A Visit to the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

by Agneta de Bekassy

After a long summer break, it was time to interview another Ambassador to Thailand again. Daniel Herron our photographer and I packed pen, paper and camera and went to pay the Netherland’s Ambassador H.E. Mr Kees Rade a visit. This embassy and its residence are located next to the American Ambassador’s residence on Wireless Road. This is a rather busy location, but behind the iron gates, you will find yourself in the most wonderful tropical garden or better said, park. First thing you will notice, except all the beautiful old trees and lustrous plants, are a lot of painted cows and a windmill.

It’s a parade of cows, a bit too many for the Ambassador’s tastes, so some are soon to be exported to new homes. The windmill and the tulips are classic sights of the Netherlands. The residence is an old villa, built in the beginning of the 20th century colonial style and the Embassy is a huge, modern, contemporary building.Here, in this building, it must be nice to work as the sunlight comes in from everywhere; it’s spacious and inviting.

When you look outside the windows, you see the lush green tropical park and occasionally you’ll see a prehistoric monitor lizard. These creatures the Ambassador is kind of fond of. They stroll along in the park and swim in the ponds, like they own the place. The Ambassador arrived in March 2018 to Bangkok from Surinam, where he was posted for 6 months. He was accompanied by his Austrian/American wife.

Their son lives and studies in the US at Princeton University. Mr Kees is very proud of his son and he is full of admiration for the university. It’s a relatively small city but has such a large powerful, beautiful university, the Ambassador says. Princeton University is ranked as one of the top ivy league schools. The most popular majors at Princeton University are; Public Policy Analysis, Computer Engineering and Economics amongst others.

Kees was born in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. At the age of 3, he moved with his parents to Brussels, Belgium. Here he was put in French speaking school and picked the language up easily. He studied here until his 18th birthday and after that went back to Amsterdam to study Law and International Relations. As most young people at that time, he had huge dreams and wanted to change the world… as a lawyer, he saw a possibility to make the world a better place. He also had a deep affection for legal service and international topics and decided to enter the diplomatic world. He was accepted and got a posting at the ministry. For several years, he worked in The Hague, but lived in Amsterdam.

He took the train to work. It takes about an hour between the two cities, every morning and back in the evening. I asked if it wasn’t tiring to go back and forward 5 days a week, but he said, “normally you could do some work during the trip or read, it was quite peaceful” he admitted. He was not the only man going back and forth, so sometimes on Friday afternoons; some of the “swingers” took a beer together after a week’s hard work. Kees was happy to live in the canal area of Amsterdam and enjoyed his life there.

Amsterdam is known for its artistic heritage, elaborate canal system and narrow houses. It has a population of around 813,560 within the city limits and the urban area has a population estimated at 1.1 million. Amsterdam is well known for its “live-and- let-live” attitude and acceptance. Its (cannabis) coffee shops, the red-light district and historical sites, like the van Gogh Museum etc. draw more than 16 million visitors yearly. It says that Amsterdam has 176 different nationalities that contribute and make it one of the most diverse cities in the world in terms of nationalities.

Especially young people enjoy the laid- back atmosphere. No one else in the Ambassadors family is involved with the diplomatic world. I asked about his wife and learned that she is a master in dance, not classic ballet, but modern dance. She has been dancing many years and even teached modern dance. She is a dedicated member of SHOM (the organisation for Ambassador’s spouses). Kees and his wife have been travelling around a lot together. The first post as an Ambassador was in Nicaragua from 2001-2005 and the years between 2009-2014 they were posted in Brazil.

I asked how come they stayed so long in Brazil and learned that it was due to their son’s IB studies. Everybody knows that to change school shortly before graduation is not recommended. It was an exciting period in Brazil with the football World Cup and surprisingly the Dutch made it to the semi-finals and beat the Brazilians, he lets us know.

Next destination was back to The Hague with several responsibilities.I was curious to know which destination he has been most fond of and he said, “I can’t say, as we have been enjoying every country”. As most north Europeans, the Ambassador is very involved in topics like global warming, the ice melting in the Antarctica, recycling etc. He also held the title “Arctic Ambassador of the Netherlands” during his posting in The Hague. The Ambassador even visited the Antarctica and the Arctic and found it most interesting.

I asked what he would like to focus on during his time in Bangkok and the answer came quick, “I have 2 main issues; economic relations, and consular issues”. I want to inform the Dutch people about Thailand, showing the real Thailand and not what we usually see on TV, all the bad things like prostitution, slums, trafficking etc. Thailand has so much more to offer us. I also wish to increase the trade between our 2 countries. Next year, there will be an election in Thailand and after that we will hopefully see a further increase in trade. Today the trading is calculated to approximately € 4 billion a year.

