purposes. It has been proven that nutritional characteristics of eggs are extremely useful for the maintenance of youthful skin as well as gloss and density of hair. Black caviar can be easily used for low-carbohydrate diets. It goes perfectly delicious on a simple boiled egg. New research proves that constant consumption of this wonder food is a way to extend youth, strength and potency due to its content of collagen. Another interesting benefit of black caviar is its content of acetylcholine, which increases human tolerance to alcohol. Enjoying this delicacy during a party will make you feel fresh and full of energy after a long cheerful night.” 

Black caviar is considered as a culinary delicacy, after learning their potential nutrimental benefits, all the more reason to savor by frequent consumption or use new cosmetic products that contain black caviar essence!

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We speak today to Simon Landy MBE, a long term resident of Thailand, highly successful real estate executive and property expert plus the author of The King and the Consul (River Books), a recent non-fiction history about the events surrounding the signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855.

 

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

 

When did you first come to Thailand?

I first came to Thailand in 1980. I was working in Singapore and came for a break. My most vivid memory is of travelling to Chiang Mai, getting very drunk with the hostel owner and agreeing to go the very next morning on a four day hilltribe trek. It was a wonderful experience, only marred by my lack of suitable footwear. I bought the largest trainers I could find in a shop in Fang. But they were two sizes too small and I ended up with gangrene of the foot. That experience somehow inspired me to apply for jobs (and accept one) in Bangkok as soon as I got back there.

 

What has changed here the most and the least?

Bangkok for both. I don’t share the nostalgic whingeing for an imaginary utopian Bangkok in the past that some people have. Perhaps I’m just too young! As long as I have known the city, it’s been a noisy, polluted, traffic jammed, chaotic and sometimes violent city that is simultaneously colourful, vibrant, exciting and even charming. One big change is air conditioned cars. The traffic is as bad or worse than before, but now drivers aren’t sweating at interminable red traffic lights, leaning on their horns and cursing the world in general and the vehicle in front of them in particular.

 

What got you interested in writing your latest book?

It was the sale and demolition of the British Embassy on the corner of Wireless and Ploenchit roads. Looking at the history of that site led me to the story of how the British were granted land on the river in Bangrak by King Mongkut in the 1850s. I felt that the little known story of intrigue and human tragedy that lay behind that gift needed to be told. Plus, it had a gruesome death! And for me it also shed a fascinating light on the history of property rights in Thailand that explained issues that had always puzzled me in my day job in property.

What do you do for enjoyment?

Covid has taught us to either enjoy the simpler pleasures of family, reading and Netflix or go bonkers. If the world were to return to what we used to consider normal, my wife and I would probably be travelling more and doing more of those cultural activities that we used to enjoy, although, weirdly, we might miss the predictability and equilibrium of lockdown life a little.

 

Where are your favourite places to visit?

We love to travel just about anywhere in Europe and Asia. In the former, Tuscany would have to be at or near the top; in the latter, it’s hard to beat upcountry Thailand. During lockdowns, my favourite place to visit is the kitchen.

 

Can you tell us about your family?

I have a small family. My daughter, Salisa, is married to Patrick and they have a young daughter, Raya. They live in Thailand, so my wife, Napaporn (Ad), and I try to spend as much time as possible here.

 

What are your favourite foods to eat?

I’m not a fussy eater, so can enjoy most cuisines. In Thailand, it’s hard to beat a great bowl of noodles for lunch and spicy curries (kaeng liang, kaeng tai pla) with jasmine rice, but I try to eat fewer carbs these days so often end up with a Mediterranean wrap or Japanese food.

 

What advice do you have for anyone who wants to move to Thailand to live?

I don’t – have advice, that is. There are few things as irritating as some old fart dispensing generalised wisdom from personal experience. On second thoughts, I would advise getting the right visa.

 

What do you see in the future for yourself?

I see great fame and riches when my book hits the top of international best seller lists, a contract to turn it into a mini series for a global streaming platform and a series of follow on projects that would rival the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises for popularity. At least that’s what I think the mor du said.

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Expat Life had the pleasure of sitting down with H.E. Mark Gooding the British Ambassador to Thailand and discuss his life, his first impressions of Thailand after six months of office, and his mission for the future.

