I went to meet with H.E. Mr Andelfo Garcia, Colombia’s Ambassador to Thailand, and his wife Astrid Amaya. I had asked for an interview and was invited for lunch, lucky me! I arrived warm and sticky to their magnificent residence at the penthouse of The Met Building at South Sathorn Road. The enormous windows, from floor to ceiling, yield an unbelievable view, despite my “fear of heights”. With a proffered glass of chilled white wine and some snacks, I immediately felt at home with such a pleasant and welcoming gesture.
At first glance upon arriving at their home, you intuit that art plays an important role in their lives. There are beautiful, huge and colourful paintings not only Colombian but from several countries. One huge painting was a bit scary to me, with a gas-masked face, which reminded me of war. Nevertheless, it is one of the Ambassador’s favourites. I must admit that despite its gruesomeness, it has great colours and it does startle the mind.
“Astrid hosts monthly dinners for prominently successful Thai women in all fields, and in this way she is privileged to know so many remarkable women. She points out that women are the cornerstones of society and of every culture.”
After a short interlude, we sat down for lunch at a lovely laid table. An elegant printed menu revealed the dishes. Featured were a Colombian red bean cream soup (delicious), followed by a passion fruit sorbet. I was told that passion fruit is commonly used in many Colombian dishes, and not only in desserts. An avocado/tomato salad, followed by grilled sea bass, plus Yuca (a kind of root fruit, similar to potatoes) was accompanied with roasted vegetables. For dessert, a warm banana cake, and Colombian rice pudding, and climaxed with excellent Colombian coffee. Such a heartwarming and savoury lunch!
I learned that Colombian avocados are very big compared to the ones we find here or in Europe. They are a mayor export product for Colombia, along with coffee and fruits, including passion fruit. As usual, I had sent out some common questions in advance, but we had so much to talk about that we forgot most of them. We discussed common friends, and both Astrid and Andelfo mentioned that at present there is such a wonderful cadre of Ambassadors posted in Bangkok, and that they often meet privately and outside of normal public functions and daily work responsibilities.
Ever more so, the Ambassadors from the Latin American Countries keep in close gatherings. And that they have enjoyed several formal and informal dinners with the group of the Arabic-speaking Ambassadors at Astrid’s and Andelfo’s home. Astrid hosts monthly dinners for prominently successful Thai women in all fields, and in this way she is privileged to know so many remarkable women. She points out that women are the cornerstones of society and of every culture.
To further their commitment to Thailand, it is also noted that on some occasions they have had the honour to find members of the Royal family dining at their home.
It’s obvious that this couple enjoys meeting people and is genuinely interested in building new friendships. Astonishingly, Astrid and Andelfo met in high school. Astrid was 14 and Andelfo 19 when they first met, and it is wonderful to see how they still behave like two teenagers in love. They married in 1974 and have three sons, all living in the US, with one son in New York and the two others in Silicon Valley in California.
Andelfo was born in Bogota, the capital of Colombia; he studied law and political science at the National University and his MA at New York University. His family mostly consists of lawyers; including brothers and sisters, father and grandfather. Andelfo has written several books and articles about law and international relations. In 1992 he was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia and then joined the Diplomatic Corps. He has 7 siblings with one, his youngest sister, being a judge in one of the highest Courts of Colombia.
His first diplomatic posting was in New York at the UN, as Ambassador Deputy Permanent Representative, a post he held for five years. Both he and Astrid enjoyed their years in the Big Apple. Astrid became involved in the art world and established a company curating and lending art to Fortune 500 companies in USA.
In 2013 they arrived in Bangkok. They had been to Asia as tourists before but never lived here. They both enjoy Thailand very much and their busy life here, in this beautiful country with such wonderful people, and it is a great experience and privilege, Andelfo says with Astrid agreeing. Their three sons have visited twice. Andelfo goes once a year to visit his 92 year old mother back in Colombia.
Astrid is in quest of visiting and learning of as many countries as possible. She has been travelling for many years in the past, in search of emerging artists to offer them to art collections of her Fortune 500 corporate clients. I also know that she is heavily involved in SHOM (the group of Ambassador’s spouses). I remember that a few years ago she organised a unique exhibition of art from all Latin countries at Central Embassy and last year she says it was an honour that Chulalongkorn University Museum presented for the first time ever an exhibition of a foreign artist.
We exhibited 3 Colombian artists. Andelfo announced that on July 12 there will be a performance of “Swing Latino” a renouned group of Salsa dancers that will perform for all the public and will have workshops. Also, on August 17 there will be a performance of a famous Colombian singer that will interpret not only Colombian, but some of the most renown songs from Latin America and the Caribbean at Mahidol University.
