Uffe Wolffhechel and his wife Susie A Ruff became 1 September 2016 the new Danish Ambassador couple in Bangkok and Phnom Penh. In October, they were joined by Isabella, who is 21 years and studying International Marketing and Communication in Copenhagen, and Alexander, who is 19 and taking his Danish A-level this year back in Denmark.
Having the children visiting them is one of the benefits of being posted to Bangkok. In Uffe Wolffhechel’s previous position as the Danish ambassador in Kabul, Afghanistan, spouses were allowed to come on visits, but not children.
On a personal level, what Uffe Wolffhechel appreciates tremendously about the posting in Bangkok, is exactly this feeling of being in a friendly country where he can leave on foot through the front gate of the embassy and go for a run in Lumpini Park without having to worry about his personal safety.
On a professional level, moving to Bangkok is great opportunity for Uffe Wolffhechel to become more experienced working with commercial affairs on a bigger scale than at any of his previous postings.
““This is for me one of the great attractions at this posting,” he says.
“I have been working with business issues before, but mostly under atypical conditions like in Pakistan, where Susie also helped writing a business plan after the opening of a Pakistani-Danish Business Club,” he explains.
“Here in Bangkok, we recently hosted a major event for a Danish company utilizing the conference room of the residence for a seminar. This was to me an indication of the opportunities and facilities that we have here.”
“Having the sign “Royal Danish Embassy” on the front door is an added value in the Thai context,” he adds.
Previously, at a networking event in September, Uffe Wolffhechel was introduced to the members of Danish Thai Chamber of Commerce.
“It was a chance for me to meet a lot of the members in one evening and it gave me an opportunity to express my full support to the Chamber and the broader Danish business community in Thailand,” he says.
“I am also very supportive of the recent initiative by Danes Worldwide to establish Danish language education i Thailand. The same goes for the current move to establish a Danish Church in Bangkok.”
“Activities like these are not arranged by us but we support them fully. Among other things it makes it easier for Danish companies to send out Danish staff to work here even they have families and children.”
“When it comes to what we can contribute, we would like to arrange highly visible activities within the core Danish competence sectors like design/creativity, clean industry, sustainable or renewable energy, food processing and health care,” he adds.
While commercial affairs is the relatively new challenge for Uffe Wolffhechel, the Ambassador’s expertise within consular affairs is likely one of the good reasons why he has been chosen to lead the Danish Embassy in Bangkok.
In recent years within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Uffe Wolffhechel has been alternating between dangerous postings abroad (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Venezuela) and more “soft” jobs at home working with human rights issues and as head of the Danish “Borgerservice” – the Consular Affairs division of the ministry.
While acknowledging that it may seem like a contrast, Uffe Wolffhechel objects to the implication that consular affairs is “soft” work.
“Some consular cases are highly sensitive and it can be a matter of life and death if you make the wrong decision. In that sense, there is no difference between work at dangerous postings and consular affairs are comparable, in both cases there is no room for making mistakes,” he points out
There is, however, clearly a need for a high calibre person within consular affairs to head the Danish Embassy in Thailand. This embassy is by far the Danish representation abroad with most consular cases.
“It is estimated that per year there are currently 170.000 Danes visiting Thailand. It just takes a fraction of these people to run into problems of one sort or another and we will be very busy,” he says.
“The visa service is also busy because of a high number of applications, but this goes smoothly. The consular services is where we meet new challenges all the time,” he adds.
Currently, Denmark also has 5 or 6 citizens in prison in Thailand. Theses cases also need supervision.
Being the boss
In Bangkok, Uffe Wolffhechel is also the boss of a larger local embassy staff. He acknowledges that as an embassy it is limited how much of a career you will be able to offer local staff.
“What we can achieve, however, is to be an attractive stepping stone in a career to work with international organisations,” he explains.
“I am never upset when a member of my staff tells me, they have been offered a better job. It shows that having worked with us is seen as a quality guarantee.”
Having a bigger staff at the embassy has the added value that the Ambassador gets to know more Thai people who with each their local network can help him better understand Thailand and the issues the Thai people are currently facing.
The Danish Ministry for Foreign Affairs appreciates in general accompanying spouses because they invariably become important sparring partners for their posted personnel. Susie A Ruff, the accompanying spouse of the new Danish Ambassador to Thailand, aims however to become more than that.
Susie has her own business and sees several options for her to expand that in Asia.
Her expertise lies in particular within Innovation in Health Care. Recently, she was appointed external lecturer for students studying Master of Science in Innovation in Health Care at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark. This sector is currently in a very exciting development. For example the expanding high speed Internet makes it possible to provide high quality medical services from a central location via internet connections to remote locations.
“This is an area, where I might be able to help Asian hospitals develop,” she explains.
“Another expertise I offer is to help start-ups and small and medium sized businesses develop and maintain customer focus and focus on their unique product or service. In particular if there is a need to expand this service and internationalize the company.”
Susie also wants to contribute to the Public Diplomacy work of the Embassy promoting Denmark.
The entrepreneurial spirit in Thailand is immediately inspiring.
“I think it is fascinating, the way Thai people show initiative all the time. Just walk down the little sois behind the embassy and you will find people having set up little shops selling this, producing that. The entrepreneurial spirit is constantly there.”
Among the things she has already learned to appreciate about Thailand is the tropical climate and the nature.
“The way everything is green and lush and grows at an incredible speed is fascinating. I am hoping to find time to explore more of this and get to know more of the smiling and generally happy Thai people.”
“The Buddhist belief and the way the Thais smoothly mix in Chinese ancestor worship and animistic spirit houses is also fascinating and something I hope to learn more about.”
Together, the Ambassador couple enjoys running as a sport. They have already found the track around Lumpini Park nearby convenient, but they are also pondering if it would be possible to run on ordinary streets and back alleys to experience another scene of the Bangkok metropolis.
Another interest the couple share is plane spotting. This is about identifying aircraft by brand and model in any airport that you as a frequent flyer travels through.
“I know this sounds a little weird, but once you get into it, it is quite interesting. We also have an app called Flight Radar that is fascinating,” Susie adds.
According to the description of the app, you may simply point your mobile phone at a plane passing in the sky over you and from there get to know where it’s going and when it will arrive, plus info about the kind of aircraft, its current speed and altitude, and a high-res image of the plane. You can even check out what the pilot’s seeing in real-time and 3D!
Near the top of their “bucket list” of things to do together in Thailand is also a visit to Chiang Mai. The handicraft tradition that has made both Georg Jensen and now also Pandora establish production facilities there will be among the things to explore.
The Ambassador himself has also a personal interest that is not entirely shared by his wife:
“I have an interest in railways. I understand there is a special Danish historical link to the establishing of railways in Thailand and this is something I hope to find time to read more about and explore in real life,” he adds.
So far – or as the Ambassador puts it “on this point of the learning scale” – the couple enjoy the versatility of living in Bangkok.
“The contrast is overwhelming,” the Ambassador says.
“Bangkok has the highest number of skybars in the world second only to New York and then down below you have this abundance of delicious local street kitchens and everything in between.”
Last minute romance
Susie and Uffe Wolffhechel started dating after the reception that Susie held in March 2006 when she left the Foreign Ministry to take up a position at Danish Design Center.
Uffe Wolffhechel worked at the time in the Danish consular service.
“By the time I got there, it was a bit late,” he recalls.
“Most of the guests had left already – but that meant we had more time to talk just the two of us. We found out we had a shared passion for Argentina where Susie had worked for some years and I had just been there on vacation. The rest is history,” he says with a big smile.