I was going through some old photos, that photographer Daniel Herron took a few years ago for an interview that I wrote for ScandAsia with khun Ratanawadee Winther, spouse of Ambassador Michael Winther, when suddenly I got curious – “I wonder what has happened to this popular Ambassador couple from Denmark since they left Thailand a few years ago?”
I remember them as very active and social persons, who really put fire into the beautiful Danish residence in Bangkok. Michael, who always was ready to play the guitar or jump on his huge motorbike, with his darling behind, the shining, laughing Ratanawadee. This couple knows how to enjoy life!
So I decided to get in touch with them to find out what they have done since they left Bangkok.
“We went to Bangladesh in 2016, after the posting in Bangkok. We spent 6 wonderful years in my home country Thailand,” Ratanawadee responded promptly
I had to ask if their lives were more or less the same in the 2 countries and Ratanawadee answered;” in some aspects our lives were similar and in other aspects rather different.”
“As an Ambassador’s spouse, I did similar stuff in both countries. I assisted Michael in building relationships with government officials, organisations, and business and with the locals. I supervised residence staff and coordinated functions in and outside the residence and saw after that we gathered together with the Danish community. I also helped the local communities, exchanged ideas and activities concerning art and culture events. I assisted Michael in as many public and diplomatic events as possible. One of the most important tasks was to help the Ambassador/Embassy to keep after and taking care of the residence property that belongs to State Denmark.”
“In Thailand I was the Chairperson of a NGO advocating road safety and I maintained my work while living in Bangladesh. During our almost 2 years of posting in Bangladesh, I travelled back to Thailand every 4th or 5th week to take part in several chair programs. In both countries I got a lot of support from the media.”
So what about the differences between the countries?
“In Thailand we were free to move around everywhere, no security threat at all. When we arrived in Dhaka, we noticed that security was quite a big problem. In July 2016, more than 20 people, mostly foreigners, were massacred by a group of terrorists in a trendy coffee shop in the diplomatic area of Dhaka.”
“This changed the situation for all foreign diplomats and business people. Michael and I could not walk or drive around by ourselves, not even around our own block. Talking about public transportations, it was out of question. Every time we went out together, we were followed by a convoy of police officers. When we stayed in a hotel, there were always policemen outside our door.”
“Towards the end of our posting it became a bit better; we could start bicycling around, but not as free as in Thailand.”
“All this sounds tough, but we didn’t suffer at all. We were taking good care of and everyone contributed to make our lives secure. We did not face any threatening incidents at all.”
I was curious also to know if there was something that was better in Bangladesh and that you both preferred during your stay in Bangladesh.
“Our experiences in Thailand and Bangladesh were in many ways very different. Thailand will always be in our hearts, as it is my home country. Concerning our experiences in Bangladesh, I can use 3 words; fun, intense and memorable. Bangladesh has been one of Denmark’s biggest partners in many programs. The Danish embassy in Bangladesh focuses a lot on development. I very much enjoyed travelling with Michael within Bangladesh to visit projects all over the country, projects founded by Danes. It was amazing to see what a difference Danish tax payer’s money could do for the very poor and less privileged people. The communities showed us so much appreciation. We were both very touch by the locals. We also travelled to visit several villages with indigenous tribes and we had the great opportunity to meet with the King and Queen of the Chakma tribe, the biggest indigenous group in Bangladesh.”
“In Bangladesh I also worked and supported local artisan groups. I was particularly proud to be associated with the Fashion Designer Council in their effort to revive Khadi – which is naturally dyed and woven materials like cotton, silk and muslin.”
“Michael and I also volunteered to help a group to preserve old crumbling buildings from the Mogul period in the old Dhaka.”
“We stayed in Bangladesh for almost 2 years. Bangladesh was considered being a difficult diplomatic posting by the Danish Foreign Ministry, due to the terrorist attack in 2016. This gave us the opportunity to travel abroad more frequently and we therefore visited many interesting countries and had more holidays.”
“In 2018, we returned to Denmark and Copenhagen. Michael is back at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Director-General, working as a part of management of programs and budget in developing countries with a worth of 80 billion Thai Baht. He is also Head of the Anti-corruption secretariat. He really enjoys the challenges and complexity of this job.”
“There is no longer a retirement age at this level, which means Michael has plans to work until at least 70 (almost 12 years from now). He will most likely get 2 more postings as an Ambassador.”
