It’s mid September and photographer Daniel Herron and I were on another mission in Bangkok. We were going to meet with the Ambassador H.E. Mr Fernando Quiros and his charming wife Ximena. Fernando is Peru’s Ambassador to Thailand and he, and his spouse, arrived in Bangkok just last year. We had met briefly at National Day events, but never had the chance to really sit down and talk to each other. These big functions, you come to see casually, but it’s nice to really get to know the Ambassadors, up close and personal.
Currently there are many new Ambassadors arriving in Bangkok, as many left their post for new destinations in the summer. This is the life of a diplomat, but it is sometimes emotional to say farewell to couples you have seen and grown attached to… This dynamic, charming couple has already made lots of friends and I have noticed through the years, that the South American Ambassadors with spouses are in a special league. They are very passionate, shining, smiling, and talking, laughing and very warmhearted. It’s easy to get to know them. It must be the Latin blood… they love to live life! When we arrived to the residence, we were greeted by Fernando and Ximena and invited to sit in their spacious living room for the interview.
This is a cozy room, with a very personal touch, lovely family photos among the more official ones, art by a Peruvian artist, colourful cushions on the sofas, a real family residence. I had sent some general questions in advance for the Ambassador to have a look at, but the discussion was so informal and casual that I almost forgot what to ask! This is, for sure, one of the most alert Ambassadors I’ve met, like a “yo, yo” he’s jumping from one story to another and I realise I have to become more modern and get a voice recorder. Fernando was born in Callao, which is a port city close to the capital Lima.
Here he attended school until he turned 18 and the family moved to Lima where he decided to study law. Already as a young man, he was fond of travelling and wanted to explore other countries, but it took until 1986 before he left Peru to settle down in a foreign country and the destination was Geneva, Switzerland. He was there for just one year.
We discussed Switzerland, a country we both have great experiences from and obviously still fond of. I spent more than 35 years of my life in Switzerland and new exactly what he talked about when he mentioned the UN in Geneva, the beautiful Lake Geneva and the mountains. We had probably been skiing on the same slopes, maybe even at the same time, without knowing. After one year in Switzerland he returned to Lima for a year, before he graduated. “In 1982, two important things happened to me” he tells us.
Between1982 and 1991, a Peruvian minister was the UN secretary. This was the time when the neighbouring country Argentina attacked the Falklands Islands and many people lost their lives. The question was at this time, “what shall we do?” Fernando got so involved in these discussions and found it so interesting, that he decided to focus on Public International Law. He was happy to start an internship at a law firm. Here they all spent much time discussing what could happen and what will happen by defending Argentina.
The professor suggested Fernando should apply for the Peruvian Diplomatic Corps at the Diplomatic Academy and so he did in 1983. “I was one of many candidates and five were my close friends and believe it or not, four of us made it through and we were accepted”. He stayed from 1983 to 1985 and also managed during this period to finish his law studies in December 1985. On the 1st of January 1986 he was back to the Ministry, but it did not take long until he received his first posting – guess where? To Geneva, here we go again. In Geneva he successfully finished a Masters Degree. Between the years 1988 to 1993 he lived and worked in Geneva.
Fernando loved this amazing city and was very happy during his stay. “In Geneva everything happened, with more than 35 International Institutions, there was always something going on”. Now the most important event happened, he met his “wife to be” in 1989. She was also in Geneva, visiting one of her two sisters who both live there. Ximena, a vivid Peruvian lady and a French language teacher. This was love at first sight….. and in 1991 the couple married back in Lima and soon after returned back to Switzerland. Ximena didn’t learn to speak fluent French in Switzerland, she had studied French in Peru and she admits she loves the language. Ximena went to a British School and later on to Alliance Francaise.
This was like discovering a whole new world she says. Here Fernando interrupted and told us that people use to ask his wife from which part in France she comes. You can hear he is immensely proud of his gifted wife. So how did you meet I asked, “I was asked to bring Fernando a book from home and I took it with me when I travelled to Geneva and, so we met. I had to return to Peru after a while and we missed each other so much, we send hundreds of letters between us and also tapes”, she says smiling. “At that time there was no Internet, Skype or What’s App”.
After they were married, they stayed in Geneva and returned to Peru in 1993. Their first child, a daughter, was born in Geneva. The couple have three children; two boys followed the first-born daughter. “Our daughter is 24 and the boys are 21 and 20 today and all three are living in the same apartment in Lima, sharing a car and much more together and my old nanny keeps an eye on them”, Ximena tells us. In 1996 they returned to Lima for a while, before it was time to move to Venezuela.
Venezuela was at that time a very rich country, Fernando says, unlike Peru. We had free trading between the 2 countries, but look at the tragic situation nowadays. Today about 400,000 Venezuelans are living in Peru, approximately 3,000 are coming every day. It’s a critical situation in Venezuela unfortunately. In Venezuela, Caracas, the two sons were born and the kids easily learned Spanish. They enjoyed living there so much that they didn’t want to return to Lima. From 2001-2007 Fernando was a diplomat in his own country, an ideal situation he says.
I was “Chief of Staff” and enjoyed every day. After Lima it was time for Washington DC and a posting as Counsel General, covering five states. Here he had 120,000 Peruvians to care for, and worked on all kinds of issues. “We were only three diplomats and all in all only eleven people caring for all those Peruvians. I also loved those years” he admits. In the US, there are 1.5 million Peruvians living. In certain parts, especially in the northern Maryland, the Peruvians live like if they were still in Peru. They speak Spanish, dress in the traditional costumes, celebrate the Peruvian festivities etc. After a few years, Fernando moved from the consular to the Embassy as Deputy Chief of the Ministry, three years great experience, he remembers. “During this period, I had the pleasure to meet Barack Obama, among many other interesting people”.
