On a Friday afternoon in October, I took the Chatrium shuttle boat from Saphan Taksin to the Chatrium Residences, to pay a visit to H.E. Ambassador Mrs Raushan Yesbulatova and her thirteen year old son Ryan. I enjoy being on the busy Chao Phraya River and it was the nicest way for me to go to the Chatrium, but of course you can also go by land.
Raushan waited for me at her beautiful residence on the top floor. She has the most magnificent view overlooking the Chao Phraya and the skyline of the other riverbank. I had been to this hotel once before, for a lovely Chinese dinner at the Chinese restaurant, also with a fantastic view. When you meet this colourful woman, from the first moment you feel her warmth and her genuine interest in people. She called her son Ryan to come and say hello to me. He came in and politely said good afternoon and he allowed me to take a photo of him and his Mom on the balcony.
It was obvious that Mom and son have a very close relationship. “We stick together all the time and do so many nice things together; I just love having him around me”, Rashuan pointed out. In front of one of the huge windows, a table was set for “high tea”, very elegant and inviting. We sat down and I was supposed to start the interview, but instantly forgot most of my questions as we had an interesting discussion, like two old friends. The Kazakhstan chef had made several Kazakhstani specialties, so tempting and Raushan had learned that Swedish people are very fond of cheese, so she also offered me a delicious blue cheese with seedless grapes, so thoughtful of her. Everything tasted so good and believe me, there was more than enough.
I must admit that until now, I did not have much knowledge about Kazakhstan. I have now learnt that Kazakhstan is officially a democratic, secular, unitary constitutional republic with a diverse cultural heritage. It is a Central Asian country and part of the former Soviet Republic, it extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia. Its largest metropolis, Almaty, is a long-standing trading hub whose landmarks include Ascension Cathedral, a tsarist-era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of Kazakh artefacts.
It borders Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Here you find both mountains and deserts. In 2017 Kazakhstan had an estimated 18 million people, only 6 people per square kilometre though so the land mass is huge. The first capital was Almaty, largest city in the country, but in 1997, Astana became the new capital. Astana is the pride of Kazakhstan and in 2018 it celebrated its 20th Anniversary as the capital of Kazakhstan. In 1999, Astana received its first recognition, when the city was awarded the medal and title “The City of Peace” by UNESCO. The current President is Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan is member of the United Nations, WTO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Eurasian Union, Turksoy and many other International Organisations. The name “Kazakh” comes from the ancient Turkic group of language, reflecting the Kazakhs’ nomadic culture. Up to 100 ethnicities live in Astana and many religions are practiced, the city has enjoyed interethnic and interfaith harmony and peace. Kazakhstan has established a visa-free regime for citizens of 45 countries including; the European Union and OECD member states, the USA, UAE, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
The country has a trilingual policy, the Kazakh “state language” is spoken by more than 70% of the population, Russian is spoken by almost all Kazakhstani’s and is declared as the “official language”. A key attraction in Astana is its architecture. In 2010, one of the most extraordinary and outstanding buildings in the region was opened – the Khan Shatyr, a shopping mall designed by famous British architect Norman Foster. During its young history as capital, Astana has been privileged to host a number of political events.
On November 22nd 2012, Astana received the strongest recognition when member countries of the International Bureau of Exhibitions (BIE) elected Kazakhstan’s capital to hold the international specialised exhibition EXPO 2017. Approximately 4 million people visited. Livestock meat can be cooked in a variety of ways and is usually served with bread, side dishes. Popular drinks include black tea (the tea I was served was delicious) but also milk-derived drinks as ayran, shubat and kymyz (fermented mare’s milk) are popular. Kazakhstan has three cultural and natural heritages on the UNESCO World Heritage List.This was some very basic information that I learnt about the country.
Now let me tell you a bit about the Ambassador. Raushan was born and raised in Almaty. She graduated from the Institute of National Economy, Almaty in 1988. I wondered how she became a diplomat. She explained about a programme, which was initiated in 1991 by President N. Nazarbayev and made it possible for 3000 students to be sent abroad and all their expenses were paid by the government, she was one of those students. She also studied Management and Tourism in Vienna, Austria and graduated in 1995. She tells me that she has always loved travelling, exploring new cultures, meeting new people, so tourism was a popular and natural choice for her.
She has been in the diplomatic service since 1998 and when I asked which field she would have been in if she not had become a diplomat, she said; something to do with tourism, meeting and greeting people. Between 2001-2005 she became the second, First Permanent Secretary Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, New York. 2005-2006 she was Counsellor, at the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the USA.
2006-2017 she became Consul General of the Republic of Kazakhstan in New York. “Ryan and I had a wonderful time in New York” she told me. On July 20th 2017 she was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Thailand and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
I understand that it was her interest in travel and tourism that led her into diplomacy. She lets me know that Thailand and Kazakhstan have had relations since 1992. Kazakhstan is Thailand’s largest trading partner in Central Asia and Thailand is amongst the top 15 most popular travel destinations for Kazakhstani tourists. Here Raushan points out that one of her most important tasks during her time in Thailand is to inform the Thai people about her country, as not so many really know about Kazakhstan.
