Lars Gunnar Erlandson, Bangkok

If ever you have listened to the news on Swedish Broadcasting you have most definitely heard his voice. Lars Gunnar Erlandson, he has been a foreign correspondent for almost thirty years. He is one of the most renowned and knowledgeable foreign correspondents ever in Sweden and has reported about rebels, royalties and religious fundamentalists. Name a country and he has most likely been there.
     To hear Lars Gunnar Erlandson reporting is to listen to someone extremely professional and dedicated. Yet he is warm and humble and keeps a low profile. Also he still feels excited every day about his work.
     Everything started in Åseda in the dark woods of Småland. That is where Lars Gunnar Erlandson grew up in a family with five children. Lars Gunnars view over the daily life in the small Swedish village has since then changed to one over the Egyptian pyramids in Kairo, the Ipanema beach in Rio and other places that most people only see on pictures. He has been hugged and kissed by Yassir Arafat, blessed by Mother Teresa and has traveled with Olof Palme in Latin America. But the most important thing in his life is his wife Lena and their children Rina, Dan, and their cottage near Åseda where they usually spend their summer, Christmas and other holidays.
     Lars Gunnars father had a painting firm in Åseda but he also regularly wrote sport notes for local newspapers. He wrote everything by hand and Lars Gunnar used to look over his shoulder and then listen when he made a phone call to read what he had written.
     After an ice hockey match, in whom 14 year old Lars Gunnar was the goalkeeper in the youth team, he was for the first time asked to do a short report for Vetlandaposten. From there it went on.
     “I really liked to write. Big or small things, in school, for newspapers or humorous sketches for different local theatre groups,” Lars Gunnar tells.
     He wrote a lot about young peoples interests, sport events, gossip, local politics and news like for example when Mr. Karlsson had been drunk driving.
     The youngster Lars Gunnar Erlandson covered both this and that for local newspapers in the area. He got paid seven öre per line, which was later raised to ten öre. Some news he heard about sitting at Centralcafeet in Åseda drinking Champis or Pommac together with the guys and girls. When Åseda glass factory bought one (yes 1) TV-set for their workers that was really big news and he got to write a short article for national daily Aftonbladet.
     “But it was my uncle, Erland Erlandson, who actually had the first TV-set in Åseda. The first time we got to watch that was a memberable moment that I
wrote about in my diary.”
     Lars Gunnar has been writing diaries every day since 1955. He doesn’t write much, just small notes about the weather and what he has done during the day. He keeps all of the diaries in small piles with rubber bands around them.
     His first step out into the big, wide world was when he moved to Vetlanda to go to high school. He studied, worked for Vetlandaposten and was one of the most eager participants in the school theatre. In 1961 he got a scholarship to work one year in Chicago for Swedish newspaper “Svenska Amerikanaren Tribunen”.
     Coming back to Sweden he wanted to move to Stockholm as soon as possible and therefore he took a job at “Byggnadsvärlden” and shortly he became the editor for the student paper Gaudeamus and at the same time he studied political science at University of Stockholm.
     The same year he got married and also started to work at Swedish Broadcasting. He started out as a reporter focusing on current affairs. That meant traveling a lot in Sweden from Lappland in the north to Skåne in the south. He did interviews with workers at local industries and famous stars of that time among them Paul Anka who he interviewed at legendary Forresta at Lidingö in Stockholm.
     “He was enormously popular and a lot of people envied me who got to meet him,” Lars Gunnar remembers.
     In the spring of 1971 Lars Gunnar went to Turkey to do a reportage and so he happened to be there when there was a coup d’état and the military took over. “Dagens Eko” the most important news program in Sweden asked him to do several reports which he successfully did.
     “To be a good foreign correspondent it is important to sometimes be lucky enough to happen to be in the right place at the right time and to be able to deliver the news to people at home. You can’t really plan for a war to start, epidemic smallpox to break loose or for Ali Butto suddenly having time for an interview. By coincidence you are there when it happens. But OK, maybe one over the years develops a feeling for coincidences,” Lars Gunnar admits.
