Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thai Ambassador: It's Lonely At the Top

She came to Moscow from a place where the warm breezes smell like orchids and where fresh papaya breakfasts are followed by languid days on unspoiled beaches.


And for the past three years, Thailand's ambassador to Russia, Suchitra Hiranprueck, has been trying to bring a bit of her culture's paradise to the icy streets of Moscow. It hasn't been easy.


For one thing, while other ambassadors have the aid of that mistress of all trades -- the wife -- to plan parties, remember names and charm everyone into a mood of diplomatic submission, Hiranprueck, 49, does her job completely solo.


"It's very hard," she said in an interview at the Thai embassy. "Part of my job is putting on dinners to entertain dignitaries. If I were a man and had a wife, maybe she could pay attention to these details."


The next ambassador, probably, will not have Hiranprueck's handicap. Hiranprueck leaves her position in early February for a new assignment in Malaysia. The man replacing her, Wichien Chensawadijai, who comes to Moscow from a post in the United Arab Emirates, is married.


While the challenges of being a single ambassador will probably follow Hiranprueck to Malaysia, other challenges -- unique to Moscow -- will not. Her duty of importing Thai culture to Russia has been her biggest obstacle. For the past three years, Hiranprueck has held an annual autumn Thai festival at the embassy. But because of Moscow's weather and the lack of Thai imports available here, these were soggy events where a few shivering Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai citizens huddled beneath big blue tarps and ate mediocre pad thai.


She has had much better luck exporting Russian tourists to her native land. The day before she was interviewed, she said, her embassy had processed 1,300 visa applications from Russians. And the number of Russians visiting Thailand have more than doubled during her tenure. In fact, Thailand's biggest export to Russia currently is tourism.


Originally from Bangkok, Hiranprueck comes from a diplomatic family. Her father was Thailand's ambassador to Japan during World War II. His work took her to Denmark and England.


Hiranprueck attended Douglass College, the women's arm of Rutger's University in New Jersey. After that, she was a lecturer of English at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand. "I didn't like it," she says today. "You have to be very dedicated." While Hiranprueck said she likes Moscow's cold winters, she said she does have a tendency toward homesickness. She bids friends, relatives and visiting dignitaries to come on visits from Thailand with their suitcases weighed down with cans of coconut milk and lemongrass stalks. Her cook in Moscow creates spicy Thai feasts nightly.


During her tenure here, she has traveled home regularly. "I miss being with family, and everyday conveniences. Things to pass the time like going out."


In Thailand, her family owns an island off Phuket with a cultured pearl farm. She doesn't have any interest in the family business, though. "I have no head for business," she laughs. "I was never involved with the business." And while she acknowledges that the island is beautiful, she says, "I don't like the sea at all. I get too tan. The Thais are strange people. Everyone wants to be tan. We want to be fair. I prefer the mountains."


Summing up her time here, she said: "Moscow is a very nice city. I'll miss this house. I don't regret being here. It was my first posting. And being here during these important years is something not many people get a chance to do. But I'm glad to be leaving. It gets a bit boring."


But Hiranprueck is glad to have been a part of Thailand's improved relations with the former Soviet Union.


"Five years ago, people in our country were afraid of the Soviet Union," she said. "But 100 years ago, our king went to St. Petersburg. So Russia has a special place in the minds of Thai people. During Soviet times, they invited students to come to study. Our government didn't like this. Students who come now pay their own way." Students, she added, make up most of Moscow's small Thai community, which she estimates tops out at around 35 people.


And all 35 of them, she claims, are natural diplomats. She's a diplomat from a land of diplomats. "We are very tolerant people," she said of her compatriots. "We can get along with anyone."