Colombia and Thailand have held diplomatic relations for almost four decades. The Embassy of Colombia in Bangkok was reopened 5 years ago. Trade between Colombia and Thailand is around US 400 million and is growing every year. There are numerous programmes of cooperation between the two countries on Agriculture, Tourism and the Environment. “During these 5 years we have negotiated more than 10 agreements,” Andelfo says with pride. About 50,000 Colombians have visited Thailand in the past five years.
Last year, more than 500 Thais visited Colombia. It’s increasing every year.” As with many of his colleagues, Andelfo is also Ambassador of Colombia to Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It is worth underling that Colombia benefits from Thailand in agricultural and land matters, including learning from the successful experience of Thai Sufficient Economy inspired and led by H.M. the late King Bhumibol. Thailand benefits by scholarships to learn Spanish at Colombian universities. In the past four years 25 Thai fellows have been studying Spanish in Colombia on full scholarships.
Andelfo is very proud to recall that last year was a great importance in the history of Colombia, as 50 years of internal conflict came to an end. The new situation in Colombia is remarkable; economy is flourishing and tourism growing exponentially. He lists the numerous advantages of his country finally at peace and the fact that in recognition of these positive outcome the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
One of my usual questions is: “Do you exercise?” Both Astrid and Andelfo smile, Astrid says Andelfo is much disciplined and goes every day with or without trainer, but I go only the 3 days the trainer comes for me, I need to follow her. Ja! ja “During weekends we go to Lumpini Park to enjoy a fresh power juice at 8 am and to run. They are early birds, Astrid more, Andelfo explains.
Your hobbies if you have time for any? “Well, we love to attend many cultural events. September and October are very special here in Bangkok because our friend Kuku Uberoi delights Bangkok by bringing wonderful performances and artists from around the world for the “The Dance & Music Festival” of Bangkok. It has been a yearly festival for the past 19 years, and it’s very much appreciated by both the Thai people and expats. Here I can agree, it’s a fantastic opportunity to enjoy all kinds of music, ballet, dance, magicians’, etc., as I also have attended several of the performances at the Thai Cultural Center.
“We also enjoy movies. I have been in their movie room where they have a collection of about 600 movies that they enjoy with friends on the weekends. Which are your most memorable events since you arrived? Of course the answer is: “The late King’s funeral ceremony, a sad, but imposing event. I also was impressed by the new King when I presented my diplomatic credentials for accreditation, also a very memorable moment to me”. Astrid and Andelfo have traveled extensively throughout Thailand.
A favorite destination is Sukhothai, the first capital city dating back to 1238 A.D. In 1365 it was replaced by Ayutthaya, as the capital city of the Kingdom, and today it is a UNESCO Heritage Site. “We have also been to many of the islands. Astrid likes snorkeling and underlines the importance of protecting the corals from plastic and other polluters. Astrid is a big campaigner for the environment. Say No to plastic bags and water bottles. Andelfo and Astrid were invited to the Earth Day celebration with the Minister of Environment of Thailand. How is your Thai? ”Well, very poor unfortunately, they both admit.
“We have tried, but one thing we have acknowledged, the Thai language is very complex. There are many interesting characteristics, for example the use of the verb in present, not in past, neither in future, it’s here and now. The language is a crucial part of a wonderful culture,” Andelfo underlines.
We returned quickly to the subject food and I wanted to know if they like Thai food and if they can eat spicy food. “We both love Thai food and I like it spicy, but Astrid prefers it very mild. Andelfo explains with Astrid nodding. “We have a very good, nice Thai Chef that prepares also western food including many Colombian dishes that he has learned. It’s interesting to see that here there is often salt included in desserts and sugar in the main dishes,” You always receive a bit of salt and sugar even in the fruits in the streets.
My very last question, “If you could choose one person, anyone in the world, to have a private dinner with, who would this person be?” I had to stipulate, “Now, don’t say your wife,” and Andelfo laughed. “Well, of course I love dining alone with Astrid, but I must say that Kofi Annan, the former head of the UN, I met him several times while my post in the UN and he left a deep impression on me.
I would really like a dinner with him to share his experiences”. Kofi Annan is a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1997 to December 2006. Kofi Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, a very good choice. Time went much too quickly and I stayed maybe too long, but it was such a lovely lunch with a lot to discuss. I want to thank you both for your great hospitality and generosity.
As a little goodbye gift, I received some Colombian coffee. I had to explain that we Swedes always say, “We love our Swedish coffee,” but this is wrongly stated as we don’t have any coffee plantations in Sweden, we import our coffee and a lot from Colombia. Thank you for taking your valuable time and keep on enjoying your stay in Thailand.