People | PERSONALITY PROFILE

Kasit Piromya

by Vivienne Kenrick

It is still early days for the public to note the Thai Food Festival on May 11 and 12. For organizers Team Thailand, however, time is getting short, especially as this year’s festival will be double the size of those of the last two years. The festival aims to strengthen the ties between the peoples of Japan and Thailand, enhance understanding of Thai tradition and culture, and promote better appreciation of Thai cuisine. Ambassador Kasit Piromya sets the tone for this light-hearted, Maytime day in the park when he refers to the festival as “Thai food merriment.”

It is still early days too in the ambassador’s tour of duty in Japan. He is used to working at high speed with a range of issues, and so feels comfortable with the Tokyo pace and scope. For much of his career he has specialized in international economics and trade, “since before it was fashionable,” he said, and so is au fait with the essential Thai-Japan economic relationship. His wife used to be a Pan Am flight attendant who often visited here. She, too, feels familiar and happy to be living in Tokyo.

From an early age Piromya accepted the thought of becoming a career diplomat. “I was advised by my parents, and I didn’t seem to mind,” he said. He was born in the old capital of Thonburi, and as a child used to cross the river by boat to attend school, a Christian institution, in Bangkok. For his secondary education, along British lines, he was sent to the Indian hill station of Darjeeling. Thereafter he studied political science at Chulalongkorn University, and went to Georgetown University in the U.S. for his first degree in international affairs.

He joined the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1968, immediately after his graduation. Later he received a diploma in international relations and his master’s degree in social science from The Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Holland. The broad base of his educational influences produced in Piromya a wide outlook, a tolerance, and “an appreciation of what is different about other societies.”

He rose quickly through the ministry ranks and, still a young man, equipped with three European languages, began his overseas postings. His first was in the Thai mission to the European Community in Brussels. The experience he gained there, he says, has helped him ever since both at home and in the varied countries where he has served. Whilst building his expertise in international economics and trade, he has been alive to different histories, the richness of other cultures, and the validities of other systems of government.

At age 30, Piromya received his first Thai decoration. At age 44 he achieved ambassadorial rank. He had been decorated six times by 1991 when he was named ambassador to the Soviet Union and concurrently to Mongolia. “That was very exciting when I was observing the last year of the Soviet republic,” he said. He continued his coverage of the next stage, when his title became ambassador to the Russia Federation and the newly independent states, except for the Baltic countries.

Postings to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea came in the mid-1990s, followed by a return to Europe, in Bonn and then Berlin. Adjusting to climates and foods, Piromya traveled widely in the countries where he served. After his closeup views of different organizations of societies and changes of regimes, Piromya said: “I am optimistic. One has to believe in human beings.” He and his wife, he said, “have friends from many countries, from different classes. We don’t find it difficult to go anywhere and live anywhere. I grew up in that kind of environment.”

Last year Piromya received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. This heads his list of 10 decorations and is, he said, “very exalted, very rare.” It is the highest possible for Germany to have conferred on him in his rank.

The Thai Food Festival, in Yoyogi Park Event Ground, on May 11 and 12 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., features stalls from licensed local Thai restaurants. Product stalls offer food ingredients. Demonstrations include umbrella and fan painting, and cultural activities show dances, sword fighting and self-defense displays. Piromya looks to a new venture beyond the festival’s stated aims of increasing awareness of Thailand in Japan. He hopes to set up exchange visits of schoolchildren between the two countries.