He came to Thailand in early July 2021 so has had a difficult first six months coping with Covid, as everyone else in the world has. But for a diplomat whose role is to represent his country overseas and to speak for his nation to our hosts it has not been easy.

He is an accomplished linguist studying French and German at Oxford University, some Spanish and having served in China for some years, Mandarin and now of course, Thai. I was pleased to hear that he expects to be in Thailand for at least 4/5 years which certainly makes more sense than limiting his posting to the normal 3 years. He said that the Foreign Office makes the investment of giving you language training and so they encourage you to stay for a while.

I wanted to know more about the man and his origins so I started the conversation off with Where are you from in the UK, which city, where were you bought up and where did you study?
I was born and bought up in Guildford in Surrey and studied at Oxford and for all of my adult life, apart from when I have been posted overseas, I have been living in London which I now consider my home in the UK. I have just been back in the UK for a couple of weeks which I always enjoy.

May I ask you what your parents professions were?
My father was an RAF officer and my mother was a secretary. He has no other diplomats in his family.

What made you pursue a life in diplomacy?
As a teenager and in university I was very interested in politics, foreign affairs and languages which I studied in university so I was very keen to live and work overseas and be involved in international relations. The Foreign Office was a pretty obvious career choice and I count myself lucky that I got in and have been doing it now for 22 years.

Having studied languages at university I had a natural interest in foreign affairs and my first job was as a teacher in Sri Lanka. I then worked for a pharmaceutical company for about a year, then saw an application to join the Foreign Office and have been with them since. He is now 46 years old.

He has had two postings in China, one in Shanghai and another in Beijing. He was then appointed Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, a country dear to his heart because of his teaching experience there. He was Ambassador to Cambodia so he is well qualified and seems to have been destined for Thailand with its leading role in ASEAN.

This is my fifth overseas posting for the Foreign Office he said.

I have also done various roles for the government in London. Most recently I was the EU Director working on Brexit and 14 years ago I was Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary. Quite diverse, but mostly I have focussed on policy in Asia but also in Europe.

Education has become one of the UK’s biggest, and certainly the most successful exports to Thailand?
He acknowledged that fact and he said he has spoken to a number of the British school head teachers online as we have been locked down for most of the time but now restrictions are easing he hopes to visit and meet them all in person. With my past as a former teacher I am very keen at promoting education. It is very important to me and as a former student of languages I understand how important it is to teach English language learning.

How can we influence more Thais to speak English?
We discussed the role that the British Council had in assisting the Ministry of Education in Thailand in training their English language teachers under Dr. Teerakiat Jareonsettasin. The British Council also offer direct English language tuition quite extensively in Thailand but they also have various teacher training courses and online learning material for English language teachers as well as extensive free online resources for English learners of all ages which I support.

What I see here is a lot of enthusiasm, particularly from young people, for study opportunities overseas and in terms of English language overseas destinations the UK is the most popular, we have about 7,000 Thai students going to study at British universities every year. To enter a British university you have to have a sufficient level of English to study in the UK. But the Thai youth also have access to English language media, TV, films, arts and culture as well as the travel opportunities. Obviously English is widely spoken across the world so if you are going to do business it is normally the international language spoken between business people. The English language is really useful and young people usually understand that but learning any language is good for the brain as it is an excellent academic discipline.

Forgetting Covid what is your biggest challenge in Thailand so far?
It’s an interesting question as Covid has had such a dramatic effect on all our lives. I started the role at the beginning of July with restrictions in place, on meetings and travel, as well as the direct challenge of vaccinating the population. The challenge now is prioritisation. There are huge opportunities for the UK and Thailand both on the trade and economic side but also on the political and security side. As well of course as our services for British nationals and the huge demands on the embassy team so we need to try to manage those demands in the most sensible and effective way. But it is a very positive challenge and I am enjoying it and it is evident that that are many opportunities ahead.

Liz Truss’s recent visit illustrated the importance of maintaining and opening trade relations in SE Asia – how did it go?
It was excellent, obviously she is a fairly new Foreign Secretary, so for her to come to the Far East so early in her tenure shows the level of importance that she and the government attach to the region.

