The New Zealand Ambassador to Thailand

by Agneta de Bekassy

Before I met the Ambassador and his lovely wife Chrissy, my knowledge of New Zealand was quite scant. I had heard about the breathtaking scenery – being one of the most beautiful countries in the world with its wild coastlines, agricultural regions, the sea and its lakes. That it is 4,155kms/2,587 miles from Australia and is famous for its rugby team – The All Blacks, sheep, good wines and kiwi fruit.

Aotearoa is New Zealand’s Maori name, meaning the land of the long white cloud. New Zealand is a small country, similar in size to Great Britain or Japan. It is a country in the South Western Pacific Ocean consisting of two main islands, both marked by volcanoes and glaciation. The capital is Wellington, on the North Island, and is home to Te Papa Tongarewa, the expansive national museum. Wellington’s dramatic Mount Victoria, along with the South Island’s Fiordland and Southern Lakes, stood in for mythical “Middle Earth” in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films.

Now I know that this small country is a leader on climate change as a result of its agriculture. Auckland is based around two harbours in the north of New Zealand. It is known for seven things; Manuka honey, produced by bees of the Manuka tree, a very special tree. It’s an expensive honey, but supposed to be among the absolute best. Sheep, New Zealand is home to 29 million sheep and around 4,794 million people, this makes roughly six sheep for each person. The South Island, with its rugged landscapes, is rich in sheep farming, but you’ll find sheep across the whole country.

The fine Merino wool industry is key to economic success. Wine, New Zealand has over ten wine regions, mostly situated around the coastlines. It is most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and more recently the Pinot Noir. 90% of their wine is exported overseas. Lord of the Rings, New Zealand has become well-known as “Middle Earth” since the release of “Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit Movie”.

Kiwi fruit, the Kiwi fruit is one of New Zealand’s major horticultural exports. It is originated from China and was developed into a commercial product by NZ orchardists. Don’t tell a New Zealander that you like to eat Kiwi; you are saying that you eat endangered flightless bird that is the country’s icon, their national bird. This is a truth with modification the Ambassador says. Rugby, the “All Blacks” have made the country famous for its rugby and the ceremony that they perform before each game the Haka.

The Haka is the traditional war dance, part of the Maori culture. Often used as part of welcome ceremonies, but was originally performed before a battle. Best place to experience the Haka is in Rotorua, the Maoricultural centre of NZ. The first person to conquer Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hilary came from New Zealand. Peter Jackson, who made the Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong movie is a New Zealander as well as Sir Charles Upham who was awarded the Victoria Cross with bar for two separate occasions of valour during World War II. Even one of Hollywoods greatest actors, Russell Crowe has Maori heritage.

He is believed to descend from the Ngati Porou tribe on his mother’s side. Opera diva and singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is too. She sang at Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in England.

Auckland is the largest city with a population in 2018 estimated at 1,628,900 million. 50% of New Zealand’s total population growth. The city got its name from George Eden, the Earl of Auckland and the city was declared New Zealand’s capital in 1841 until 1865, when Parliament was permanently moved to Wellington after an argument that persisted for a decade. Auckland’s port handled 31% of the country’s container trade in 2015. It benefited from a surge in tourism, which brought 75% of New Zealand’s international visitors through its airport.

In 1986, the government’s immigration policy changed allowing immigrants from Asia to settle. With the range of other immigrants, Hindu temples and Mosques were then introduced. Auckland has a mild climate and in a survey of “the quality of life” of 215 major cities in the world, Auckland placed 23rd on the UBS list of the world’s richest cities. It has several nicknames, one of them is “City of Sails”, and the popularity of sailing in the region is renowned. If you are a surfer, you should visit the west coast with its many popular surfing beaches. ‘Jafas’, a slang term for Aucklander, are very proud of their city.

Let me tell you about the new Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Mr Taha Macpherson. His full name is Tahamoana Aisea Cluny Macpherson, (no wonder he has shortened it to Taha). I asked if this is a South Pacific name as his mother is from Samoa. A brief explanation; Tahamoana is Maori and roughly means “edge of the sea”, it reflects some Maori heritage on my father’s side of the family, Aisea is Samon, and was the name of my grandfather on my mother’s side, Cluny is in fact Scottish and is the traditional name of my family Clan’s chief. Macpherson (also Scottish, and the family clan name on my Dad’s side) I was told. Taha was born and grow up in Auckland. He also has a sister living in Auckland, a dedicated diver.