One of all important tasks, was to increase the trade between the US and Peru. Ximena worked as a teacher in a private international school at that time. When it was time to leave the US, her students said to Fernando “you may leave, but let us keep your wife, please”. Ximena must have been, a much loved and appreciated teacher. During those years in the US, the family lived in the Peruvian residence in Potomac, Maryland. The residence was the second biggest residence in the US, 25 acres and here the family spent lovely years during Fernando’s time as Charge d’Affaires. During the years in the US, family Quiros also met the Kennedy family.
This family is known to be devoted to charity and every year a gala dinner was organised in the “Observatory” in Washington DC with the Kennedy family as participants, but one year, due to certain circumstances, the gala was held at the Peruvian residence with plenty of celebrities and the day after, there was a marathon in town, with the famous Carl Lewis taking part and a fun “after party” Fernando tells, with dreaming eyes. We also had the popular band “Cool & the Gang” performing, those were the days my friend… and he thought they would never end… But like everything fun and exciting, all good things come to an end. In 2012 Fernando was lucky to be promoted to Ambassador, but he decided to stay in Lima until their children finished school.
In 2017 we went to Bangkok and this is my 1st post as an Ambassador. I asked how many Peruvians are living in Thailand and learned that it’s only a very small amount, a 100 people, and I have them all in my mobile in What’s Up, Fernando says, (very convenient).
Here in Thailand, I will make as my priority to increase the commercial and economic situation between Thailand and Peru, increase export and import. Our consulate here has a quite easy task, not many difficulties as we are so few of us. 8000 years ago, the potatoes were cultivated in Peru and became later a very treasured gift to the rest of the world. Who doesn’t love potatoes? Do you know that Peru is famous for its gastronomy, we were told that at the legendary hotel Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, the Chef Gaston Acurio, is Peruvian and that Chef Acurio plans to open a Peruvian restaurant in Bangkok. Also the Chef Omar, at the popular “Above Eleven” on Sukhumvit soi 11, is Peruvian.
You should try the Peruvian/ Japanese fusion dishes and drink a “Pisco Sauer cocktail”, a pure grape alcohol drink, Fernando suggests. Also try Peruvian Yakitori. This kind of cuisine is called “Nikkei Cuisine”. As a digestive, you can choose the “Pisco” that tastes very similar to the Italian Grappa.
Thailand is exporting quite a lot to Peru. We learned that Peru is the 2nd biggest exporter of avocados, after Mexico and also Pommes Granate is a huge export article. There are no custom fees between Thailand and Peru. Peru has done several investments in Thailand and e.g. the “Black Cola” is exported from Thailand as a Thai product, but it’s original a Peruvian product, as well as Ice tea. During the 1980s Peru suffered under terrorist-attacks by the communists. In 1988 a professor in Philosophy said, the Peruvians have the biggest fear from the communists and this professor caused many people’s death. He was caught in 1992 at a big country festivity and sent to jail for life.
He had blocked all the so called “Imperialist” beverages like Coca Cola, Fanta etc. and that gave, a small Peruvian family, the idea to start making/producing their Cola and they became very successful and marketed their product under the name “Royal Cola”, suddenly they were competitors to the US Coca Cola. This company still has a strong, competitive product. In 1970, the family opened the production of Royal Cola in Venezuela and today this product is found almost everywhere. It’s a great business in Thailand too. This company, producing Royal Cola, is one of the reasons so many Thai students study Spanish, they hope for a job at the company. In the Peruvian Embassy, five of the staff speak Spanish fluently.
Here I was proud to tell him, that at the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, some of the Thai employees speak Swedish. To come back to Fernando and his life, I asked if he has any hobbies and he quickly tells; he loves playing tennis and Ximena says, “He is almost a professional tennis player”. He plays every week at The Racket Club on Sukhumvit soi 49. Back in Geneva he played tournaments, “we were about 20 people, all different nationalities, meeting to play on Saturdays/Sundays” Fernando tells us. What are your hobbies? I asked Ximena, “Well, I love to walk and to draw and of course reading”.
Ximena is also studying the Thai language at the Chulalongkorn University and she is pretty advanced Fernando says with pride. “She is the linguist in our family” he adds. During our talk we also enjoyed a sip of “Pisco”, a kind of grape snaps, well not only one, a few to be honest. We were also offered a very delicious snack; half divided, small potatoes that you dipped in a tasty yellow sauce, yummy… We could have stayed until dinner, it was so cosy and interesting and we promised to be back soon, but first I had to ask my last and favourite question, starting with Ximena; “If you could pick one person from anywhere to dine in privacy with, who would you choose?” “Oh, I think I would pick the Puerto Rican singer Chayenne or, if the author Gabriel Garcia Marques, who wrote, among many other books, “El amor en los tiempos del colera” was still alive I would consider him”.
This interesting author was born in Colombia in 1927 and died in Mexico City 2014. In 1982 he received the Nobel Prize. I asked Fernando, what about your choice, who would you like a very private dinner with? “I think I would choose the Harvard professor in International Relations, Joseph Samuel Nye JR”. He had a pro word/theory, that I think is very important to keep in mind “Hard Power + Soft Power = Smart Power”. See every situation from more than one side and make the best out of it. A person, who is really an expert in doing so, is the former President Bill Clinton, Fernando says. These are wise words and something for all of us to think about.
The world would look much better if we try to understand the people around us, seeing both the good and the less good sides. I almost forgot to ask about travelling and if they have already found a favourite destination and learned that they like the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but as the diplomat Fernando is, he added, there are of course, many, many more beautiful places in Thailand and we will try to explore as many as possible during our stay in this great country. He is also responsible for Myanmar and the Philippines. We had to say goodbye and thanked this gorgeous couple for the most pleasant afternoon. Hope to see you soon again.