I was very happy that she came to Thailand in early November just after they had eased many of the travel restrictions so it really felt to me that we are back in business. We can start doing business again, seeking new opportunities in the future! She had a varied programme meeting the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and others. She attended various other events as well as the official opening of the new British Embassy. For me it was a really important moment for us to be more ambitious, more visible and really strengthen our ties with Thailand.

It is a difficult country to do business here isn’t it?
In terms of trade and business there are challenges but there are huge opportunities here. It is the second biggest economy in ASEAN so one of my priorities in the next few months will be to work with the British business community and the Thai government to identify what the barriers are to trade, where there are regulations or market access barriers and resolve those to make trade easier and therefore increase trade and commerce between our two countries.

Luckily you have a good Chairman at the BCCT in Chris Cracknell.
Yes we have, the British Chamber has been very helpful and I have a close relationship with the board. They have also been very helpful in the vaccination programme. I have met the board and will be attending their events in the future.

We agreed earlier this year to set up a new UK/Thailand Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) at Ministerial level. This will be the forum for us to discuss how we can take the trading relationship forward. So for me working with BCCT to agree what the priorities are for British business and to make that forum a success is absolutely key.

Just how good is your Thai?
I was very lucky to be sent on a one year course, which was interrupted by Covid, which focussed on the job-related language, specifically detail on the political situation, economics and social issues. I am still having weekly lessons so I am still trying hard to master the language.

What do you and your partner most love about living in Thailand?
I have been to Thailand many times over previous years, both on business and personal trips. I first came in the 1990s as a student backpacker and travelled around for a month or so.

I love the nature, the countryside, the scenery. I found the history and culture fascinating then and now I work as a diplomat I see the opportunities for the UK and Thailand. The UK and SE Asia region generally has been very exciting. We visited many times and we were here for a few months before I started the job when there were fewer restrictions and we were able to travel around. But now things are starting to open up we are really looking forward to visiting more parts of the country. To make more Thai friends and visit new places so there is lots that we love about the country.

Any particular place that you took to so far?
Well I took an official trip to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago which I think is a wonderful city, fascinating history, with very beautiful countryside surrounding and nearby. Over the years I have been lucky to have travelled to the south to many of the resorts and beaches, to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya for the culture and history. But now I am living here permanently I am hoping to visit places ‘off the beaten track’ both in an official, but also a personal capacity.

Any hobbies or pastimes?
Travelling is a key interest discovering new places, people and cultures. I like most sports, swimming and I enjoy running in Lumphini Park in the mornings. I have a love for music, I play the piano and sing and am an enthusiastic member of the Royal Choral Society of London.

What are you most proud about the work of the embassy and your staff in 2021?
It has been a challenging year for all countries across the world due to Covid but we have continued to deliver services remotely to British nationals throughput the year. We made considerable progress on vaccinations and in easing travel restrictions.

On the policy side we did a lot of work on climate change before the climate change summit in the UK. COP 26 was a great success and we were pleased that Prayut Chan o cha the Thai Prime Minister attended the Glasgow conference and announced more ambitious emissions targets for Thailand. Earlier in the year, we agreed to establish the Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO). I was delighted to have the Foreign Secretary here last month. With all the travel restrictions we have had much less face to face contact so finishing the year on a high note having the Foreign Secretary here setting a direction for stronger cooperation in the future was a big step forward.

What is at the top of your agenda in 2022? Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?
Well a number of things actually. We have government to government regular meetings scheduled which means that we have a strategic dialogue between Foreign Office Ministers to discuss the wider bilateral relationship. Having just established the Joint Economic and Trade Committee we are intent on making that a great success. I think that there are three key areas of policy focus number. One would be on the economic side to deepen and strengthen the trade relationship but also to work more on priorities for future economic development. By that I mean science and technology, digital, education, financial services.

Secondly would be to ramp up our security cooperation between the two countries. We already do quite a lot of work on tackling organised crime and counter terrorism. I think that there is a lot more we can do on cyber security as well as maintaining our normal political dialogue.

Thirdly the UK has just become an ASEAN dialogue partner so we are looking to build our cooperation with ASEAN countries across the region so that would be an important area of work for us.

