One morning, the photographer Daniel and I, went to visit Cambodia’s ambassador to Thailand. We were welcomed with tea and coffee by a friendly employee and soon H.E. Mrs Sophea Eat came to see us.
Mrs Eat is a very charming, elegant woman. I started with the obligatory question: Where were you born? “I was born in Phnom Penh” was the answer. I also wanted to know how old she was when she knew that she wanted to become a diplomat. “I was 22 when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affaires (MFA) in 1985”. Many members of her family were diplomats and served in the Foreign Service. Her father didn’t retire until the early 90s and her husband left the MFA 12 years ago. Today he is working in Jakarta. Sophea’s first post as an ambassador is here in Bangkok. She arrived on April 9th 2014 and presented her letter of credence on August 14th the same year.
How do you look at your work here and what is your most important issue? “I feel honoured to be considered fit and capable to head our mission in Bangkok, considering that it is my first post as an ambassador. Thailand is a big post for any Cambodian ambassador. It is one of the largest trading partners to our country. Last year our two way trade amounted more than 5 billion US dollars. There are tens of thousands of workers from Cambodia employed in Thailand; a lot of goods and people move across the common 800km long border from both sides daily” she explains. “I would say the most important issue for me is to ensure a good and lasting political climate between our two countries. An amicable relationship at the political level is the key to solve all issues and promoting beneficial cooperation. The interaction between the two countries and the people is cordial and economic exchange is growing,
I do hope this will progress even further”. She tells me how important it is to her that “all Cambodian workers in Thailand are staying and working legally and treated well”. That “the communication between our two countries is constructive with no hard feelings, and correct information is most important”. She says, “Most of the Cambodian workers here in Thailand are low skilled workers and it can be very difficult to inform and update them about their rights. About 700,000 undocumented workers and their dependents have been registered by the Thai authority last year. They are now in the process to legalise their stay and work in Thailand. There are also workers from the Cambodian border provinces who come to work in Thailand’s border region daily or during certain seasons. Today Cambodian daily or seasonal workers, with a border pass, can stay up to one month; before it was only one week”.
Mrs Eat is trying to promote and encourage Thai companies to settle in Cambodia and foreign investors to the country. Cambodia is rich in raw materials and agriculture. It’s investment law offers one of the best incentive packages in South East Asia. “The Thai people are very good at hospitality and Cambodia can profit from that. Cambodia has extensive textile and garment exports; about 70% of its total export revenues or a third of its GDP. Tourism, construction and agriculture are also important. She wishes to increase information about how to reach out to the different destinations in her country apart from the temples of Angkor Wat which is obviously the main attraction, e.g. the beach resorts and hidden gems. There is so much to explore in the country”.
– Have you been able to travel around Thailand yet?
“Unfortunately not as much as I would like, my goal is to visit the seven border provinces, I have only been to two so far”. She wishes to meet with the governors in every province. She has also been up in the north to Chiang Mai and more places are to come. This busy lady hasn’t had any real vacation in 12 years. “In Cambodia you normally have two weeks’ vacation per year, not too much and in a post as an ambassador it is hard even to find time for these two weeks” she says. “I have too little time for my two daughters and my husband” she admits. Today both her daughters study and work in New York in the US. I asked her “Do you miss your country a lot?” but she explained “home is where you live, have your work and family or where the heart is?” That is so true, but she is alone in Bangkok with the rest of the family away. Her days start early, waking up at 6am, doing some exercise, watching the news on television, reading the newspapers whilst having breakfast and arrives at work at 8.30am. Like most ambassadors she meets with staff, prepares reports, writes letters to the ministry, participates in meetings and almost every night she attends different functions.”
-Tell me about typical Cambodian festivities and if there are any that mean something special to you?
“In Cambodia we have two big celebrations, our New Year which is celebrated for three days in April and during these three days the families gather together. Our second festivity is ‘Time to remember our dead’. This is the time when all Cambodians visit the Pagoda and make offers. It takes place for a period of 15 days straddling the months of September and October, depending on the Luna calendar, and the last three days are a national holiday.”
-If you do have any free time, what do you prefer to do?
“Well, I like watching TV”.
This lady has an amazing CV, far too long to publish, but I have to tell that she has two awards; in 2007 she was awarded The Medal Monisaraphoin (Commander Class) for exceptional service to the nation and in 2009, The Medal of the Kingdom of Cambodia (Chevalier Class) for exceptional service to the nation.
I can only say, she certainly deserved them both.