“We have wonderful ski resorts; good medical clinics, (we have clinics that specialise in cancer, which are very successful) we have amazing classical ballet, opera, the arts and culture and much, much more. I asked about trade and she admits that it is of great importance to improve trade between the two countries. Export – metal ores, musical instruments, chemical and mineral products. Imports – cars, auto parts, printers, telephones, machinery, polyethylene, finished retail products. Trade turnover between Kazakhstan and Thailand for 2017 was around 80 million USD. Thailand imports raw materials like oil and chemicals from Kazakhstan and Thailand exports mostly rubber and medical equipment to Kazakhstan. There is also a famous Medical University in the country.
Kazakhstan puts big importance to promoting “economic” diplomacy, priority is the development of trade, economic and investment cooperation Last year a “Future Energy Exhibition” took place and the Thai Pavilion had more than 700,000 visitors. “The International Financial Astana Centre” opened in 2018 and is intended to become a financial hub for Central Asia, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Caucasus, Western China, Mongolia and Eastern Europe. The “Centre for Innovation” is also to be found in Astana. “EXPO 2017 was a huge success”, Raushan says with pride. Her days start early. The school bus picks up Ryan very early and takes him to ISB at Nichada Thani, not exactly around the corner. Ryan really enjoys school and has many friends, amongst them, a lot of Thais.
He is an extremely good swimmer and during their time in New York, he was a member of the Junior Olympic team. He swims a lot at ISB and even has a private swim coach in Bangkok. His shelves are full of medals from swimming competitions, many gold. As with most young men, he’s also a dedicated football player and is an accomplished piano player Mom says very proudly. “He has, unfortunately, stopped playing the piano since we settled in Bangkok, but is now taking guitar lessons”. I asked how Ryan felt about leaving New York for Bangkok. “He really loves Bangkok and so do I – it is such an exciting city” she replies with a big smile. Even if Raushan’s days are very busy, she takes her time to swim every morning, after waving goodbye to Ryan.
“My hobbies are swimming and reading books”, she let me know. Here we have two common interests as I do the same and love it. Raushan is happy if she can make it home, not later than 9pm in the evenings, as Mom and son have an evening ritual; they pray together every night before Ryan goes to bed. It’s important, at a young age, to educate your children how to behave, to be a good person, to be polite and show kindness and caring for other people. We care very much about each other and I’m a strong, dedicated single Mom she says. We love travelling together and visiting different restaurants and we talk a lot and respect each others opinions. By the way, one of my favourite restaurants is “Brasserie 9” not far from BNH hospital she tells and I can only agree.
Brasserie 9 is also one of my favourites. The restaurant is situated in a beautiful white colonial villa, the food is delicious and the service, efficient and polite.
Like most Ambassadors, her calendar is full of appointments; meetings, lunches, dinners, official and private, delegations, calls, visits to factories, meetings with ministers, governors and other Ambassadors, etc. She also points out what a great circle of friends the foreign Ambassadors are and how they enjoy each other’s company.
“Many of us try to meet for dinner once a month” she says. I was curious to know if she has had time yet to travel in Thailand and she answered, “we have not been to all the places that we want to visit yet, but they try to travel as much as possible. We love Chiang Mai and Phuket”, but in her diplomatic way, she says “every region offers something special”, so true. What about your Thai language skills I asked. “Well, it is very difficult for me and I only speak nid noi. My son is much better than I am in Thai and I also encourage him to take additional lessons in Mandarin”. When I ask my favourite question, who would she like to have a private dinner with, she hesitates a few seconds; “well, as I’m very interested to hear about people involved in charity, so I think I would like to dine with Oprah Winfrey. She would probably be a really interesting person to meet and dine with”.
I would choose the Swedish King Carl the XVI Gustav. He is a warm, interesting and fun person and a man I admire. Raushan has several plans for the coming months, she wants to organise a few events including a kind of small “conference” to follow up the VI Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, recently held in Astana. Two delegate from Thailand attended the Congress and she would like to ask them to share their experiences with religious society in Bangkok.
Time passed far too quickly and I could have stayed and enjoyed her company for much longer, but she had to attend a dinner and I had to take the boat back to Saphan Taksin and the BTS to Asoke. Before I left, she asked her chef to let me have the rest of the lovely delicatessen we had enjoyed and she also gave me a beautiful book and pen and a Kazakhstani chocolate bar, what a wonderful treat. I have the feeling I have got a new, dear friend. I said thank you to Raushan for taking time out to talk to me and explaining about her country, it was such a pleasure to have got to know her. I wish you and Ryan a wonderful time in Thailand and look forward to meeting again soon at a diplomatic event.