His parents were schoolteachers. Taha took a Master’s in Psychology, Business and Administration. He also has a huge interest in Human Resources. Chrissy, his lovely wife, was also brought up in Auckland and they both met in school and took part in a musical production together, but not until they started university studies, they realised their feelings for each other were deeper than just friends. Chrissy graduated earlier than Taha. They later moved on to Wellington and in year 2000 in August, they tied the knot. The couple have no children but dogs. As Taha and Chrissy did not want to expose their dogs for six months quarantine, they left their dogs behind, but in good hands. When they lived in Turkey, they adopted a dog and that dog is looked after by Taha’s parents back home.

Taha goes to the gym early every morning and he is in the office at the latest by 8.15am. He is happy not having to go too far, he can take a short cut through the Dutch Embassy gardens to the New Zealand Embassy on Wireless Road. Chrissy, who actually is a psychologist, doesn’t work here, at least not yet. The couple have only been here a few months. She is, like most ambassadors spouses, active in SHOM (the Organisation for the Ambassador’s spouses). They both love socialising and exploring new restaurants trying different cuisines.

In this case, they live at the right spot. Next to their residence is the popular Italian Restaurant Gianni’s. Both love music and at a young age, Chrissy played violin. Believe it or not, but on Sundays they take Thai lessons… admirable! Chrissy has also joined the book club organised by SHOM. What will Ambassador Taha focus on during his post in Bangkok? “To me, it’s important to improve and intensify the relations between New Zealand and Thailand. I am looking forward to the coming election here and of course the Coronation of today’s King, His Royal Highness King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Another important topic is to increase the trade between the two countries. I would like to see more exports from Thailand to New Zealand. We can share and develop education questions/topics. There are about 3500 students from Thailand studying in New Zealand. We can deliver good education, create proposals for Thailand businesses, and increase the already good cooperation between the universities in New Zealand and Thailand. “People to people” contact is important to me too. Every year 120,000 New Zealanders come to Thailand from home. My goal is to take that developing relationship between our two countries to a much deeper level.

“One of the most beautiful countries in the world with its wild coastlines, agricultural regions, the sea and its lakes. That it is 4,155kms/2,587 miles from Australia and is famous for its rugby team – The All Blacks, sheep, good wines and kiwi fruit”

The Embassy in Bangkok is quite small, with only 30 people, a combination of diplomatic staff, police, immigration and consular staff. The consular section is however kept pretty busy. Taha and Chrissy are looking forward to travelling in Thailand and to the other countries in SE Asia. Since an early age, Taha has travelled with his parents, later on by himself and then with Chrissy. He is also responsible for Cambodia and Laos and so his work will frequently take him to these two countries during his posting in Bangkok. He is a golfer, so I suggested them to take a weekend in Hua Hin, a golfer’s paradise with 10 courses to an international standard all within an hours drive. As of today, he has only played a few courses in Bangkok. Chrissy doesn’t play so leaves him to it.

Ending our meeting, I asked ‘who they would like to dine with’. Chrissy said, she would love to dine with the New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Mrs Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern. She is the youngest Prime Minister in 140 years, born in July 1980 in Hamilton. She has been the Prime Minister since 2017. Taha, answered unequivocally, Nelson Mandela. He was a multi faceted man. Born in July 1918 in Mvezo he passed away December 2013 on the Houghton Estate outside Johannesburg. He was a South African lawyer, politician and statesman. He was South Africa’s President between 1994 and 1999 and is also considered “the father of the Modern South Africa”.

In 1993, Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. I think both have chosen very interesting people to have a private dinner with. Now they are looking forward to having dinner with colleagues and new friends in Bangkok. Their cosy residence, one of the old style villas, is perfect for nice “getting together parties” or just an intimate talk over a glass of New Zealand wine. I am sure that we will meet this charming, couple on the circuit of Bangkok’s Ambassadorial scene. I hope that they enjoy their time here in the “City of Angels” and we thank you for a most pleasant afternoon.

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