Matti Myrberg was appointed Finland’s first ever Honorary Consul of Finland to Laos in August last year. ScandAsia has visited Matti, who resides in a huge villa of his own design in the embassy area in Vientiane.
“When the embassy in Bangkok asked me if I would accept to be appointed, I answered: If you can’t find anyone better, I accept.”
At the time he wasn’t sure what an Honorary Consul actually does. He expected that the main part of the job was to introduce Finnish business to Laos and vice versa. For the moment the only Finnish company with production in Laos is Stora Enso Oyj which is a Finnish-Swedish paper and pulp giant with a 1.200 hectare trial plantations in Laos.
“Other Finnish companies in Laos are present in connection with different NGOs or development project. And then of cause there are Pöyry,” he adds.
Pöyry is the Finnish consulting and engineering company which involves in the Xayaburi Dam project 15 civil society groups has complained to the Finnish government about.
Retirement plan was postponed
Matti and his first wife had planned to retire after his job in India had been completed. He then worked in India on a digital radio project. But when his wife died in 2002, Matti decided to postpone his retirement plan and his next assignment brought him to Laos in 2004.
In Laos, Matti worked for Hifab Oy as a consultant on an Asian Development Bank / Nordic Development Fund financed project which provided electricity to 32,830 households in 570 villages. He worked at the project six years before he finally retired in 2010.
While working in Laos, Matti met his current wife Chandavone and when Matti retired, he and Chandavone choose to stay in Laos.
“I realised that my wife wouldn’t be happy in Finland and that I was quite happy here in Laos, so we decided to stay here.”
No distressed tourists so far
As an Honorary Consul, helping tourists is part of Matti’s job.
“So far I have only had one request for help. A mother was concerned because her teenage son hadn’t called her for 3 days. We agreed to wait over the weekend before I started to make inquiries to the Laotian authorities and fortunately he called her during the weekend,” Matti tells with a smile. He is obviously from a generation where even landline phones were rare and long distance calling not something you did on a daily basis.
With a limited numbers of Finnish tourists in Laos, Matti does not expect that part of the job to be extensive.
Manual labour gives Matti Myrberg just as much pleasure as intellectual challenges so when he designed his family’s villa, he placed a workshop central in the house. Here he makes furniture and right now he is finishing a spirit-house for his wife – a project he has spent almost half a year on. More projects are waiting in the computer, where Matti uses AutoCad to design his projects.
“Working with local hardwood is challenging. Some are like cement for my tools. Most of my tools I have brought from Finland and it isn’t possible to get spare parts in the right dimensions here, where tools are either construction or for big scale production,” Matti explains while standing next to his biggest spare part problem: a 10 inch band saw.
Everything is available today
Although some spare parts are not easy to find, Matti mentions how fast everything is changing in Laos.
“Times are rapidly changing here. Access to all kind of supplies has increased and you don’t have to go to Thailand to get whatever you need any more.”
The changes are indeed very visible. Traffic has increased tremendously and big development programs with plans of building Skyscrapers and shopping malls are underway. Together with the new times comes major price hikes. When Matti bought the land for his villa, he paid 20 US$ per square meter. Now sellers ask 160 US$.
An incurable collector
Besides taking care of his duties as Honorable Consul and making furniture in his work shop, Matti also has his library with 4,780 books that he and his first wife collected over the years. Some of them are in languages he doesn’t speak such as his collection of old French books. But most of them he can read, and he intends to do so. Favorites are books on history and natural science especially mathematic and biology. Biographies, which Matti considers as recent or contemporary history, are popular as well. And then there are the 700 Finnish 1st edition novels.
In the library on the first floor, there are also some of Matti’s other collections. His collection of knives hangs on the wall and on a table there are a collection of mechanical calculators and some old typewriters.
“If there is more than two of something in this world I am tempted to start collecting it,” he tells with an ear to ear grin.