The other category is our Consular support, making sure that we deliver excellent support to British Nationals in need, particularly the most vulnerable. Obviously tourist numbers have been down for 2 years but when tourism numbers pick up we need to be prepared for different scenarios on the tourist side

Why did it take so long for the UK to accept Thai administered AZ vaccines?
Not at all, we like other countries opened up travel and our borders very cautiously. Everyone had to self isolate initially then we started recognising vaccines gradually. First those administered in the UK, then a few weeks later those from the US and EU, and then other countries. Thailand was recognised fairly quickly but this was always going to be a gradual process. Then sadly Thailand was on the red list for several weeks. One key issue is vaccine certification where we need to ensure that every country reaches the minimum certification standards in order to recognise vaccines administered there. 

Why did the UK not provide vaccines for its nationals resident in Thailand like several other countries?
It was only very few countries that did, namely France and China. The UK along with many other countries lobbied hard for the Thai government to provide vaccinations for all residents regardless of nationality and based on vulnerability as we felt this was the best policy to pursue in order to protect our British residents. That is what we did in the UK and we felt that this was the most efficient policy worldwide. The Thai authorities have now rolled out a successful vaccination campaign, with over 16,000 British nationals receiving their vaccinations already.

Why are overseas pensions frozen when UK pensioners get an annual increase in line with inflation?
This is a long standing policy of successive British Governments overseen by the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK. While the British Embassy cannot change this policy, we do encourage people planning to retire in Thailand to make sure they take this issue into account as they plan their finances.

Residents in Thailand from various other countries are able to vote in their land of origin – British passport holders are not. There have been discussions about this back home but as yet no decision. Can you update us and take back our concerns along with all the others listed here?
British nationals overseas who have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years can vote in British Parliamentary elections. There is currently a debate in the UK Parliament about potential changes to the 15 year limit, so watch this space…

Has it been finally decided what will happen to the statue of Queen Victoria?
The statue will be situated in a public park in a place of reverence and respect by the new owners of the site, Hong Kong Land and Central Patana. They realise the importance of the statue to the resident British community and visitors to Thailand.

Is it likely that we will ever purchase or build an alternative in Thailand?
In terms of are we ever likely to move we have only been in our current facility for a year so not in the immediate future but never say never. As a working environment it works well. It is different to what we had before in that it is not a big compound, but my job as the new Ambassador is to make it work.

We discussed the sentiment that was attached to the old British Embassy but the Ambassador replied that while the move took place before his arrival and he had never worked in the old compound, many people had mentioned this to him and he recognised the depth of sentiment. However, his job is to make the current situation work and I understood that.

I get what you are saying about perceptions and the actual Embassy presence is one part of that but to me visibility of an embassy is much more that that. When I look at my team we have about 150 staff in the embassy and what I want is for them to be out and about meeting people whether it is British community on our Consular side or decision makers, opinion leaders, business people and making sure that we know the people that are influential so we can build those ties between the UK and Thailand so being visible in that way is important but also being visible publicly through the media so I have done a number of media interviews so far. We are very active on social media – tens of thousands of people follow us on social media and you cannot get those people through an embassy door. So we need to make ourselves visible in other ways.

I am trying to get more top level ministerial visits to make sure people know who we are, where the opportunities are and how they can work with us.

Thank you Mark for finding time to talk to me and for being so frank.

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I write this from the terrace of what could be a castle in a fairytale. A German Palace in the style of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, or a French chateau in the wine region of the Loire. The expansive manicured gardens stretch out before me for as far as the eye can see and beyond them the valley of Khao Yai National Park.

The wind is fresh, clean and the skies are clear looking over the first tee of an 18 hole golf course at the Movenpick Khao Yai, probably one of the very best views that I, a country boy from England, have ever see in Thailand.

Set in 2,000 rai on the edge of the National Park 180kms – under three hours above Bangkok en route to Nakhon Ratchasima is the most beautiful white walled multi turreted classic hotel. Beauty like this is rarely seen in Thailand. I think that the owner must have visited France and Germany and seen similar buildings set in green and verdant lands and returned to Thailand with that vision in his mind. He then set about building it for the residents of Thailand.

Now here, Thailand’s residents can be whisked away to a land of dreams and fairytales. Natural beauty is no stranger to Thailand’s residents but this has been created or assisted in the most scenic of settings.

