Royal glimpses and close encounters

“Are they really inside?” asked a young blonde Swedish backpacker while I tried to catch a taxi outside Hanoi’s thousand year old Literature Temple.
     “Yes, and how did you know they are in Vietnam?” I asked her.
     By email from a friend of course. And then in the local press.
     And that was about it. She never encountered her head of state in person.
     Alas, not many ordinary Vietnamese citizens either caught more than a glimpse of the royalties who were rushed in cars here and there under tight security.
     Even the official hotel were the Swedish delegation stayed had installed metal detectors and posted guards to fend off potential trouble makers.
     One of the few meetings with the general public occurred when the king and queen rode in cyclos through Hanoi’s old town under red banners greeting “Can XVI Gut”, the king’s name spelled in Vietnamese.
     But the important decision makers that traveled all the way from Sweden got what they wanted.
     Like when the mere 26 years old Cristina Stenbeck bowed in reverence to Queen Silvia during the state banquet hosted by President Tran Duc Luong.
     She took over her father Jan’s industrial empire when he passed away 2002.
     The Stenbeck family’s USD 175 million mobile phone operator investment in Vietnam was for many years the largest foreign project at all in Vietnam.
     And guess who received Jan Stenbeck when he visited the country in November 1995?
     The then deputy prime minister Tran Duc Luong, now the president of Vietnam.
     A small detail which illustrates how important long term personal relations in Asian business are.
     One of the king’s best moments in Vietnam came during an informal chat with Swedish workers at the Bai Bang paper mill a good two hours drive north of Hanoi.
     “Well, I was at HMS Vega when your majesty served as a cadet there,” said Kenneth Mattsson, a burly bearded man from Gothenburg.
     “Yeah, those were the days!” replied the king laughing.
     Even more laughter came when a friend of Kenneth described him as “one of the original installations” in Bai Bang.
     “True enough,” commented Kenneth. “It was in the early 1980’s. It is a difference as between day and night. Then nothing existed outside the site. Now there is a small city, roads, houses and people.”
     Another good moment for the king during state visits are always his meetings with Swedish business people. So too this time.
     “We are here to meet, identify and solve problems and get on with business,” said the king in a surprise ad hoc speech to the large business delegation before the Hanoi talks were concluded.
     “That’s when he is at his best,” said Ulf Dinkelspiel, president of the Swedish trade council about the king’s non formal performance.

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