Madame Astrid (Amaya) Garcia is the wife of the Ambassador for Colombia to Thailand H.E. Andelfo Garcia and together they rank as one of the favourite diplomatic couples on the Bangkok social scene. They are always on the guest list and are well known, universally respected and liked by both their fellow Ambassador’s and spouses, Thai high society and the business community in Bangkok.
They have been together since their high school days and make everyone feel so welcome and at ease in their company. Always have time to stop and talk and make further introductions to their friends in the diplomatic community.
Expat Life is honoured that Madame Astrid finds time to share part of her privileged life with us and our readers as she typifies expat life in Thailand in engaging and connecting with the very best that Thailand has to offer the international residents that make up the writers and readers of this magazine.
We sat down with Madame Astrid and tried to keep her sat still for an hour and for all those that know her well you will appreciate how difficult that is!
Tell us about the wonderful art event you organised this month.
Well, the Embassy of Colombia, partnered with the Art Museum of Chulalongkorn University to offer a powerful art exhibition called ”Winds of Peace”.
“Winds of Peace” was a contemporary art exhibition to celebrate the end of conflict in Colombia. The end of the war was a groundbreaking moment in Colombia’s history. In recognition of this historic achievement the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the President of the Republic of Colombia, Dr Juan Manuel Santos.
“Winds of Peace” exhibited the works of three Colombian renowned artists. Mario Ayerbe, Leonardo Salazar and Andres Santodomingo. Mario Ayerbe travelled to Bangkok from the southern province of Huila, one of the regions that historically suffered the most from the scourge of violence. Today that region enjoys new winds, winds of peace, and an environment suitable for the flourishing of the arts and other expressions of human creation.
I am pleased that the exhibition was such a great success not only because the number and quality of the attendees but because of the silent auction that took place in aid of the Yuvabadhana Foundation. The programme proved that Bangkok high society likes contemporary art, not only to see it, but to buy it and enjoy it at home with their family.
The art world is seeing an important change across the globe and the far east is no exception as millennials and women are now the new art collectors, they are spending their money on meaningful and interesting things rather than just branded products.
What was the best event you participated this month?
The Indian Garba Dance Festival. The festival was organised by the Indian members of the diamond industry in Bangkok. I was invited to the Indian Navaratree celebration, a true celebration of good over bad. It was by far the most joyful festival that I have ever been to. The entire Indian family attended with children of all ages. Everybody was dressed in traditional costumes from the Gujarat province. The girls wore colourful, beautiful dresses with full makeup, and the boys had moustaches and wore face paint. They all danced in a big circle with people of all ages, and then there were dance competitions according to age.
All the kids were so enthralled with their dancing that many lasted until 2am! I don’t want to miss it next October.
What was your best trip this month?
I went to the Philippines on a well organised trip by the International Women’s Club. I enjoyed it very much even though I was really sick on arrival but luckily for me one of the ladies travelling was a doctor so she gave me medicine and kept guard for me and it did not stop me from doing a zip line over the Blue Ladoon and sand surfing at their beautiful Dune. I was pampered by all the lovely ladies on the trip and thank them for their kindness.
In Manila, the highlight was Intramuros, the “Walled City.” The famed site was built under Spanish colonial rule. Visitors should go to The Fort and have dinner at Barbara’s, an old-fashioned century house turned into a restaurant. Barbara’s has a cheerful, entertaining show of local performers of traditional artistry with lively Filipino dance and music.
I visited two very interesting and well kept museums – The National Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum. If you are more adventurous you will want to visit San Antonio, a very poor, old, traditional neighbourhood to get a feel of the real Manila.
The best of the Philippines is to be seen travelling around the Unesco World Heritage sites. There you will enjoy the amazing landscapes while you travel from one town to another.
Malacanang North with its Paoay Church, one of the four Baroque Churches in the Philippines that are part of Unesco sites, should definitely be seen.
Vigan City in Ilocos Sur is considered as one of the seven most wonderful cities in the world was absolutely beautiful, we really needed more time to enjoy it all.I bought two unique, hardwood, old sculptures and we all found local handmade fabrics to bring home.
I think I will go back soon as I would like to visit many of the other islands in the Philippines.
They are things that you do not have to teach but they come engraved in the soul
What are some of the important things you and the Ambassador have done together?
I think the most important one has been raising our three sons. There are things that you do not have to teach but they come engraved in the soul, like the love for art, music and travelling. Children will love them. For Andelfo and I, to have original art, good music, some lovely friends and travelling has been very important in our lives.
When we got married the most important thing was to have a good stereo for our music and art for the walls. Furniture was not on the list. We had a very inexpensive dining room and we just covered the table with a nice tablecloth. Our living room had big cushions on the floor with small round tables topped with museum art books for reading. I guess the importance of art came from how my parents raised us surrounded by art and constantly visiting museums. My mother used to tell us “look at the walls, there is where you find the difference, furniture is a necessity, art is the difference”.
For the first five years of marriage, we studied and worked, just to spend it all travelling and buying pieces of art on each trip (200USD was our maximum art investment budget on each piece). When our first son was born, my mother said, “Now that you have a son you have to start thinking of buying a house.”Then we started thinking of moving from renting to buying a house. No matter what, we still did big trips with the kids every year, they grew up loving to research and visit the different countries and cultures we experienced.
We knew that the importance of having original art with you was already passed on to them when the first thing that my sons thought of when they moved in to live with their now wives, was to ask for a piece of art from the family collection.
Look at the walls, there is where you find the difference
How will you celebrate Christmas and New Year this year?
We had always celebrated Christmas with the whole family, mainly in New York, but now that our sons are all married we have had to adapt our plans and be more flexible.We are lucky that our daughters in law are now part of our yearly celebrations.
One year when Andelfo was working in London, we had to go to New York to celebrate Christmas together and then return the next day for an official event in London. We did not want to break the tradition.
New Year’s Eve too was always the same as we wanted to be with family and friends, but now we have to share our sons with their wives’ family, so we celebrate with whoever is available, their families and many good friends.