I was lucky enough to meet the French General Manager Benoit Metanomski and it was no surprise that the owners have chosen a European to lead his team of hospitality staff. The Movenpick brand is renowned for its excellence in cuisine and the food quality is first class. The chef Antonio …….. is Italian and his Thai Executive chef Amorn (Jackie) ……  have both worked in some of the best hotels in the world to reach this nirvana. 

The hotel was originally called My Ozone but 3 (?) years ago the management contract was awarded to Accor the French based international hotel giant. I truly cannot find the words to do justice to this beautiful edifice. A monument of design. It’s impressive entrance guarded from the hordes of Thai ‘instagramers’ that would surely plague the chosen few that have paid for such serenity.

Our room was immaculate and equipped with fresh white linen and towels, comfortable furniture and every luxury you would expect in a 5 star hotel. It was busy despite the lack of international tourists so obviously word has travelled fast and the domestic residents – both Thai and expats want to experience the luxuries of high society.

They are opening an Italian signature restaurant upstairs so I hope to visit again soon to sample the excellence but in the meantime I have pleasant memories of my all to brief visit and highly recommend a visit to explore the area, the flora and fauna and what must be a candidate for the cleanest air in Thailand. 

Movenpick Khao Yai 

https://www.movenpickresortkhaoyai.com 

334 Moo 6, Tambon Wangsai, Amphoe Pakchong, 30130 Nakorn Ratchasima, 04 400 9100

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Thailand and Kenya have enjoyed cordial ties and close cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1967. Kenya opened its Embassy in Thailand in 2006 but had maintained an Honorary Consulate since 1992 and since then both countries have expanded cooperation in various sectors including trade and investment, health, agriculture, fisheries, amongst others.
 
Expat Life sat down with H.E. Mr. Lindsay Kimwole Kiptiness, the new Kenyan Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand with accreditation to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos PDR and Myanmar. Prior to his posting to Thailand in March 2021, Ambassador Kiptiness was the Director for Asia-Pacific Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya and the Deputy Head of Mission at the Kenyan Embassies in Turkey, Sudan and Botswana.
Which city were you born and brought up?
 
I was born in a village called Kartur, deep in rural Kenya, 600km, Northwest of Nairobi, the capital city. I grew up in a rural setting where I went to school every morning and, in the afternoon, looked after my father’s livestock. During weekends, my siblings and I either worked on the family land or looked after the livestock. School life was tough, often running up the hill, 10km every day to and from school without shoes. As a polygamist, my father had two homesteads set over 50km apart and he would sometimes send my sister and I to trek through the forest teeming with dangerous animals to the second homestead to take care of the animals. At the age of 12, I moved to the city of Nairobi to stay with my elder brother and was forced to a repeat class four to improve my English, which was not very good, having come from a rural setting.
 
 
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
 
Deciding to be a diplomat is a recent development. Whilst growing up, I wanted to become a teacher or an army officer, luckily, I became my first choice – a teacher. I did not however teach for long as I switched to a District Officer when the opportunity arose in 1995. After 10 years, I wanted a change to a more challenging environment where I could use my deep knowledge about the local environment to promote Kenya’s interests abroad, hence the decision to transfer my services to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Kenya, you do not just join diplomatic service like any other public service, you must undergo a one year Post Graduate Diploma course in Diplomacy and International studies at the University of Nairobi as a precondition, which I did 2005. I have also attained a Master’s Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in Turkey and a diploma in National Security and Defence Studies at the National Defence College of Kenya. I am currently writing a project for my second Master’s degree in International Studies, at the University of Nairobi and have done various diplomatic courses in the USA, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Turkey and Sudan. I have visited over 30 countries in the course of my diplomatic service. I have served in various capacities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including as Director for Horn of Africa Division, where I handled the Sudan and Somali peace processes, been a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Personal Assistant to the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs amongst many other assignments at HQ.
 
 
Do you have any other diplomats in your family?
 
No, we have no other diplomats in the family, I am the first to join the Diplomatic service, but I will certainly not be the last, I already have two of my boys and other extended family members who want to follow in my footsteps to become a member of the Kenya diplomatic service.
 
 
How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?
 
Thailand is an important and influential member of the ASEAN alliance and has a major role to play in the search for peace and stability in neighbouring Myanmar and the region in general. Other than the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Thailand has a strong economy, driven by a broad manufacturing base, and tourism mostly for the export market, hence is a powerful regional economy. Through the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Thailand has supported development cooperation not only with its neighbours but further afield in Africa and the Middle East and Kenya is a beneficiary of TICA’s capacity building programmes.
 