I asked if the Ambassador has been struggling with any challenges in Bangkok and he laughs and says “of course the traffic, the weather and the language. It might take some time before we get used to the humidity, know how we can avoid the worse areas at rush hour and learn to understand some Thai.” He admitted that as of yet neither he or his wife have started taking Thai lessons yet. I told him about my 179 hours experience with the Thai language and that I still only speak “Tuk Tuk Thai”.

I got to know that the consular section has a lot to deal with here in Bangkok. Around 20,000 Dutch people are living in Thailand and about 230,000 tourists visit yearly. 1/3rd of Dutch tourists passing away annually abroad do so while in Thailand. Due to what, I wanted to ask, but I assume the same reasons as of many other countries’ visitors. Many die in accidents, disease, medical problems sometimes even having been murdered. It’s very emotional for the staff and there is nothing harder when having to tell a family about a loved ones death.

The Ambassador is very involved in questions concerning the car industry, how important it is to go from petrol driven vehicles to electric cars, or at least hybrid cars. He, himself, has just bought a hybrid car to use during his posting in Thailand. He sees the opportunity coming for Thailand to produce electrical cars here. “We must learn how to re-use things, introduce a more circular economy, it’s very important” he points out, e.g. “When we take down a building, we have to see in which way we can re-use the material to build something new. We are very advanced in these technics in Europe and I want to bring it to the Thai people, let them learn from our experiences”.

We also talk a lot about cleaning up the ocean. Almost everyone has seen the terrifying pictures of the whales, which die due to ingesting plastic and polystyrene garbage. This is something we have to solve and it must be done quickly. I think, especially the northern European countries spend lots of time in discussiing and trying to find solutions for this immense problem. “Yes indeed, it’s one of the most important issues today” Kees says.

A normal weekday for the Ambassador starts around 7.30am. He goes through the Dutch headlines on his Ipad while enjoying his morning coffee. He is a night owl he admits and so is my wife. As with all the Ambassadors, the couple host many lunches and dinners both for business and for the Dutch community. To keep in good shape, he runs in Lumpini Park and on Sunday afternoons, several Ambassadors meet in the park to run together. “I’m a solo runner” he tells me, so I start chatting with my colleagues for about 10 minutes and then I run away, he says with a bright smile. My spouse is doing yoga and she also enjoys reading a lot and of course, to dance.

What does the Ambassador do if he gets some time off? He enjoys reading, strolling around in the city and swimming. No golfing I asked, “No, not yet, I have friends always nagging on me to start playing golf, I suppose I should and it might be good to start here in Thailand.”

As they have not been in Thailand long the couple haven’t had time to travel around as much as they would like. “We have been to Hua Hin, very convenient as it’s not too far away from Bangkok and we have also visited Kho Phangan (not because of the Moon parties), Sukothai, Pattaya and Phuket. The Ambassador is, as many of the other Ambassadors, responsible for Laos and Cambodia.

In Phuket we have an Honorary Consular. As the time gets closer to dinner, we started to discuss food. The Ambassador is a great fan of Thai spices, he loves coriander and all other Thai spices/herbs and he can eat spicy dishes he says. His wife likes it a bit less spicy and she is much more into fish and vegetarian meals. Kees admits that he, on and off, longs for a good steak and here both photographer Daniel and I agree with him, a juicy, tender steak is a must once in a while.

Among the favourite restaurants is “Le Boeuf ” he tells us. He is also very fond of the Indian cuisine. Daniel and I suggested that he and his wife pay a visit to the Indian restaurant “Rang Mahal” at the Rembrandt Hotel. Here you can enjoy a delicious Sunday brunch with a breathtaking view high above Bangkok. We could have spent much more time with Kees, as we had so many interesting topics to discuss, but we were all thirsty and a bit hungry, so we said our farewells. Next time we hope to meet Mrs Rade, his Vienna born US/Austrian wife who feels 100% Dutch.

I asked my favourite question, “if you could choose one person in the world do dine alone with, who would this person be”? He laughs and says, “I suppose you don’t want me to say my wife” and I confessed that he assumes right, well I might pick the author of the book “The Naked Diplomat”, the British former diplomat Tom Fletcher. He writes about the change within the diplomacy during the years, the relation to media and the function of a modern diplomat.

A very inspiring and interesting book. We thanked for a pleasant meeting and went back to the beautiful park and made some photos of the most common Dutch sight, the windmill, surrounded by the cows. “Oh, there are too many cows here, the Ambassador says with a smile. Some are going to be exported soon”.

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