153 weddings and 21 deaths so far. Yet Tove Wihlborg-Andersen (56) is not to scare away by this year’s statistics, which indicates that the Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok is the busiest Danish embassy in the world when it comes to consular cases. She knew better than anyone what she engaged in when she this summer succeeded Consular Attaché Ulrik Holt for a period of four years.
“I came to Thailand for the first time in 1984. Since then I have been living in Thailand with my family on and off for almost 15 years”, she says. She last left Thailand in 2002 where she likewise had had been working as Consular Attaché at the embassy.
“Many of my former colleagues are still here and I know a lot of people ”, she says. “Normally you have to build up a completely new network when moving to another country. But here I don’t have to. This is a huge advantage as it is very important in this job know how Thailand works. And I am looking very much forward to working here again”, she adds with a smile.
The embassy in green
The combination of Thai and Danish culture has been part of Tove Wihlborg-Andersen working and family life since 1984 when she and her Thai husband Preeda decided to go to Thailand for the first time.
“I met my husband in Denmark where he was studying. Because he is Thai, we thought it could be interesting to try to live in Thailand”, she says.
“I have always had this longing to go abroad since I was young. Then it became Thailand but it could have been anywhere else really”.
After finishing her education in Denmark as a librarian Tove Wihlborg-Andersen studied Thai at the University of Copenhagen in order to prepare herself for living in a new country. In Bangkok she started working in a Thai company and later with the UN. But when she in 1985 was offered a job as a local employee at the Danish embassy in Bangkok she happily accepted.
“I would like to have the contact with Denmark. I thought that was a luxury when I was here as a young Danish girl who had more or less migrated”.
The quiet, green surroundings of the low white embassy buildings in Sathorn, which was a place Tove Wihlborg-Andersen, wanted to stay.
“I remember coming to the embassy for the first time. You were driving and driving out of Bangkok and the traffic was at least as bad as it is now. But then I came in here and I thought ‘wau’. This is where I am going to work”.
Same same but different
Due to her previous experiences with Thailand, working here is not a great change for Tove Wihlborg-Andersen. “I don’t think Thailand is as mysterious as many foreigners do because I know the language and I know many Thais, so I think I understand the way of acting and reacting better. When I was in Thailand for the first time I could write long letters about all the things that appeared different. But now it is just a part of everyday experiences”, she says.
“And then I must say that I have some incredibly good colleagues here at the embassy who have been here for many years so I know exactly who to ask”.
In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark Tove Wihlborg-Andersen also worked in the Consular Service Section (Borgerservice) and took care of more or less the same cases as she does now at the embassy in Bangkok.
“Around 20 percent of all the cases in the part of Consular Service Section where I worked concerned Thailand, so I was almost occupied full time with Thailand cases back home. This is because Thailand attracts all sorts of people and travellers who sometime get in trouble and need assistance from the embassy”.
However, working in Thailand is not entirely the same as working in a ministry in Copenhagen.
“In Denmark it is an office job as any job for a big ministry. But in Thailand you get a lot of contacts and in some aspects greater responsibility.”
Personal contacts are very important in Thailand in order to get around the bureaucracy, she explains.
“The society in Thailand is based on personal contacts to a much higher degree than in Denmark where everything in constructed around the system”, she explains.
Coming and going – a way of living
Moving between Denmark and Thailand has been a way of living for Tove Wihlborg-Andersen and her family. In 1992 she returned to Denmark with her husband and their two sons to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. However, three years later in 1995 she was back at the embassy in Bangkok. This time in the position of Consular Attaché for a period of seven years until she in 2002 went back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen.
“It is actually terrible to move all the time. Packing down a house time after time is hard work. But you become used to it. You know that it is just for a short while and then you are established in the new place. It becomes a way of living”.
And Tove Andersen thinks living in two countries and cultures has benefited her career as well as her family.
“I like this way of living a bit in both places. When you are out you get some experiences and you meet some people which you never would have met in Denmark,” she says. But although the periods spend in Thailand have been exiting she underlines that returning to Denmark and spending some periods of time there has been an advantage.
“I also feel very Danish. And I think it is important when you have the position I do to return to Denmark and see how things work there. We also thought that it would be good for our children to have a Danish base. In this way they have been so lucky to have too home countries”, she says.
Her two sons Simon 23 and Alan at 21 are today both studying in Denmark and looking forward to visiting their parents in Bangkok. Meanwhile Tove Wihlborg- Andersen is exited about spending another four years at the Embassy of Denmark Bangkok.
“It is exiting to get out and see the world and then at the same time be able to work for Denmark. In reality you are not really out. You have a safety net. It is a privilege to be allowed to experience the world in this way”, she says.