Due to its healthcare system, Thailand has become an affordable international medical hub and many patients come from all over the world for treatment of various ailments including cancer. In terms of managing Covid-19, especially the vaccination, the government of Thailand is doing a commendable job; imagine inoculating over 40 million people, more than half of the population despite all the challenges. Thailand is an important contributor to the maintenance of international peace and security and Kenya and Thailand have cooperated on many international issues of mutual interest.
 
 
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
 
Definitely, and tourism comes to mind. The pristine sandy beaches, common in both countries, have attracted millions of tourists from around the globe. Other similarities include, common environmental challenges and conservation credentials, tropical agriculture that includes the growing of sweet tropical fruits like mangoes, avocado and bananas. And traditional foods like sweet potatoes, cassava, melons amongst others are also common. A strong regional infrastructure, financial and communication hubs among other similarities. Both countries are influential members of regional organisations like ASEAN (for Thailand), and the East African Community (for Kenya), and subscribe to the ideals of South-South cooperation. I take this opportunity to invite and encourage Thai citizens and the huge expatriate community in Thailand to visit Kenya for a change of their holiday destination and experience the original home of the African safari. I assure them that they will not be disappointed. Witnessing the great Wildebeest migration and sand and sun bathing in the pristine and clean sandy beaches of coastal Kenya is truly unforgettable lifetime experience.
 
Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or work?
 
Yes, I do, some are already grown up and independent, the oldest one is 26, working in Kenya whilst the others are in university in Kenya and abroad. The youngest one stays with me here in Bangkok and studies at one of the international schools, in year 12.
 
How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?
 
I do enjoy my work although much of it has been confined to the office and the residence, due to Covid-19. Much of what I set out to implement has been delayed by the Covid-19 wave that has hit the country for the last seven months. My typical day is diverse, sometimes, I rise up early to attend to internal office matters – perusing through local newspapers to make sure I am up to date on socio-political developments in the countries of accreditation, correcting and signing letters, reading official mail and letters and giving direction to officers on administrative and financial matters, signing off letters and documents, attending to consular issues where necessary, and reading reports prepared by officers before they are dispatched to headquarters. Occasionally, I chair staff and various Embassy committee meetings on matters that require me to give direction. On other days, I would attend virtual meetings with identified investors and importers, engage members of the private sector on strategies to deepen trade and investment cooperation between Kenya and Thailand and the other countries of accreditation. I would also engage identified universities to facilitate collaboration between Kenyan institutions of higher learning and their Thai counterparts. At the end of business of the day, I go home and change into my tracksuit and do a workout for 30 minutes with my son and spouse. Over the weekends, I love to take a swim and play lawn tennis.
 
Have you set some goals you really would like to fulfill before you leave Thailand?
 
Yes, I have an agenda to deepen and expand socio-economic and political relations between Kenya and Thailand and the other countries of accreditation. I intend to focus my engagements with stakeholders in both the private and public sectors in areas that are important to the national development of Kenya. These sectors include market access for Kenyan fresh agricultural produce, processed and semi-processed gemstones, leather products amongst other items. I also intend to intensify engagements with leading investors in the region to attract them to go and invest in Kenya in sectors including pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, agro-processing, blue economy, wildlife management and conservation, eco-tourism, and technology investment in the ‘Silicone’ Savanna’ of Africa, popularly known as ‘Konza Technopolis’ in Kenya that is fast emerging. Part of these engagements would be to promote human capital development and technology transfer.
Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?
 
No, not yet, we arrived in the heat of Covid-19 so we have rarely ventured out. It has really been boring just sitting around the house or going to the office or nearby shopping malls for fear of getting infected with Covid-19. However, with the pandemic infection numbers going down, it is now time to move out and meet different people and experience the beauty of the country and its people. We have a ‘Kenya House’ in Northern Thailand that I would love to visit and plant some trees and of course the famous tourist sites of Pattaya and Phuket, that we used to hear about whilst in Kenya.
 
 
When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Hobbies or pastimes?
 
I love tending the garden and the trees, swimming, working out, playing lawn tennis and watching the English Premier League, especially if Chelsea, my favourite team is playing.
 