“Talking about Copenhagen, it is one of the most liveable cities in the world and we love it here, but we also look forward to new postings and to represent Denmark officially abroad.”
I wanted to find out a little more about their daily life in Copenhagen and heard from Ratanawadee that she feels very happy in Copenhagen.
“I have found an inner balance. We live in the down town Copenhagen in what is called, the Medieval Town, where all the trendy places are located. Some 2-3 times a week I attend yoga classes and I walk to there and back home. I enjoy going to the supermarkets there it is easy to find organic food and ingredients for preparing different dishes. I am privileged to have nice staff helping with cleaning on a regularly basis.”
“Concerning work, I’m still Chairperson of AIP Foundation Thailand. I have also been busy setting up a new civil society organisation, AIP Foundation Denmark, to work on the topic “Road security” in under developed countries. I have been elected Chairperson also for AIP Foundation Denmark, which is similar to AIP Foundation Thailand and both organisations belong to AIP Foundation Global.”
I asked if Michael still plays guitar often and Ratanawadee says that he is too busy with work nowadays.
“In Bangladesh he had the opportunity to play a lot. He had the opportunity to play at a festival with an audience of 50.000 people and he had the joy to play with a South Asian rock legend, their “jam” had almost 2 million viewers on Youtube.”
“My daily life in Denmark is full and fulfilled. I love the freedom to pick and choose whatever I want to do, both concerning my private life and business-wise. I am out in the fresh air mostly every day, walking or biking. What I would like to do, is to join a good gym and work out more. I did that much more in both Thailand and Bangladesh.”
“According to the global happiness index, Denmark is the happiest country in the world, I agree, you can feel it. People are relaxed and unpretentious. Work and family life are well balanced. People are easy going and pleasant to deal with. The immigration policy though, is tough, but luckily it doesn’t affect me.”
Are you missing a lot from Thailand I had to ask?
“Michael and I are missing our holiday trips to different provinces in Thailand. Of course, I also miss my friends back home. As an Ambassador’s spouse, you have so many opportunities to connect with people and you have the possibility to work with things that can make a big difference.”
Do you cook Thai food at home I asked?
“Yes, when we have guests, I cook Thai dishes and most Danes love Thai food. Denmark also has plenty of good Thai restaurants, ranging from simple, inexpensive ones to more exclusive. I use to experiment with low carb receipts when I cook for Michael and myself.”
If you would give your countrymen some advice for their stay in Denmark, what would you say?
“As you know, the gap between rich and poor people in Denmark is rather small. Denmark has one of the highest rates of middle-class population in the world and it’s not at all a “show off” society. Nobody has to impress on each other with expensive “toys” (material things). Denmark, together with e.g. Sweden, is also very environmentally friendly. The air is good, the food very clean and healthy, you often use bikes to get around and public transports are efficient. Cars in Denmark are extremely expensive due to taxes. To drive around a lot and in a luxury car can be very expensive.”
“In Denmark we are all part of the society and will be taken good care of by the government if we get ill and when we are getting old. Schools and universities are excellent and fully subsidised.”
“Denmark is also the least corrupt country in the world according to the international transparency index and one of the most digitalised societies in the world. You have to get knowledge about all those things, if not; it might be difficult to live here.”
Have you got any favourite places in Denmark where you and Michael love to go?
“We both enjoy the small things in life, like taking a long walk on the beach during weekends. We also love to stroll around in the old city looking at the architecture and visiting the parks. Our home is a building dated from the 18th century, we just love it. I, as the woman I am, also love to check out small shops in our area and I particularly love to buy organic food. There is a huge assortment of organic products in Denmark.”
What about Danish food? Do you like it as much as Thai food, I couldn’t resist asking?
“The gastronomic scene has become very developed and there are really all kinds of food here. You find e.g. a Thai restaurant in every corner of the city, most serving authentic Thai food. We also have a Michelin Star Thai restaurant and of course, the world famous Noma. You will also find Thai super markets selling the same products as in Thailand.”
My last question was to hear how Michael feels about being back in Denmark?
“Michael is very happy being back in Denmark after 10 years postings abroad in 3 different countries. As I mentioned before, after Michael finishes his term at the Danish Foreign Ministry headquarters, we will once again go somewhere for 2 more postings as an Ambassador. Later on, we might consider retiring in Thailand where our hearts belong.”
I thanked Ratanawadee for being kind to answer my entire questions and wish the couple a wonderful time and hope to see them soon in Thailand, there they are very missed.