     His first long term position as a foreign correspondent was in Beirut in 1975 when the conflict between Lebanese and Palestinian groups started. It was too unsafe for his wife Lena and newly adopted baby daughter Rina to come along and soon, a quick decision was taken to move the office to Cairo where the family settled down.
     The almost unreal and impressive pyramids could be seen on a clear day from their windows and the sand from the Sahara desert covered just about everything in their apartment when it was too windy. They liked the atmosphere, the heat and the many nice people who they learned to know.
     From there, he followed the development in the Middle East.
     “It is incredibly sad that nothing got any better. The Palestinians
and the Israelis are only getting more and more far away from each other and there is no improvement whatsoever in sight. And in the midst of all this, arrogance from the people in power on one side and a total belief from the leaders in suicidal attacks on the other,” Lars Gunnar sighs.
     During that period he traveled a lot to Lebanon and he was back for another correspondent period in Cairo in the late nineties. And between those two periods in Cairo he has among other missions been a correspondent in Washington and started up the Latin America office for Swedish Broadcasting in Rio de Janeiro.
     From Rio he saw democracy slowly working its way into many of the Latin American countries. He covered the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador and followed the development in Chile. From their apartment in Rio the Erlandson family saw the huge white statue of Christ spread its arms and they could hear the carnival music from the streets.
     In Washington, they lived about fifteen minutes by bicycle from the White House and the children, Dan and Rina, didn’t have to travel far to get to their school that they liked so much. That was when the Reagan era was coming to an end.
     Lars Gunnar Erlandson has posted questions to George Bush senior in the oval room and followed Bill Clinton and had a conversation with him on his election campaign.
     Last year he came to Bangkok, the melting pot of Southeast Asia. Having spent a lot of time in Hong Kong the area was not at all new to him. As usual Lars Gunnar, when the furniture had arrived from Cairo, quickly felt at home.
     “I like Bangkok and the mix between skyscrapers and small houses and the food is fantastic. You can have a great meal just about anywhere.”
     Lars Gunnar must be the most unprestigious foreign correspondent Sweden has ever seen. One day he goes to Malaysia to interview the resigning prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and the next to the north of Thailand to do a reportage about eating dogs for dinner. He seems equally comfortable at a royal reception at the Oriental as in the slum in Klong Toey.
     Over the years he has met happy and devastated people, he has spoken to survivors about casualties, he has worked among overweight Americans and felt helpless surrounded by starving children. He has learned to cope with all kinds of emotions. He has been there to let us know.
     “In Calcutta there were 10 million refugees escaping the war in eastern Pakistan. They came walking with their few belongings. Men, woman, elderly and children without a home and anywhere to go with no food and no money. It was extremely hard to see this. But in situations like this I have to realize my role and that their situation would be the same even if I was not there. So what can I do? I can report about what is happening and let people know.”
     Lars Gunnar has always kept his curiosity and every day he is sincerely enthusiastic about his job. Since long he knows that the job as a foreign correspondent is not as glamorous at it might seem. You have to be able to cope with stress and short nights, you need to be unrealistically patient and inventive and accept the fact that no matter what, a story has to be delivered.
     “It is probably hard for people to imagine what it is really like when they see foreign correspondents on film and TV. It can be very hard work. When the going gets tough it is no dance on roses. You have to stay calm when grenades are exploding and do your report. But it is also meeting interesting people and coming to beautiful places. I have been to around 90 countries and seen some fantastic sites.”
     “If I have to pick one person that has made the most impression on me, it must be Nelson Mandela. I met him at a dinner when he was in Stockholm to receive the Nobel peace prize. We talked for a short while and I have never met anyone with that strong charisma. He is truly a very special person.”
     Lars Gunnar Erlandson is a very special foreign correspondent. Next year he will finish his long foreign career and move back home to Stockholm from Bangkok.
     At least that is what he says. Let’s hope that he will change his mind.

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