 
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
 
We have close to 3,000 Kenyans in Thailand and other countries of accreditation. Most Kenyans in the region are either English teachers, IT experts, Missionaries, working with International Organisations, local companies or just business people. A few are married to locals and have settled here for over 30 years. Thai people are warm and friendly, their institutions love diversity and we have an opportunity to interact with them through the Embassys CSR and environmental diplomacy activities. Generally, the country is an attractive destination for many foreigners who include Kenyans. It is our desire to deepen people-to-people exchanges and would love to see more Thai people visiting and doing business in Kenya and Africa.
 
Do your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?
 
Yes, we do, Thailand provides many scholarships to Kenyan students at post-graduate level mostly. We have had exchange programmes between the Foreign Service Academies of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries, where young Foreign Service Officers attend training in Thailand. Kenyan doctors and agricultural officers also attend short courses on matters pertaining to Universal Healthcare and modern agriculture respectively. I intend to expand these exchanges to include faculty members in the universities and research institutions.
 
Any funny moment from Thailand that youd like to tell us about?
 
Yes, we have had awkward or funny moments too. My arrival in Thailand at the beginning of the third wave of Covid-19 in March 2021 was uneventful. Usually, under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, an Ambassador is received with all the VIP accolades that go with the high office of the Ambassador including being picked with a VIP car at the plane’s exit door. But because of the fear of Covid-19, we were all herded through port health, regardless of your status (and Covid-19 doesn’t make allowances for status) with very strict social distancing. At one point, I felt like I was being harassed by port health officials and my attempts to explain who I was fell on deaf ears until a Protocol Officer appeared and saved the situation. We were finally ushered out of port health and immigration and were received by a Protocol Officer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another amusing experience was during mandatory quarantine, where I could not see my spouse for sixteen days despite staying in the same hotel. To see each other, we resorted to Zoom meetings, where we read the bible and prayed together. This is one advantage that came with Covid-19. At one time, my spouse attempted to ‘sneak’ a basket of fruits to my son’s room because she doesn’t eat a lot of fruit, she was captured on camera and received a stern warning. Covid-19 is therefore one of the most humbling experiences for us as a family and every country is really struggling to deal with it through trial and error. Today international travel has become a big challenge people are hostile, fearful or suspicious of each other of having the infection, even when one just coughs or sneezes. 
 
 
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
 
Since my arrival, I have not had the opportunity to mingle physically with the Kenyan community in Thailand or any of the other countries of accreditation because of the surge in Covid-19 pandemic. I have however had several virtual meetings with the Kenyan community, and we maintain active Whats App groups to keep each other updated on consular matters and new developments. I have plans to mingle with them when the situation allows, especially during the upcoming Jamhuri (Independence Day for Kenyans) on December 12, 2021.
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On the 19th of November 2021, the German ambassador to Thailand Mr. Georg Schmidt visited the CDSC Forest in Mae Rim where 1,500 trees were planted by the students of the Christian German School Chiang Mai (CDSC) in 2020 and 2021.

The ambassador was welcomed by Mr David Nescholta, the chairman of the CDSC school board, and Mr Markus Brandtner, the principal of CDSC, at the CDSC Forest in Ban Mae Mae, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai. The CDSC Forest started as a school project to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary in 2019. Since then, 1,500 trees were planted to offset the school community’s carbon footprint with the support from the project partners, the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU, Chiang Mai University) and the Watershed Management Chiang Mai Division. The little seeds that were collected by the students from Doi Suthep 2 years ago have now grown to 2 to 8m tall trees.

After enjoying the green scenery and clean air at the CDSC Forest, the ambassador visited the Pong Khrai Watershed Management Unit where the CDSC students were learning about how to protect the environment and planting 600 seeds that will be planted in the CDSC Forest in June 2022. Mr Schmidt said “It’s great to see how goals of the COP26 summit in Glasgow are implemented on a local level, as our children are planting trees for the future even though it’s a very difficult time for everyone due to the current situation. Planting trees is not only a great education for the students but it’s also a very practical and effective solution to save the environment.” The planted seeds were taken with the students back to the school ground and they will take care of the seeds in the tree nursery until they are ready to be planted in the forest.

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